The good and bad of curfews

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  March 15, 2010 06:00 AM

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Barbara, Does a curfew keep your child out of trouble?

From: Johnny, Tulare

Hi Johnny,

Do I believe in curfews? Yes. Do I think they will keep a child out of trouble? It depends what you mean by trouble. If you mean trouble with the law, there is lots of discussion about that.  If you mean, Will curfews keep her from getting pregnant? From smoking cigarettes? Trying pot? Drinking? Hanging with the "wrong' kids? Not so much.

These are all activities that determined teens will find a way to do, curfew or not. What protects teens from these and other potentially dangerous activities is not rules and punishments but conversation and relationships. From knowing your values. From respecting you and trusting you and feeling respected and trusted by you in return These are qualities that happen over the course of a child's lifetime. But here's the good news: It's never to late to re-establish your relationship, to put it on better footing.

Yes, curfews serve a purpose. All children, even teens, feel safer when they know that we are paying attention and when they know the boundaries and limits to which we hold them  accountable. 

Before you set a curfew, however, you need to know what peers' curfews are, and I don't just mean for special events like a prom. Ideally, you and other parents are talking regularly about such subjects. It's the only way to really know what's going on. If a group of boys all has the same curfew -- and the parents know it -- then when your son says, "But Sam's mother lets him stay out until  midnight!" you can say, "You might want to check with him again.I talked to Sam's mother yesterday." (Don't come out and accuse Sam of being a liar, and don't accuse your child of being one, either.) Keep in mind, too, that the curfew will change over the years. The curfew for a 14-year-old is not appropriate for a 16-year-old.

Curfews become a problem when your child either has the most restrictive of his group or the most lenient. If it's the most restrictive, he comes across to his peers as a baby and he will do whatever he has to do somehow break curfew. It's why kids climb out bedroom windows. If it's the most lenient, he will go to great lengths, often dangerous ones to get his pals to be with him. Bragging, for instance, that he's got some vodka and they're missing out.

I was once interviewing a group of high school students about something else and the subject of curfews came up. The girl who had the most restrictive curfew had very creative ways of getting around it: She'd spend the night at a friend's; she'd sneak out of the house after her parents went to bed; she'd say she was tired and going to sleep so they wouldn't bother her. Every time she got caught, they'd get more restrictive. She said her parents never talked to her and didn't know what was going on in her life. She was a high school senior with a 10 p.m. curfew. I wasn't writing a story about curfews but it was clear to me that this was a trouble waiting to happen.

By the way, teens also need to know that you're a reasonable person. Tell him: "I'd rather have you call me to say you are going to be late than have you speeding to make it home on time." You may be surprised to see that he won't abuse that privilege.

I answer a question from a reader every weekday. If you want help with some aspect of child-rearing, just write to me here.


 
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19 comments so far...
  1. I never had a curfew growing up. But I did have ironclad rules:

    -I had to let my parents know where I was going and who I was going to be with.
    -If I changed locations, I had to call (this was before cell phones, but I never had any issue finding a phone)
    -If I was ever in a situation that I felt unsafe, I could call for a ride any time, day or night, no questions asked
    -If I got picked up for curfew violations (there was a city wide curfew for kids under 18), I would be spending the night in jail, so I had best stay at someone's house if I was out past 11.
    -I could not get out of obligations by claiming tiredness. If I stayed out until 4:30 am, that's fine. But if I had to get up at 6:30 for work or school, I had no right to complain at all.
    In return for this freedom, I made sure that I lived up to my end of the bargain by staying out of trouble with the police, not drinking or doing drugs, and not getting pregnant before marriage. It seemed a fair trade to me.


    Posted by bms March 15, 10 09:10 AM
  1. Is a 10pm curfew for a senior really that bad?

    Posted by just wondering March 15, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I also grew up without a curfew on the weekends as long as I told my parents where I was going and roughly what time I'd be home.

    On weekdays I was expected to come straight home after school and study which was pretty much the norm for most of my classmates. On the off chance I needed to go over another student's house to complete a project I was usually home no later than 8pm.

    Honestly most of my friends that did get into major trouble did so in the hours after school let out (3-5 pm), not late at night.

    Posted by sms75 March 15, 10 10:59 AM
  1. I had a 10pm curfew as a senior in high school and I HATED it. Any my mom made few exceptions for me to stay over at friends' homes on the weekends to extend that curfew. Any requests to extend the curfew were met with threats of grounding if I came home late. I think if my mom had allowed me to stay out until 11 on weekends that would've been much more preferable. I definitely had the most restrictive curfew of all my friends. I'm now in my 30s and still look back on the curfew and resent it being so rigid.

    Posted by hat19 March 15, 10 11:11 AM
  1. Just wondering, I would say yes, 10 PM is unreasonable for a high school senior. You're talking about someone who is months away from being considered an adult (in terms of age, anyway) and who will be living on his or her own away at school in less than a year. I don't recall having a strict curfew per se but generally, I was expected to be home from a regular night out with friends or a date by around 11 (10th grade) or 12 (senior year) with later expected arrival times for special occasions like concerts or formal dances. Like another poster mentioned, I had things to do in the morning so if I was out late on a Friday night, I still had to be serving croissanwiches and hash browns at the drive through at 6AM on Saturday. I also think that working contributed to my reasonable "curfews" - if I worked a late shift, I wouldn't even get out of work until 9 so a 10 PM curfew would have been punitive.

    I think that rather than focus on having older teens home by a certain hour, it's important to know where they are and who they are with when they are out. One of my brothers got into a lot of trouble because he and his friends would all say that they were sleeping over each others' houses and none of the parents would actually get on the phone to verify this - instead, they'd be out all night doing who knows what. Simple parent communication could have derailed some of that partying.

    Posted by Jen March 15, 10 12:26 PM
  1. Another problem arises when a curfew is lowered in response to some external change-- say, an uptick in violent crime or because a friend's curfew was lowered.

    I never had a curfew (but I did have rules-- tell the parents in advance where I was going, call them if the location changed, tell them who was going to be there, call if I felt uncomfortable, etc.) until one Friday night when, out of the blue, I was told to be home by 10 or else. (This was a problem because, as I had informed my parents per our agreement, the movie that my friends and I had decided to go to (pre-curfew announcement) was two hours long and started at 8. I was reliant on my friends to drive, not having a car myself. My parents declined to pick me up when the movie got out, and reiterated that I would be punished to breaking curfew.) Needless to say, I broke curfew rather than the date with my friends.

    After a week of grounding (not useful as a punishment, seeing as I was busy with school) and shouting matches, it came out that they decided I had to be home at a specific and inflexible time because they had heard from some parenting program that I ought to have a curfew. Not because I had been irresponsible, not because they didn't trust me (or even that they worried for my safety.)

    As you can tell, this has soured me on the subject of curfews as a general (but, perhaps, infrequently applied) rule.

    Posted by MNGrad March 15, 10 01:14 PM
  1. I never really had a curfew myself. It was kind of on a case by case basis. But, I don't think my parents would have let me stay out past 10pm on a school night unless it was for a reason (i.e. not just hanging out with friends). And I did work Fridays until 10pm my senior year. I guess I just had to have a reason to be out late, and they always needed to know where I was. I'm sure on many occasions I was out until 11pm or 12am on the weekends, but a curfew with no questions asked just be home by a certain time? No way would that have gone over with my parents! At the time I was angry with them about them being stricter than some of my friends' parents. But, now I have a 1 year old son, and I don't know how I will feel when he gets to high school.

    I have a one year old son. I

    Posted by just wondering March 15, 10 01:43 PM
  1. I have to add that I was fairly self regulating. I went to a private, very tough high school, and my weekend job helped pay for that. So although I did occasionally stay out very late on Saturdays, I generally was in bed by 9:30 of my own accord. I had to get up at 5:15 and leave by 6 to commute to school by train and bus. I would come home, eat, and hit the books until bedtime. On Saturdays, I worked 8 am to 10 pm, Sundays 8-5. I demonstrated my responsibility and my hard work ethic to my folks. I think they recognized that I put so much pressure on myself that I didn't need a curfew to put pressure on me. Rather, I needed to be encouraged to take a break sometimes.

    This is why curfews (or the lack thereof) isn't a real cut and dried issue. Some kids need the structure. But it needs to be done in a way that shows that the parents are trying to understand the needs of the teen, and balance those with their own needs.

    Another issue is how much control the kids have had before this. If your kids were never allowed to walk to the bus stop alone in grade school, it is hard to imagine letting them stay out until midnight in high school. But if you gave them opportunities to prove they were trustworthy when they were young (by letting them take calculated risks and have responsibilities) then it isn't so scary to let them have more freedom when they are older.


    Posted by bms March 15, 10 02:07 PM
  1. My kids have always had a 10:00 p.m. curfew. My son, now 24 and living on his own, still had to be in by the time my doors were locked and I went to bed at night when he came home on leave from the military. As the old saying goes "It's 10 o'clock, do you know where your children are?" Damn skippy, I know where my childen are, home in bed! But it also should be stated that when my kids had something to do to keep them out past 10:00, then of course, the curfew is extended. I just am a firm believer that hanging around for the sake of hanging around without any concrete plans leads to trouble. Sleepovers at friends house always require a phone call to the parents, but movie nights, bowling with friends, etc., the curfew was lifted so the kids could enjoy themselves. It's all about communication and trust, but at the same time, common sense, of which most teens don't have much of until they reach their 20's, a proven fact.

    Posted by Donna Dervishian March 15, 10 02:45 PM
  1. bms I could have written your second post I was in the exact same situation, working to help pay for private school. I should add to my post above that when I think "curfew" I'm assuming that we're talking about weekends. On school nights, there was no reason (or time) to be out of the house unless I was at work or an activity so the issue never came up.

    Posted by Jen March 15, 10 05:06 PM
  1. A 10pm curfew? Maybe if I was just getting home from work, but not if I was going to get a snack before heading home after work as a senior.

    I never had an official curfew. I told my mom when I was going out, where I was going and with who. I made a solemn promise that I would never get in a car with someone who'd been drinking. And because I never broke her trust, my mom never had reason to doubt me.

    Posted by C March 15, 10 05:22 PM
  1. I agree with the poster who said that the most trouble happens in the afterschool hours, not late at night. I knew lots of kids who'd go drinking right after school at a house where no parents were home.

    Curfews don't keep kids out of trouble - knowing where your kids are and who they are with keeps them out of trouble.

    Posted by akmom March 16, 10 06:53 AM
  1. When I was a teen, my parents enforced a fairly reasonable curfew of 11pm or 12 midnight, likely thinking they were keeping me "out of trouble". Ha. I chose to just either skip school to party, or party during the hours before curfew. Night-time isn't the only time that teenagers can drink, do drugs, have sex, etc. My parents, of course, always "needed" to know where I was, but I was a spectacular liar and could always easily get around their requirements and do exactly what I wished.

    The moral of my story is that you don't REALLY know where your kids are--you just think you do. And you don't REALLY know what they were doing before they came home to make that 10pm curfew, you just know what they tell you. Once your kids get to be a certain age, you have no choice but to sit back and hope that you did a good job.

    For what it's worth, I ended up a happily married professional with a graduate degree...not exactly a dreg of society. Kids party. It's what they do.

    Posted by Amanda March 16, 10 10:05 AM
  1. This is a very good article

    Posted by Anna May 4, 10 02:27 PM
  1. i dont think we should have them!!! i think its so stupid we dont go by what they say any way... so why have them?? i mean really come on now....

    Posted by Katelin Cooper May 12, 10 11:52 AM
  1. Uhhh Well curfew is okaay ? they do keep us out of trouble but then we cant have the fun we really want to have like go to the club on fridays because that ends at 2am. So idk really some kids can be trusted so we should be able to stay out a little later ! [:
    and P.S ( ^^^ ) the girl up there they have them because curfew has saved some kids lives D U H ! you also have to think there doing it for a good cause but than we also should listen a little to the L A W !

    Posted by .... February 2, 11 12:41 PM
  1. Donna Dervishian are you serious? Your 24 yo son, on leave from the military and visiting home had to be home by 10PM? I don't even know what to say to that . . .

    Posted by P March 8, 11 04:35 PM
  1. I think curfews are a good idea, I am currently 18 yearts old. My curfew is 1:30. But this year I have not gone out as much as I have in the past. I have a volleyball scholarship to a great college and I do not want to risk losing it, But my other friends go out and party all the time. They do not understand why I have become such a recluse. They have started to get angry with me because I will not go to a "gathering" and get crazy with them. I think it is just dumb. And if they get caught and lose their scholarships that is their fault.
    I am actually writing a paper in my college english class explaining how curfews need to be stricter. Some of my classmates have gotten
    into a lot of troulbe with the law.
    I

    Posted by paigejj April 19, 11 02:26 PM
  1. my mom always said nothing good happened after midnight. she was and is still right

    Posted by meg January 10, 12 01:27 PM
 
19 comments so far...
  1. I never had a curfew growing up. But I did have ironclad rules:

    -I had to let my parents know where I was going and who I was going to be with.
    -If I changed locations, I had to call (this was before cell phones, but I never had any issue finding a phone)
    -If I was ever in a situation that I felt unsafe, I could call for a ride any time, day or night, no questions asked
    -If I got picked up for curfew violations (there was a city wide curfew for kids under 18), I would be spending the night in jail, so I had best stay at someone's house if I was out past 11.
    -I could not get out of obligations by claiming tiredness. If I stayed out until 4:30 am, that's fine. But if I had to get up at 6:30 for work or school, I had no right to complain at all.
    In return for this freedom, I made sure that I lived up to my end of the bargain by staying out of trouble with the police, not drinking or doing drugs, and not getting pregnant before marriage. It seemed a fair trade to me.


    Posted by bms March 15, 10 09:10 AM
  1. Is a 10pm curfew for a senior really that bad?

    Posted by just wondering March 15, 10 09:24 AM
  1. I also grew up without a curfew on the weekends as long as I told my parents where I was going and roughly what time I'd be home.

    On weekdays I was expected to come straight home after school and study which was pretty much the norm for most of my classmates. On the off chance I needed to go over another student's house to complete a project I was usually home no later than 8pm.

    Honestly most of my friends that did get into major trouble did so in the hours after school let out (3-5 pm), not late at night.

    Posted by sms75 March 15, 10 10:59 AM
  1. I had a 10pm curfew as a senior in high school and I HATED it. Any my mom made few exceptions for me to stay over at friends' homes on the weekends to extend that curfew. Any requests to extend the curfew were met with threats of grounding if I came home late. I think if my mom had allowed me to stay out until 11 on weekends that would've been much more preferable. I definitely had the most restrictive curfew of all my friends. I'm now in my 30s and still look back on the curfew and resent it being so rigid.

    Posted by hat19 March 15, 10 11:11 AM
  1. Just wondering, I would say yes, 10 PM is unreasonable for a high school senior. You're talking about someone who is months away from being considered an adult (in terms of age, anyway) and who will be living on his or her own away at school in less than a year. I don't recall having a strict curfew per se but generally, I was expected to be home from a regular night out with friends or a date by around 11 (10th grade) or 12 (senior year) with later expected arrival times for special occasions like concerts or formal dances. Like another poster mentioned, I had things to do in the morning so if I was out late on a Friday night, I still had to be serving croissanwiches and hash browns at the drive through at 6AM on Saturday. I also think that working contributed to my reasonable "curfews" - if I worked a late shift, I wouldn't even get out of work until 9 so a 10 PM curfew would have been punitive.

    I think that rather than focus on having older teens home by a certain hour, it's important to know where they are and who they are with when they are out. One of my brothers got into a lot of trouble because he and his friends would all say that they were sleeping over each others' houses and none of the parents would actually get on the phone to verify this - instead, they'd be out all night doing who knows what. Simple parent communication could have derailed some of that partying.

    Posted by Jen March 15, 10 12:26 PM
  1. Another problem arises when a curfew is lowered in response to some external change-- say, an uptick in violent crime or because a friend's curfew was lowered.

    I never had a curfew (but I did have rules-- tell the parents in advance where I was going, call them if the location changed, tell them who was going to be there, call if I felt uncomfortable, etc.) until one Friday night when, out of the blue, I was told to be home by 10 or else. (This was a problem because, as I had informed my parents per our agreement, the movie that my friends and I had decided to go to (pre-curfew announcement) was two hours long and started at 8. I was reliant on my friends to drive, not having a car myself. My parents declined to pick me up when the movie got out, and reiterated that I would be punished to breaking curfew.) Needless to say, I broke curfew rather than the date with my friends.

    After a week of grounding (not useful as a punishment, seeing as I was busy with school) and shouting matches, it came out that they decided I had to be home at a specific and inflexible time because they had heard from some parenting program that I ought to have a curfew. Not because I had been irresponsible, not because they didn't trust me (or even that they worried for my safety.)

    As you can tell, this has soured me on the subject of curfews as a general (but, perhaps, infrequently applied) rule.

    Posted by MNGrad March 15, 10 01:14 PM
  1. I never really had a curfew myself. It was kind of on a case by case basis. But, I don't think my parents would have let me stay out past 10pm on a school night unless it was for a reason (i.e. not just hanging out with friends). And I did work Fridays until 10pm my senior year. I guess I just had to have a reason to be out late, and they always needed to know where I was. I'm sure on many occasions I was out until 11pm or 12am on the weekends, but a curfew with no questions asked just be home by a certain time? No way would that have gone over with my parents! At the time I was angry with them about them being stricter than some of my friends' parents. But, now I have a 1 year old son, and I don't know how I will feel when he gets to high school.

    I have a one year old son. I

    Posted by just wondering March 15, 10 01:43 PM
  1. I have to add that I was fairly self regulating. I went to a private, very tough high school, and my weekend job helped pay for that. So although I did occasionally stay out very late on Saturdays, I generally was in bed by 9:30 of my own accord. I had to get up at 5:15 and leave by 6 to commute to school by train and bus. I would come home, eat, and hit the books until bedtime. On Saturdays, I worked 8 am to 10 pm, Sundays 8-5. I demonstrated my responsibility and my hard work ethic to my folks. I think they recognized that I put so much pressure on myself that I didn't need a curfew to put pressure on me. Rather, I needed to be encouraged to take a break sometimes.

    This is why curfews (or the lack thereof) isn't a real cut and dried issue. Some kids need the structure. But it needs to be done in a way that shows that the parents are trying to understand the needs of the teen, and balance those with their own needs.

    Another issue is how much control the kids have had before this. If your kids were never allowed to walk to the bus stop alone in grade school, it is hard to imagine letting them stay out until midnight in high school. But if you gave them opportunities to prove they were trustworthy when they were young (by letting them take calculated risks and have responsibilities) then it isn't so scary to let them have more freedom when they are older.


    Posted by bms March 15, 10 02:07 PM
  1. My kids have always had a 10:00 p.m. curfew. My son, now 24 and living on his own, still had to be in by the time my doors were locked and I went to bed at night when he came home on leave from the military. As the old saying goes "It's 10 o'clock, do you know where your children are?" Damn skippy, I know where my childen are, home in bed! But it also should be stated that when my kids had something to do to keep them out past 10:00, then of course, the curfew is extended. I just am a firm believer that hanging around for the sake of hanging around without any concrete plans leads to trouble. Sleepovers at friends house always require a phone call to the parents, but movie nights, bowling with friends, etc., the curfew was lifted so the kids could enjoy themselves. It's all about communication and trust, but at the same time, common sense, of which most teens don't have much of until they reach their 20's, a proven fact.

    Posted by Donna Dervishian March 15, 10 02:45 PM
  1. bms I could have written your second post I was in the exact same situation, working to help pay for private school. I should add to my post above that when I think "curfew" I'm assuming that we're talking about weekends. On school nights, there was no reason (or time) to be out of the house unless I was at work or an activity so the issue never came up.

    Posted by Jen March 15, 10 05:06 PM
  1. A 10pm curfew? Maybe if I was just getting home from work, but not if I was going to get a snack before heading home after work as a senior.

    I never had an official curfew. I told my mom when I was going out, where I was going and with who. I made a solemn promise that I would never get in a car with someone who'd been drinking. And because I never broke her trust, my mom never had reason to doubt me.

    Posted by C March 15, 10 05:22 PM
  1. I agree with the poster who said that the most trouble happens in the afterschool hours, not late at night. I knew lots of kids who'd go drinking right after school at a house where no parents were home.

    Curfews don't keep kids out of trouble - knowing where your kids are and who they are with keeps them out of trouble.

    Posted by akmom March 16, 10 06:53 AM
  1. When I was a teen, my parents enforced a fairly reasonable curfew of 11pm or 12 midnight, likely thinking they were keeping me "out of trouble". Ha. I chose to just either skip school to party, or party during the hours before curfew. Night-time isn't the only time that teenagers can drink, do drugs, have sex, etc. My parents, of course, always "needed" to know where I was, but I was a spectacular liar and could always easily get around their requirements and do exactly what I wished.

    The moral of my story is that you don't REALLY know where your kids are--you just think you do. And you don't REALLY know what they were doing before they came home to make that 10pm curfew, you just know what they tell you. Once your kids get to be a certain age, you have no choice but to sit back and hope that you did a good job.

    For what it's worth, I ended up a happily married professional with a graduate degree...not exactly a dreg of society. Kids party. It's what they do.

    Posted by Amanda March 16, 10 10:05 AM
  1. This is a very good article

    Posted by Anna May 4, 10 02:27 PM
  1. i dont think we should have them!!! i think its so stupid we dont go by what they say any way... so why have them?? i mean really come on now....

    Posted by Katelin Cooper May 12, 10 11:52 AM
  1. Uhhh Well curfew is okaay ? they do keep us out of trouble but then we cant have the fun we really want to have like go to the club on fridays because that ends at 2am. So idk really some kids can be trusted so we should be able to stay out a little later ! [:
    and P.S ( ^^^ ) the girl up there they have them because curfew has saved some kids lives D U H ! you also have to think there doing it for a good cause but than we also should listen a little to the L A W !

    Posted by .... February 2, 11 12:41 PM
  1. Donna Dervishian are you serious? Your 24 yo son, on leave from the military and visiting home had to be home by 10PM? I don't even know what to say to that . . .

    Posted by P March 8, 11 04:35 PM
  1. I think curfews are a good idea, I am currently 18 yearts old. My curfew is 1:30. But this year I have not gone out as much as I have in the past. I have a volleyball scholarship to a great college and I do not want to risk losing it, But my other friends go out and party all the time. They do not understand why I have become such a recluse. They have started to get angry with me because I will not go to a "gathering" and get crazy with them. I think it is just dumb. And if they get caught and lose their scholarships that is their fault.
    I am actually writing a paper in my college english class explaining how curfews need to be stricter. Some of my classmates have gotten
    into a lot of troulbe with the law.
    I

    Posted by paigejj April 19, 11 02:26 PM
  1. my mom always said nothing good happened after midnight. she was and is still right

    Posted by meg January 10, 12 01:27 PM
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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.

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