The dreaded curfew is one of those conversations almost guaranteed to cause dissension, argumentativeness and defiance even in the healthiest families. But a curfew is a good and necessary thing, and this article will help you in the process of setting and keeping them.
Its nature. What is a curfew? It is a rule that provides a time in which the teen should be home at night. It is the limit for when outside life is over, and home life has settled in. It is usually an earlier time on weeknights, and a later time on weekends. Curfews serve two purposes. The first is safety and structure. That is, teens are not out on their own yet, so by definition they are not yet “fully cooked” in the oven of the home. So curfews provide a safe and structured limit so that they don’t stay out too late, so that they can have family connections, and get their needed study and sleep time, and stay out of trouble. In this sense, a curfew is just another good house rule, similar to “no TV until you get your homework done” or “we are a drug-free home.” The second purpose of a curfew has more to do with the development of the teen. It is to help her create an internal ability to have self-control. She has to learn to tell her friends goodbye at a designated time, leave the movie or the party ahead of time, and disappoint her own urges to have fun when and where she wants. This is necessary training for the real world, when no one will nag her to get up and go to work, or make an appointment to see the doctor. The external curfew becomes an internalized part of her character, and serves her well. However, your perspective on curfews is probably not your teen’s. He can become resistant to the idea, as his idea of happiness is “no rules and all freedom.” Your job as a parent is to help with rules, provide some freedom, and set it all up. Here are some tips to help you make this a positive and productive experience.
Normalize house rules.
Make sure that having house rules is a normal part of your family. Clear and balanced rules should be expected and known. If you haven’t done this, set out 10 basic home rules of which curfew is a part (school requirements, behavior, attitude, jobs and how people should be treated, for example). These help the adolescent to understand that rules are simply part of life itself.
Do your homework.
What are appropriate curfew times? This is not etched in stone. Find out what your community, healthy parent friends, school professionals and church relationships are doing, and why. Then set yours out. Make sure the times allow the teen to have some freedom, but not enough to jeopardize her life functioning.
Involve your teen in the decision.
Talk to him about the times, and ask what he thinks. Even if he disagrees on where you determine the curfew, you stand a better chance of him buying in because he was part of the decision. You didn’t simply legislate the time from “on high”, a sure recipe for pushback.
Explain twice and stop.
When you say, “OK tonight I need you to be in at X-o’clock” and you get the argument, explain why you have determined that, a couple of times. That is all you need to do. If you still get an argument from him, simply stop the conversation and say “I’ve really explained it all a couple of times. That’s it. Let’s change the subject.” Get out of the power struggle and move on.
Be clear about consequences and follow through on violations.
Rules are only as good as their consequences. Let her know that if she comes in late, she will lose privileges (nights out, phone, social time, etc). And then make sure you follow up. The consequence is the reality underneath the verbal warning.
Increase freedom as it is earned.
If your teen stays on time, and is maturing well, set the curfew a little later as time goes by. This is a message that responsibility brings freedom. It also helps her “own” her decisions at a higher level, in preparation for adulthood. Curfews are like life. If you play by the rules, good things should happen. Your teen will benefit both now and in the future, from your helping her with this part of life.