City-imposed curfews: Do they really keep kids safe?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  December 9, 2009 10:58 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Malden is considering a curfew for its teenagers after late-night violence has rippled through the city. “We’re trying to help them to stay safe, to keep them from getting into mischief,’’ Ward Six Councilor Neil Kinnon, chairman of the ordinance committee, told the Globe's Kathy McCabe.

But as McCabe's article on Boston.com points out, the people who are making trouble aren't necessarily teens -- and a late-night curfew might not solve the problem. In the first nine months of this year, 984 people were arrested in Malden, 55 of them juveniles. And only 11 of those kids were arrested after 9 p.m., according to Malden Police Chief Kenneth Coye.

Coye said most nighttime crime, such as vandalism or car break-ins, is committed by adults between 6 p.m. and midnight.

So what's the real point of the curfew? And does trying to enforcing an arbitrary one like this just encourage kids to break it?

The curfew would make it illegal for anyone under the age of 17 to be out in public without an adult during school hours, between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and between midnight and 6 a.m. weekends and holidays. Kids would have to clear out of restaurants and movie theaters by 10:30 p.m., and businesses would have to make sure that the curfew hours were clearly posted.

There would be exceptions, of course. If you're a teen with a job -- say, waiting tables at a restaurant -- you might not be able to leave at 10:30 p.m. as per the curfew's requirements. Attending educational, civic, and religious events would be allowed, too.

In September, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court struck down a similar curfew in Lowell, which had been on the books since 1994, saying that the criminal penalties faced by minors who broke the law (arrest and possible placement in state custody) were too broad to be constitutional, no matter the city's safety goals. Lowell was allowed to levy a $50 fine instead, and that's the punishment Malden is choosing, too.

I don't know how many $50 have been collected in Lowell, but I do wonder if it's been enough to pay for the extra time police have to spend patrolling the streets late at night for anyone who looks like a minor.

Public curfews haven't met with much success elsewhere. In Canada, not a single town has been able to keep their curfew after facing a legal challenge, and some of their cut-offs have been hours later than the one Malden is proposing.

As a teenager, I had a curfew -- imposed by my parents. And the penalties for breaking it were more fearsome than a $50 fine.

Parents, what do you think? Can a city keep kids safe via a curfew? Or does it encourage kids to sneak around, making it harder for parents to know where their kids really are?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

7 comments so far...
  1. Given the rates of arrest, it doesn't seem like it will solve any of the problems the city is having. That being said...I think a law is extreme but I think it's in the children's best interest to be home. it's disturbing that there are enough kids out late enough that they can even consider needing a law such as this. Are teenagers really out after 11pm on school nights?! I don't even allow my third grader to watch tv during the week. lol

    Posted by Mom2boys December 9, 09 01:54 PM
  1. It's taking the town's role too far. The parents are the correct authorities to decide if a child should be out and about at a certain hour.

    Telling kids they can't do something makes it more attractive. My town had a curfew and the thing we did at teens was go out after it just to prove we could. I would never have been out at that hour if someone had told me I couldn't. And as far as police enforcing it, the only time I was ever stopped was a month AFTER I had turned 18.

    It's a pathetic attempt to blame "mischief" on teens and to look like they're doing something about it without really doing anything about it.

    Posted by C December 9, 09 03:07 PM
  1. As there is no real evidence that this would keep our teens safe, it would seem to be a way to blame misbehavior on our young folks when it really should be placed on the adults. I wish they would return to the old way. In my birthplace, if they came upon a teenager who was not breaking any laws, but appeared to be up to no good, they would bring the kid home and knock on the door and hand over to the parents. A ride in a police car home can be quite effective for both child and parents.

    Posted by katydidnotgrow December 9, 09 04:35 PM
  1. This is too funny. I live in Malden and this was the topic of my blog post tonight too.

    Posted by Phe December 9, 09 08:07 PM
  1. Lylah, just a few points here: Lowell is not the only MA town with a curfew and that city still has a curfew. The MA SJC struck down criminal penalties for violating the curfew, not the curfew itself. Lynn, Chicopee and Holyoke, along with Lowell, still have active youth curfews - and none appear to have worked (whether the penalty is criminal [being arrested and charged] or civil [being fined]).

    Curfews, depending on what they've been enacted for, where and for how long can work as temporary, last ditch efforts to restore law and order - but in this case, the issue in Malden is not, in fact, with youthful offenders and law and order is not in total disarray (yet).

    This curfew is nothing more than a feel good measure to silence some of the citizens who are angry about rising levels of crime in the area and are looking to put the blame any old place. I was actually at the Ward 5 Public Safety Meeting where the proposal was first brought forth by some of the citizens and did a total facepalm.

    Since, I've been in touch with my ward councilor, a man whom I generally like but disagree with vehemently on this issue (he's a primary supporter), as well as all of the rest to voice my opinion.


    Posted by Phe December 10, 09 06:54 AM
  1. I grew up in Chicago, where there was a curfew of, as I recall, 10:30 on school nights and 11 pm on weekends for kids under 18 or so. It definitely kept me and my friends out of trouble. Not that we were all home in bed by 11, but we were not out roaming the streets. We were at someone's house, or driving VERY conservatively home so as not to get pulled over. We were not wreaking havoc at some late night eatery, or otherwise out in public making nuisances of ourselves. Of course, it helped that my dad was a police officer, and he made it very clear that if I got picked up for curfew violations that he would cheerfully leave my sorry behind in lockup all night. I got the message, and never tested him...

    Posted by BMS December 10, 09 07:32 AM
  1. Phe, read the article. She said that Lowell changed to a $50 fine.

    It seems like the citizens being targeted by the curfew are not the ones causing the problems.

    It also appears that the law will encourage police harassment based on age. Many 20 year old's could pass for 17 and vice versa.

    Ultimately it's parents responsibilities to set curfews, not the towns. I'm also guessing that the people who commit crimes will not be deterred by a curfew. It just seems like it will target the good kids because they will feel obligated to follow it.

    Posted by TTT123 December 10, 09 10:35 AM
 
7 comments so far...
  1. Given the rates of arrest, it doesn't seem like it will solve any of the problems the city is having. That being said...I think a law is extreme but I think it's in the children's best interest to be home. it's disturbing that there are enough kids out late enough that they can even consider needing a law such as this. Are teenagers really out after 11pm on school nights?! I don't even allow my third grader to watch tv during the week. lol

    Posted by Mom2boys December 9, 09 01:54 PM
  1. It's taking the town's role too far. The parents are the correct authorities to decide if a child should be out and about at a certain hour.

    Telling kids they can't do something makes it more attractive. My town had a curfew and the thing we did at teens was go out after it just to prove we could. I would never have been out at that hour if someone had told me I couldn't. And as far as police enforcing it, the only time I was ever stopped was a month AFTER I had turned 18.

    It's a pathetic attempt to blame "mischief" on teens and to look like they're doing something about it without really doing anything about it.

    Posted by C December 9, 09 03:07 PM
  1. As there is no real evidence that this would keep our teens safe, it would seem to be a way to blame misbehavior on our young folks when it really should be placed on the adults. I wish they would return to the old way. In my birthplace, if they came upon a teenager who was not breaking any laws, but appeared to be up to no good, they would bring the kid home and knock on the door and hand over to the parents. A ride in a police car home can be quite effective for both child and parents.

    Posted by katydidnotgrow December 9, 09 04:35 PM
  1. This is too funny. I live in Malden and this was the topic of my blog post tonight too.

    Posted by Phe December 9, 09 08:07 PM
  1. Lylah, just a few points here: Lowell is not the only MA town with a curfew and that city still has a curfew. The MA SJC struck down criminal penalties for violating the curfew, not the curfew itself. Lynn, Chicopee and Holyoke, along with Lowell, still have active youth curfews - and none appear to have worked (whether the penalty is criminal [being arrested and charged] or civil [being fined]).

    Curfews, depending on what they've been enacted for, where and for how long can work as temporary, last ditch efforts to restore law and order - but in this case, the issue in Malden is not, in fact, with youthful offenders and law and order is not in total disarray (yet).

    This curfew is nothing more than a feel good measure to silence some of the citizens who are angry about rising levels of crime in the area and are looking to put the blame any old place. I was actually at the Ward 5 Public Safety Meeting where the proposal was first brought forth by some of the citizens and did a total facepalm.

    Since, I've been in touch with my ward councilor, a man whom I generally like but disagree with vehemently on this issue (he's a primary supporter), as well as all of the rest to voice my opinion.


    Posted by Phe December 10, 09 06:54 AM
  1. I grew up in Chicago, where there was a curfew of, as I recall, 10:30 on school nights and 11 pm on weekends for kids under 18 or so. It definitely kept me and my friends out of trouble. Not that we were all home in bed by 11, but we were not out roaming the streets. We were at someone's house, or driving VERY conservatively home so as not to get pulled over. We were not wreaking havoc at some late night eatery, or otherwise out in public making nuisances of ourselves. Of course, it helped that my dad was a police officer, and he made it very clear that if I got picked up for curfew violations that he would cheerfully leave my sorry behind in lockup all night. I got the message, and never tested him...

    Posted by BMS December 10, 09 07:32 AM
  1. Phe, read the article. She said that Lowell changed to a $50 fine.

    It seems like the citizens being targeted by the curfew are not the ones causing the problems.

    It also appears that the law will encourage police harassment based on age. Many 20 year old's could pass for 17 and vice versa.

    Ultimately it's parents responsibilities to set curfews, not the towns. I'm also guessing that the people who commit crimes will not be deterred by a curfew. It just seems like it will target the good kids because they will feel obligated to follow it.

    Posted by TTT123 December 10, 09 10:35 AM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.
Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives