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Healthy Living

Staying Out Late & Curfews

​​​Adolescents are programmed to hate curfew because they think it’s about control or trust. A curfew is a reflection of your concern for your child’s safety and well being, so present it as such. Your teen may push back with “I’m the only kid who has to be in at 11” (probably not true, but don’t go there). You need to respond “I love you, I care about you, I want to help keep you safe.”

Getting Used to Curfews

  • Getting your younger child in the routine of being in at 5 or turning his lights out at 10 allows him to experience structure.
  • In middle school, adolescents start staying later at friends’ houses. First, reinforce the importance of adequate sleep for school and sports performance. But allow curfew to give you a chance to see how he handles responsibility. Does he allow enough time to get home? Is he waiting where promised when you pick him up? Does he call if something unforeseen comes up?
  • “How late can I stay out?”  becomes a recurring question for teens. Some parents prefer a set curfew, while others prefer to vary curfew decisions by the circumstances: One night 10:30 makes sense; another night, midnight is acceptable. Flexibility encourages a teen to demonstrate responsibility in exchange for expanded privileges. That’s not to say that the agreed-upon curfew is open to interpretation— tonight’s 11 o’clock curfew is 11 o’clock not 11:30— but that you give permission ahead of time to stretch the usual curfew on a special night because he’s proven he routinely gets home on time. A flexible curfew, particularly in the last year of high school, allows a teen to prepare for college life, where it’ll be his decision when to head home. You want your teen to make smart decisions himself, rather than depend on someone else telling him what to do.
  • A good starting point is to ask your teen what she thinks a reasonable curfew should be. Remember, a curfew is a tool to keep your child healthy, productive, and safe. Your comfort level, your teen’s comfort level, and the safety of your community should all be part of the discussion. Consider whether your teen’s friends live nearby? Does he have a weekend job? You’ll be on the defensive if your child’s curfew is earlier than his close friends. Knowing other parents and discussing common rules comes in handy here.

Making Curfews Work

  • Enforce ‘the check-in rule ” that requires her to say good night when she comes in, even if that means waking you.  It will give you peace of mind she’s home safe and give her a face-saving “out” to avoid drinking or drugs.  “Are you kidding!! She smells me when I get home!”
  • Curfew works best when the expectations and consequences are clearly spelled out ahead of time. You need to know where she is. Any time is too late if it interferes with schoolwork. Homework must be completed and she must get enough sleep to focus in school and manage stress. You expect a call if your child is delayed because of traffic. You expect her to follow the check-in rule. You expect her to be respectful of others who have to get up early and arrive quietly.
  • If your teen misses curfew, tell him you were worried but are relieved he’s home safely and will talk to him in the morning. Late-night heated discussions are rarely productive. Make it clear that freedoms are earned with demonstrated responsibility and that privileges are lost when behaviors demonstrate an inability to handle the freedom. Blowing curfew should not lead to grounding (unless some troubling circumstances require time-off away from the streets or friends), but instead to a measured roll-back in privileges to the point your teen was able to display responsibility. If he misses his 11:30 curfew, your response should be “You did well when your curfew was 11. We’ll go back to 11 for a few weeks until I see that you’re once again capable of keeping track of the time.”  A similar rollback should occur if school performance slips and is related to fatigue or incomplete homework.

Bottom line: Curfews are about safety, self control, time management and feeling fresh for the next day. Set clear expectations and consequences and stick to them, but be flexible if he demonstrates responsibility.

Last Updated
Excerpted and edited from "Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century." Kenneth Ginsburg and Susan FitzGerald. Avery Press, Penguin Books, 2011
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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