Allís Fair in Love, War, and Curfews


My teenagers are fourteen and sixteen. We disagree constantly over curfew times. Any suggestions for establishing reasonable limits? And how can I ensure they'll be followed? - The Timekeeper

Let me begin with a safe assumption: Your idea of a fair curfew is earlier than your teens' and not the other way around. I did read once about a fifteen-year-old who argued for an earlier curfew than his parents had set. Last I heard, he was being studied at a leading university's center for unearthly phenomena.

Actually, parents and teens more often than not agree on what is a reasonable time to be home. We simply talk in different time zones. We parents can live with a midnight curfew, and so can the kids, but we're talking midnight Eastern Standard Time and they're talking midnight Pacific Time (translation: 3:00 A.M. Eastern Time).

Adolescents want later curfews because they believe, unlike their parents who have lived just a shade longer but who in the kids' eyes are no wiser for it, that they can responsibly handle the liberty of a later curfew. What parent hasn't met: "Anything we can do at 1:00 in the morning we can do at 1:00 in the afternoon." True. But we oldsters know that the potential for trouble and craziness rises steadily with each minute's journey into the wee morning hours. It isn't so much that we don't trust our kids. It's that we don't trust the others who are out and about at that hour.

Will kids understand your reasoning and willingly accept the curfews behind it? If they do, kiss them once for me. It's not standard teenhood to agree quietly to coming home before one is ready. Teens like being out of the folks' eye and earshot, especially at night. Something about the dark appeals to the independent streak in teens.

Regarding curfew guidelines, begin by seeking the kids' input about what they think is "fair." That's a four-letter word the teens like to fling around a lot. If you can settle upon mutually agreeable times, you'll probably see more curfew adherence, as the kids have had some say in their limits. If, however, after 62 hours of nonstop negotiating through a federal mediator, you and Faith are still three hours apart, you must decide what is fair.

Some families set routine curfews, for example, 9:00 P.M. on weekdays, midnight on weekends. Exceptions are made periodically based on such factors as special occasions, degree of supervision, or Gardiner's promise to mow the lawn for the next seven years without being asked. Maybe Faith is double-dating with her boyfriend's parents to the ballet. Right! Curfew here might be extended to 1:30 A.M. On the other hand, Gardiner wants to use your two-day-old van to take his girlfriend to a quadruple feature at a drive-in somewhere across the state line. In this instance, you might move curfew to 8:00 P.M.-one hour before the movie starts.

Some parents have no set curfews, instead judging each request on its merits or lack of. This can work, but it carries more risks for arguments, as each evening out can become a rowdy negotiating session.

Whatever approach you take, the curfews you establish depend upon you, your household, your youngsters, and your situation. Resist the temptation to allow a curfew you feel is unwise because you hear, "But there's not even enough time to get anything to eat after the game"; or "Not a single guy in the whole school will ask me out because I have to be in so early"; or "You just don't trust me"; or "Come on, Dad, these are different times from when you were growing up." Regarding this last one, indeed they are. All the more reason for curfews.

Kids will conjure up all manner of curfew commentary. Most of the time this is a sign that you are disagreed with-not unloved, not un-respected, not necessarily even thought unfair-just plain disagreed with. And hasn't that happened many times before, on issues much smaller than curfew?

There's a bright side to working out a curfew. Even though it can cause agitation, it'll help you sleep better. An adolescent's curfew time, followed closely by the sound of a key in the door, almost always translates into the exact time that a lying-in-bed-wide-awake parent can finally begin to nod off.

What if your curfews get regularly ignored or abused? That is a topic deserving its own development.

To summarize: Some teens―about two per hundred―can actually set personal, parent-approved curfews and live by them. In most families, the folks determine curfews, based upon their youngsters, the family's values, and their situation. Ideally, if the kids have some input into their curfew, they will more likely follow it. But if you and your teens can't agree―a standard state of affairs―curfew times are up to you. Contrary to what kids think, curfews are motivated by love, not by a lack of trust.

Now, onto the acid question: How can you ensure Faith will live within her curfew? Acid answer: You can't. The ultimate reality of any discipline is that you can never guarantee your youngster will exercise good judgment. Only she can guarantee that. You can do much, however, to make it more likely she will act responsibly.

Obviously, it would be untrusting, not to mention inconvenient, for you to shadow Faith everywhere and escort her home at the appointed hour. Besides, you would stand out conspicuously at any teen gathering. Your jeans aren't faded enough, and they don't have anywhere near big enough holes in the pockets. What's worse, you're so out of touch you still believe dance partners should be dancing at least in the same room. No, with any curfew you're implicitly making a statement of trust: I believe you'll be home when I've asked you to be. Should Faith not be home at a "decent hour" (I'm sure she sees nothing decent about it), then she needs to know there are consequences for tardiness. Here are ideas.

  1. Attending football games, dates, sensitivity encounter groups, etc., is a privilege. And a privilege abused is a privilege "losed," at least temporarily. A basic house curfew rule might be: Each fifteen minutes late leads to one day of grounding. The days would best be predetermined, preferably Friday or Saturday. Leave the choice up to Dawn, and she'll choose to stay home on Monday afternoon and Wednesday evenings. Old-fashioned grounding still works well―although it's always amazed me how often we feel we can't live in the same house with that kid for one more minute, and then we turn around and force her to stay home.

  2. A more specific curfew rule is: For every one minute late without a solid, verifiable reason, five minutes will be taken off the time a youngster has to be home next occasion out. You could use any ratio you wish: five minutes late costs fifteen; fifteen costs an hour; ten costs ten. Using the one for five example, let's say that Knight drifts in at 12:36 a.m. with the excuse that the electricity in the gym went out for 36 minutes (excuse rating: fairly original, too verifiable, overall, nice try). So, 36 x 5 = 180 minutes = 3 hours earlier Knight has to be in next time he wants to go somewhere. If normal curfew tomorrow night is midnight, he has to be in by 9:00. Brace yourself. You're likely to hear something like "It's not even worth going out if I have to be in by 9:00." Probably not.

  3. Curfew consequences cut both ways. If Faith follows her curfew, conducting herself responsibly while she's out, then periodically it might be wise to relax the limit by one hour or so. Your message is: Responsibility begets freedom.

Whatever curfew consequences you choose, the common denominator is that they are not threats to be flung at retreating backs as they fly out the door. They are previously established, automatic house rules designed to improve parental supervision and keep peace.

In the end, no matter how responsible your youngster is, periodically you probably will have to enforce your rule, because teens are like airplanes. Their scheduled arrival time doesn't always coincide with their actual arrival time.



Ray Guarendi "All's Fair in Love, War, and Curfews."

Reprinted with permission of Ray Guarendi.


Raymond N. Guarendi, aka Dr. Ray, is a practicing clinical psychologist and authority on parenting and behavioral issues active in the Catholic niche media. Guarendi is an advocate of common sense approaches to child rearing and discipline issues. Guarendi received his B.A. and M.A. at Case Western Reserve University in 1974, and his Ph.D. at Kent State University in 1978. He is the author of You're a better parent than you think!: a guide to common-sense parenting, Good Discipline, Great Teens, Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It; Straight Answers to Hearfelt Questions, Discipline that lasts a lifetime: the best gift you can give your kids, and Back to the Family.

Copyright © 2001Ray Guarendi

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