On a typical Saturday night, hundreds of parents sit in front of their televisions, watching and waiting, wondering when their teens will finally get home. Meanwhile, the teens out on a Saturday night often lose track of time or forget that they even have a curfew.
When the teens finally return, the battles begin. The teens feel they should be allowed to stay out later. The parents want their teens home safe. So who's right and who's wrong?
"Teenagers are looking for independence," says Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages of Teenagers (Moody Publishers, 2001). "They want social, emotional and intellectual independence.
The parents have to think not only independence, but also responsibility in order to find a middle ground to make all those involved happy."
Children want and demand independence as soon as they begin to walk. Once they master mobility, they no longer want to be carried or confined to a stroller. As they continue to grow, they learn to eat, climb stairs and dress, again demanding more independence.
It is no surprise that once a child reaches adolescence, the level of independence they seek is much higher. As a result, a middle ground must be found between what the teen wants and what the parent will allow.
Create a Contract
One of the easiest ways to find the "middle of the road" regarding curfews is for parents and teens to compare and compromise on what they both want and expect. "There should be clear guidelines that detail the responsibilities and also the consequences if a teen violates these guidelines," Chapman says. "The teen should be in on the decision of setting up these guidelines and the process should begin in the early teenage years. When it's done this way the teenager accepts it as being more fair – because they had a part in it – and it keeps the parent from overreacting when the teenager gets into trouble or breaks one of the guidelines."
Rather than acting emotionally, parents can employ the consequences they all originally agreed upon, he says.
"It's not easy trying to compromise with teens," says Carrie Eichler, a nurse and mother of three from Ashland, Ohio. "My oldest son wants more independence, but then when he realizes that more responsibilities come with it, often changes his mind. Finding an easy way to set guidelines – like curfews, rules, phone and computer times – would be wonderful. I would be willing to allow him input. After all, the rules and guidelines will affect him."
Setting the Time
Actual time guidelines depend upon the teens themselves. If a child is more acceptable to rules and responsibilities, they may be able to handle the responsibility of a later curfew – such as 11 p.m. or midnight. However, a teen who avoids responsibility or who has a history of "getting in trouble" may require an earlier curfew to prevent any further incidents and to offer evidence – to both parents and themselves – that they are capable of handling the extra responsibility.
"Teens mature at different rates," Chapman says. "Parents know their teens best and should use their best judgment in setting time guidelines. However, teens should be involved in the final decision and should be allowed to 'speak their case' before a final decision is made."
"We tend to ease our way from childhood to adolescence," Chapman says. "We don't have any conversation about it. As a result, the parents have one set of ideas of what they expect of the teenager and the teen has other ideas, depending upon what their friends are doing. So it is inevitable that they are going to run into conflict over these issues."
And all that arguing usually leads to the parents losing their influence over their teenager.
"My son is always late coming home," says Laura Hess, a mother of four from Minneapolis, Minn. "I have tried grounding him, taking away the phone, computer and television, but nothing works. I always end up giving in. I know that I shouldn't, but what teen wants to be stuck in the house on a Saturday night or wants the embarrassment of not being allowed to talk on the phone? I wouldn't and I guess that makes me feel guilty."
But setting curfews for your teen does not have to become a battle. Involving him or her in the process – which allows them to know what is expected of them as well as what happens if they do not live up to their end of the bargain – can prevent unnecessary arguments or power struggles.
"Deal with curfew and all the other related areas by working out the guidelines together ... and both parents and teens will be moving in the same direction and will be on the same page," Chapman says.