The Role Of A Curfew
Working with your sons and/or daughters to establish an effective curfew can go a long way toward keeping them healthy, safe, and focused on their responsibilities. A successful curfew not only gets your children home on time, but keeps a daily conversation going to let you know what their plans are and where they go when plans change. Staying out late exacerbates typical teen issues with maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, which is the foundation for achievement in school and meeting other responsibilities. Being on the street or in unsupervised locations late at night often exposes teens to drug and alcohol abuse, as well as dangerous and criminal behavior. Making sure that they are not there in the first place can nip these problems in the bud.

It’s important not to think of a curfew as a blanket solution; if you look at it as a cure-all you will likely end up with more of a band-aid solution. Teen crime and drug use is often highest in the hours after school, before parents get home, or when teens have the least supervision. So, a curfew is simply a tool to maximize supervision, safety, and sleep, late at night. Don’t kid yourself; teens would have no trouble getting into whatever kind of trouble they wanted to, even if they followed an 8pm curfew. Seeing your teens’ curfew as just one part of the baseline of ideas, resources, and rules that you use to guide them will help put it in context for all of you. Show them that the curfew is part of how you all work together as a family, not just a harsh new attempt to control them.

What Time Should It Be?
There are several factors to consider when deciding what time is most effective and practical for curfew. First, teens need more sleep than adults, a bare minimum of eight hours a night. If they need to wake up at seven, to be at school by eight, and it takes them half an hour to get to sleep after getting home, then the latest possible school night curfew would be ten-thirty. The fact that this calculation sounds like a fourth grade math problem should tip you off to the fact that your teens will figure this out just as fast as you. So, if you are going to set the school night curfew significantly earlier than that you will want to have a good explanation. Making a curfew feel logical rather than authoritarian is essential to making it function. It’s also important to consider shaping a curfew to give your teens a chance to have a job. Often enforcing a curfew gets a whole lot easier when they experience what it is like to go to work and school on little sleep, or worse, hung-over.

Next consider your family’s needs. Many families have several teenagers, and each may have different needs. Can your teens come in without waking up parents and siblings? If not, the curfew could be set earlier until they can. Giving one or more of your teens a room with its own outdoor entrance is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows them to come and go without disturbing the family. Giving teens more freedom inside the house makes it more comfortable for friends to gather there, also allowing you to supervise minimally. On the other hand, you are also giving away your opportunity to see everyone that comes through the door, and a separate entrance makes it even easier for them to go back out after you go to sleep.

Consider what time makes sense relative to what is going on your community, especially for weekend curfew. You’ll probably want to check when things get out and set it late enough so that they can go out with friends, to a game or movie for example, leave a little time for chatting and still make it home in time. Is there a youth center or some other supervised space like a bowling alley that is open late for teens in your area? Does it make sense to set the curfew at their closing time? That can feel like a logical limit: they don’t have to leave early — they just won’t end up at the after party. The party after the game may sound epic in the heat of the moment but it is very likely to be no different than most of the other parties thrown by the same group of people. Setting a curfew will not stop your teen from going to parties. But it should stop them from getting in the habit of going to every one they can, and it’s that kind of habit that so often starts more destructive ones.

The Role of Friends
What teens do when they go out at night is most often shaped by their friends. So knowing if their friends have curfews and when those curfews are can help you set a time that makes sense for their social life, making it more enforceable. It can also provide a great excuse to get to know your teen’s friends and their families a little better, if you haven’t already. Calling up to ask what time a teen’s friend’s curfew is as a reference for setting your teen’s gives you a chance to say, “”I’ll enforce yours if you enforce mine.” This can lead to making a list of friend’s houses where it is okay to spend the night because you have a shared understanding with the friend’s parents. Make a list with phone numbers, put it on the fridge, and you have empowered a group of friends to hang out together in a different supervised space every night of the week. Be aware, however, that a lot of teens are constantly on the look out for places where they can hang out, drink, smoke marijuana, and stay up all night without objection. That means you have to be on the lookout too, offer to pick them up, then come in to meet the friend’s parents and look around.

Find Out Where the Trouble Is
If a curfew’s job is to keep teens out of trouble, be sure to see what time and where trouble is most often going on where you live. If you grew up there you probably already know, but either way keep an eye on the trouble spots because criminal activities change locations quickly. It’s helpful to dig a little deeper than your local news, because they most often cover specific incidents and can give you inflated impressions. The important thing is not just to know how bad crime is where you live, but when and where underage drinking, drug-related crimes, vandalism, and shoplifting, is being reported. If you are not positive you know what’s going on, talk to people who would know, including local police, convenience store clerks, and cab drivers, etc. And don’t forget to discuss it with your teens. They are the best sources to figure out where and when they might get into trouble. Joking over the police blotter in your local paper can be a hilarious conversation starter. Taking all these factors into consideration, you can set a logical curfew for your teens and give them reasonable explanations for your specific time choices.

Agreeing On And Upholding A Curfew
Teenagers usually see the independence you give them as directly proportional to how many opportunities to have fun that they get. Their first impression of a new curfew is likely to be that it takes away a lot of their independence and embarrasses them with their friends, so why agree to it or uphold it? In life, freedoms are often gained by showing you can handle your current responsibilities well. Using obeying curfew as a precursor for getting more independence is an empowering way to help them establish an effective curfew.

If your teens do not already have a cell phones you could offer to get one for each teen if he or she doesn’t break curfew for a month. Cell phones will not only light up teenagers’ social lives, it will help you keep tabs on where they are and what they are doing. You could also make paying for their cell phone contingent on them not breaking curfew. Call your teen anytime he or she is late coming home. If your teen knows to expect a call at curfew it will make him or her think ahead about how to remain accountable. Be sure not to rely too heavily on the phone; almost anyone can say he is at the library when he is at a party. If your teen drives you can use that privilege in the same way, offering to make it okay to take the car if he or she consistently upholds curfew. Considering that many teens don’t have access to a car, your teens can give incentives to their friends to support them being responsible. For example, “I can drive us all to the game if we come right back after. . .” Combine these elements to offer your teens strong positive incentives, entwined with their independence to go out and have fun, in exchange for abiding by the curfew.

When you sit down to discuss why a curfew is necessary with your teens, make sure to pick a time when you can each give it your undivided attention. Making this conversation especially thoughtful and meaningful by showing that you have considered their needs and desires, and are prepared to offer them new freedoms down the line, will help form a sturdy foundation for holding up the curfew in the future. Naturally, teenagers may be looking for loopholes, so take the time to make sure there is no room for excuses or obfuscating

Maintain Bargaining Power Over Time
To make a curfew work as a powerful tool to guide your teens you must retain your bargaining power over time. The most compelling tools you have to do this are to be utterly consistent and openly reasonable. Late at night it can be very tempting to let it go and fall asleep, yet if they get away with staying out late without notice once or twice this will always be in the back of their minds, and if a party looks like enough fun they’ll risk breaking curfew. To help them continue to see that the curfew is fair, keep an eye out for logical exceptions you can plan with your teens, such as going to a concert or other special event.