Curfews: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


We all worry when our kids are out, particularly at night. How can we set a curfew that works? Or, are curfews the answer?

Curfews: the good, the bad and the ugly

Midnight comes and goes. It’s now 12:15 and you don’t know whether to be worried or angry. Your daughter Melanie is fifteen, it’s Saturday night and her curfew is midnight. She knows that so where is she? You try to call or text her but no luck. She’s not responding.

Ten minutes later she arrives and you pounce. First you hit her with your concern. “Don’t you know how worried I was? I was just about to phone the hospitals. How can you do this to me?” Then anger kicks in. “That does it young lady, you’re grounded for the rest of the month.”

Throughout this harangue Melanie keeps trying to interrupt. “But Mom, just listen. Mom let me explain.” Instead of listening you send her off to bed.

The next morning you get up and there on the front page of the newspaper is a major story about a lengthy bridge closure last night. The bridge shut down at 11:30 pm so the traffic on the alternate bridge was horrible. Maybe you should have listened.

Let’s try another scenario. Melanie comes in at 12:25pm and you simply say hi. She immediately tells you about the bridge and how they were heading home when they heard the news on the radio and had to change direction to come across the second bridge which was extremely crowded. She tried to call but the battery on her cell phone had died.

Curfews can cause more problems than they solve. A curfew is an arbitrary time by which teens are to be home. Problem is that they become a source of conflict between parents and children as the teen explains why that particular time just won’t work and the parents stick to whatever time they’ve determined is reasonable. If there is no discussion or negotiation this can become an ongoing argument between parent and teen. The teen then is loath to talk to her parents about anything because she sees them as intransigent. Her thinking is “You can’t talk to my parents about anything, they think they know it all.”

Curfews also become a time you need to stay out until. Aaron, aged sixteen, goes out with his friend for a pizza on Friday night. After they eat they decide to go to a movie. Aaron is tired, knows he needs to study on the weekend for a big exam on Monday and would just like to head home. But he knows that if he goes home early his parents will immediately carry on about how nice it is when he comes home early and maybe he doesn’t need such a late curfew. So he goes to the movie and finds it hard to get to his studying on Saturday.

So what do you do? You can’t just let them come and go as they please, can you? You do need to know where they are, when to expect them home and whom they are with.

Ask them. What are their plans and when do they expect to be home? A movie downtown has a different time-line than a house party down the block. Needing to study or go to work Saturday morning means an earlier Friday evening than when a sleep-in is on the agenda.

Working with your teens to set a curfew according to the planned activities is respectful and opens the lines of communication. Of course, if they say they are simply going the hang around the park until 5 am you can let them know that isn’t in the cards.

How do you handle the inevitable comment, “Look I’ll be in when I get there, don’t you trust me?” Tell them it’s not about trust but about expectations and safety. I used to tell my kids that it was all about me. Parents have a worry gene that kicks in the minute a child is born. I just needed to know when to expect them so I could know when to start worrying. They got that. As a matter of fact, one evening my husband and I were quite a bit later than expected and when we came through he door were confronted by our angry teens saying “Where were you? We were worried. Shouldn’t you have phoned if you were going to be late?” They had a good point.

 Bringing Parenting Today to your event.

 Parenting Today is keen to speak as part of your professional development event, parenting workshop or workplace wellness support program. I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters. And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call:

 P.U.R.E. Parenting.

P — is a parenting plan

U — is unconditional love

R — is respect for your child as he is right now

E — is encouragement

These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.

I’ll be in Winnipeg from December 2 to 4. I am happy to extend these trips if you wish to book an event. I will also be in Calgary and can coordinate that trip to meet your scheduling needs.


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