Summer is here and hundreds of new teenage drivers are hitting the streets with new found freedom…. “I am out of school, I can drive, I can do whatever I want” is often the thought process. Parents faced with this situation begin asking the question, “What is a reasonable curfew for my teenager?”
The answer to this is really not the issue. There really is no “magic” or “perfect” curfew time. The real issue is the question itself. It assumes that a “curfew” is a healthy way to manage teen activities. This is a flaw in reasoning that begins to alienate teens and parents.
My grandmother used to say that “nothing good happens after ten o’clock.” I hate to say it but she is more right than not. Later in the evening teenagers are typically at their worst, they have less impulse control and make more significant errors in judgment than during the day. It is well known that boredom is often the seed to creativity, but later in the evening, boredom more often leads to mischief among the teenage population.
Most illegal and immoral activity of concern with our teens occurs after dinner time…. we all know this. On the surface, this makes a good argument for an early curfew. I would argue that it is actually the process of using a curfew that causes more trouble. Let me explain.
When a parent tells a teenager “Your curfew is 10 pm,” this is what is actually heard; “I can stay out every night until 10pm…. and I bet I can talk them into 11.” The next thing that happens, based on conversations with thousands of parents in my office, is that the parents never see their kids anymore.
Parents say hello in the morning before school and then goodnight when they come in the door at 10ish. Again, the issue is really not the time. What happens is that daily these teens are now attempting to be gone until their curfew time. They often believe they are supposed to. Parents lose touch with where and what they are doing because the only standard in play now is…. ”be home by 10.”
Communication and connection begins to suffer greatly and in many cases is never restored until later in life, if at all. At a time when we should now be mentoring the young adults in our home, we see them less than ever. The idea and purpose of family is no more.
A healthier approach to all of this is “negotiation.” Instead of a curfew, as if any one time is more healthy or moral than another, freedom should begin with dialogue. When a teen wants to begin stretching their wings – great – but it should require more engagement with parents, not less.
In other words, there should be no curfew; everything should be on the table for discussion and evaluation. Now that is true freedom. When your teen wants to go out they need to present information as to what, why, where, when, etc. And if it is reasonable, say yes. If it is not reasonable, begin to mentor them by suggesting and shaping their plan.
Simple example; Johnny wants to go to the movies with Billy – the 9:30 show. You like Billy and you are cool with kids going to movies, but the show won’t even let out until around 12:30 AM. You state, “Nothing good happens after 10 o’clock and besides, I am like my mother and will stay awake until you are in the house – so pick an earlier movie.” So now Johnny is faced with either going to the earlier show, not going to the movie and staying home, or introducing a new idea into the discussion – and we as parents want to figure out a way to say “yes” to many things.
This process leads to more interaction and when there are not real plans, to teenagers hanging at home more often.
The blunt truth is this: If your teenager can’t engage in this process, they are not mature enough to handle being out late anyway.
As parents we have to help our kids engage and dispute the many cultural myths that surround their world such as, “Curfew is a good thing, teenage relationships have to have drama, and the teenage years are always difficult and turbulent”….none of these is necessarily true!
Granting privileges just because you think you are supposed to is always a mistake. As parents we need to see demonstration of maturity related to the areas where freedom is desired. And healthy freedoms and privileges should always increase communication and connection with parents since we are the ones that grant them.
Keith is a Family and Parenting Expert who continues to work with children, families, and individuals in the Roanoke Valley and surrounding areas in hopes of helping to rebuild the American family. Keith is currently hosting a 1-day Parenting Retreat entitled “Raising Sturdy Kids in a Broken World” on May 9th. For more information contact Total Life Counseling, Inc. at (540) 989-1383.