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Setting Curfews Without a Fight

Find Out How to Set Curfews for Your Teen That Really Work

My friend, Sylvia, conflicting with her teenager about curfew, sought my opinion. "Does my 17-year-old daughter's 11 p.m. curfew sound reasonable to you?" she asked.

My thoughts quickly reverted to my own years as a teenager, thinking that's exactly the time that I had to be in on weekends. If I broke curfew, Dad would ground me for two weeks. I tried to explain to Sylvia, however, what teenagers' lives look like today. Times have changed since we were teenagers. Today, teens work varied shifts until 10 p.m. or participate in sports practices several nights a week that extend to 9 p.m. or later. For a group to gather on a weekend or during summer evenings, the teens look to a 9 to 10 p.m. meeting time, unlike the 7 p.m. gathering time of yesteryear.

Do Teens Today Need to Stay Out Later?

"Your request for her to be home at 11 p.m. is unreasonable," I offered, siding with her daughter – not because I didn't desperately want that for my own teens, but I knew why the evening started so late, how long it takes to rent a video, to choose someone's house to watch it and then to return home. Eleven p.m.? Never!

On weekends, the scenario looks like this: The phone starts ringing at 9 p.m., and the house becomes alive with chatter, ideas and plans. "What time does the movie begin?" or "Who's having the party? I'll call Kelly. You call Zach." As parents, we know two things: Something's cooking, and it doesn't start until late.

Setting Rules: Become the CEO of Your Teen's Brain

According to Zemorah Murray, director of youth development at the YMCA of Greater Seattle, , it's critical for parents to set curfews for their teenaged children. She advises parents to use three criteria for setting curfews:

  • Expectations must be clear and specific.
  • Breaking curfew must carry real consequences.
  • Parents must follow through! If a consequence to breaking curfew is that the teen won't be able to use the car for a week, the parent must enforce the consequence no matter how difficult it is for them to drive the teen to and from activities.

When asked how much input a teen should have with making these rules, Murray becomes scientific and refers to David Walsh's book, WHY Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (Free Press, 2004). "The prefrontal cortex of the teen brain isn't developed yet," Murray says. "It's under construction. Parents must be in charge and become the CEO of the teen brain."

Now my own daughter, Sarah, a bright 16-year-old, came up with what I call creative curfewing. At midnight, she and her boyfriend were chatting on our front doorstep, which was my cue to fall asleep – with a sigh of relief that she was home. This particular night, however, Sarah invited her boyfriend to tiptoe into the living room. "Curfew at midnight means that you must be in the house at midnight – ALONE!" I scolded. I now realize that a written contract posted on the refrigerator, with clear curfew rules, would have avoided the problem Sarah's creative curfew caused.

Make Teens Responsible for Keeping Curfew

Some teenagers wake their parents at curfew to say they're home. Some must turn off an alarm set for midnight, before it rings and disturbs the parent. The key, according to Murray, is to give the teen the responsibility. Teens are exploring their independence. Building a relationship between parents and teens is important. They need to know they're a part of the family, with certain responsibilities. If they "choose" to break curfew, then they also "choose" to forego driving privileges for a week. It's their choice, their responsibility.

Once the parents and teen have conquered the curfew issue, just wait until the teen enters college – where there is no curfew – and returns home for the first visit! Since your home is not a fraternity or a sorority house, e-mailing clear expectations before their arrival is a good start.

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CeReality: 5 Families, 5 Stories, 1 Critical Meal

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