The dreaded curfw

I grew up in a house at the bottom of a hill. This was a good thing. If I was past curfew, I’d turn off the headlights and engine, then glide down the hill, into the driveway…steadily… into park. The doors weren’t as accommodating, however. The squeaking always woke up Mom, who was inevitably perched on the couch watching late night TV. I swear my parents never greased those hinges to catch me.

Does your teen give you a hard time about the tabs you keep on him? Are you considered a member of the curfew police in your household? Rather than thinking of curfews as steadfast rules, try to think of them as malleable guidelines — or rules that can change depending on your teen’s age and special circumstances.

Is it necessary?

Some parents believe their teens don’t need curfews because they are trustworthy. Others believe in enforcing strict curfews no matter what the circumstance. Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go (Book Ends Publishing, 2004), explains, “We want to nurture creative, independent teens, but also create a family culture where everyone is respected. Setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries helps to protect each family member’s dignity (and sanity) and to preserve reasonable harmony in your home.”

There are many different parenting styles, and all parents have their own comfort zone. Kuczmarski says, “Family systems can be closed or open. In a closed system, children are given orders, threats, and warnings by their parents. In a totally open family, teens are allowed to do what they want. The first approach puts teens on a short leash, while the second puts them on one that is too long. The ideal system is somewhere in between.”

Setting curfew

There is no hard and fast rule to follow. Parents should consider their teen’s history — how well she has followed rules, and whether or not she has been able to avoid trouble. Discuss your reasons for setting a curfew. What if there was an accident or she needed your help? You wouldn’t know to be concerned if you weren’t expecting her.

Work out a reasonable curfew together. Your teen will be more likely to abide by it and take ownership of it. Kuczmarski comments, “Teens hate fixed, out-of-date, and inhuman rules with a passion. Teens need enough direction and control to guide them, yet enough room to breathe, learn, and grow. There must be a balance between structure and flexibility. Curfews can accomplish this balance – especially if teens are involved in setting them up with their parents.”

Explain that abiding by curfews builds trust and demonstrates maturity, so she will be rewarded for this. Kuczmarski suggests, “As your teen gets older, the arrival hour can be negotiated toward an increasingly later time.”

Consequences for breaking curfew

If your teen has had input with setting curfews, hopefully he won’t break them. If he does, there needs to be a set of consequences. It’s important to discuss the consequences ahead of time.

Kuczmarski says, “When he is late, give him the freedom and opportunity to explain. Maybe there were unplanned events, like a flat tire or a surprise party. If your teen continues to break the curfew rule, let the agreed-upon consequences fall into place. If your teen has missed curfew because drinking or drugs were involved, then the consequences should be more serious.”

Tips and tales

“I always tell them to set the alarm on their cell phone 30 minutes before curfew. That gives them time to say their goodbyes and they still won’t be late.”

Lisa DeLisio, Woodstock, NY

“The key with curfews is to work with expectations and behaviors long before the curfew becomes an issue. When it does, there is a perfect opportunity for discussion that involves them in the decision-making process. I believe that involvement also decreases tensions and increases adherence to the agreed-upon time.”

James B. Childs, Kingston, NY

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