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Teen Curfews

How parents can successfully set a curfew, the time-honored source of friction


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Teen CurfewsParents set curfews to keep their kids safe, feeling that having them return home by a certain time might keep them out of trouble and allow them to stay on top of their schoolwork. Teens, on the other hand, may resist these restrictions (as with many limits on their independence) because they feel they are old enough to monitor their own behavior. 

While parents may question what is reasonable when it comes to curfews, and might face difficulty in enforcing them in the face of likely protests, they should have no doubts about the wisdom of setting them. Teenagers experiment and test limits. Curfews not only lessen the likelihood of inappropriate behavior but teach important lessons about being responsible and following a schedule.   

You might find your child playing the “trust” card, saying that her friends’ parents allow her to stay out later. She might shout at you, “What? You don’t trust me?” But keep in mind: This is your decision. Do allow her to have her say, though. She is more likely to accept your decision if she has been involved in the discussion and feels like her opinions have been sought. 

While there are no hard and fast rules about when teens should be required to be home, the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the following guidelines:

• 7–8 pm for children ages 12–13 on school nights

• 8–9 pm for children ages 14–16 on school nights

• A curfew two hours later than the above on weekends

Once you have decided on a plan, stay the course. This means not only sticking with it but enforcing it by taking reasonable steps if your child breaks curfew. One possible consequence might be to require an earlier curfew for a set period of time. If she comes in on time each night she goes out, she can have her old curfew back. 

Of course, enforcing these restrictions will require some flexibility on your part. Upon consideration, you might decide to set different curfews for different activities (a school dance, for example). Also consider not making an issue if your child is a few minutes late. 

As with so many issues in dealing with kids, communication is key. Remind your child of the curfew before she goes out for the evening. Talk about your expectations if there is a problem, such as if she is going to be late through no fault of her own. Make it clear to her that you expect a call no later than the time of the curfew. 

Dr. Kenneth Shore, a psychologist, teaches part-time at Rutgers.

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