My daughter is having great difficulty getting in by curfew. She always says things like, “It’s so unfair! All my friends get to stay out later than I do. I don’t need a curfew. Just call me on the cell when I need to come home. Don’t you trust me?”
Setting a curfew is pretty easy when your kids are little, but it gets harder and harder as they mature. You have less control over their lives and they can get around on their own, particularly when they begin driving. But while kids certainly need more independence as they grow up, giving kids structure is also vitally important to their growth and development and, just as importantly, it helps keep them safe.
Only 48 percent of adolescents surveyed indicate that their family has clearly defined boundaries, which includes having clear rules and consequences and having parents that monitor their whereabouts.
Girls are more likely than boys to say that their parents keep track of their whereabouts. A full 86 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys say their parents ask where they are going and who they will be with most or all of the time.
Setting (and enforcing) clear, fair, and firm boundaries—and following through with consequences—is a critical part of being a good parent. It is most effective, though, when the boundaries are balanced by a warm, caring relationship with your kids, which includes their participation in the decision-making process.
Making young people part of the curfew discussion and establishing clear expectations and consequences gives them some of the independence they are looking for while still maintaining the boundaries they need to thrive.
Adjust — Review and negotiate curfews together. There are exceptions to every rule, so it may be appropriate from time to time to change a curfew (such as during the summer or to allow your kids to participate in a positive activity at school or in the community).
Affirm — Tell your kids how much you appreciate it when they tell you where they will be and when they arrive home on time. This positive feedback will make it more likely that they will continue to respect the boundaries that you have set together.
Be Realistic — There is no “magic” curfew time for all kids. Match curfews to the needs of your family, your kids, and your community. Some kids need more sleep than others. Some communities are safer than others. Negotiate curfews that work for you, your child, and your family, and adhere to local laws.
Confirm the Plans — Before they head out the door, find out where your kids are going, whom they will be with, how they will be getting to where they are going and back, and when they plan to be home.
Enforce — Be consistent when enforcing consequences, but when boundaries are broken, do not give the impression that your kids or adolescents have failed. Instead, use these situations to teach them about responsibility.
Think Ahead — Do not try to set curfews when your kids or adolescents are begging to go out. Talk about expectations early and make sure that everyone understands what is expected. In addition, agree together on the consequences if curfew is broken.
Mark Hutten, M.A.