The Limits of Curfews

It isn't early curfews that keep teens out of trouble; it's respect for parents and family.

During the elementary school years, the most enviable child is the one with the latest bedtime. When the children become teens, curfew replaces bedtime as the ultimate symbol of privilege. And just as curfew represents freedom to teens, it represents control to their parents. Unfortunately.

When parenting author John Rosemond suggested to a group of parents that the typical 16-year-old can be trusted to set his or her own curfew, an indignant parent countered that if teens were allowed such freedom, they'd get into "nothing but trouble."

The truth is, Rosemond continued, that only a small minority of teenagers ever gets into serious trouble. Nearly all of them make mistakes, but very few make big ones. It isn't early curfews that keep teens out of trouble; it's respect for parents and family. If you respect your parents, you will try not to disappoint them. It's as simple as that.

When Rosemond's son turned 14, his curfew on nonschool nights was 10:00. He told his parents that was too early, and they agreed. His parents also told him they were tired of being "enforcers," and asked how he would like to set his own curfew. Rosemond explains:

"While we didn't believe Eric was old enough at 14 to come in when he wanted, we allowed him to proceed toward that goal. Every six months we extended Eric's curfew by 30 minutes, provided there were no violations within that six-month period. No excuses would be accepted. When he had earned a midnight curfew and not violated it for six months, he would be able to set his own curfew.

"'Understand one thing,' I told Eric. 'Even when you are setting your own curfew, your mother and I will want to know where you are and who you are with. Furthermore, if you say you are going to be in by 2:00, we expect you in at 2:00 and not a minute later. If you violate the curfew you set for yourself, we go back to midnight for six months. In other words, Eric, being able to set your own curfew means freedom, but it also means commitment, responsibility, and most of all, trust.'

"My wife and I didn't want to control Eric. We wanted Eric to control himself. We figured that he would not learn to control himself if we did all the controlling. When he went off to college, we did not want him feeling and acting as if he'd just been released from prison.

"I don't think we ever had to reset the six-month clock for Eric. Shortly after getting his driver's license and his own four wheels, he earned the debatable privilege of setting his own curfew. I say debatable because he was more conservative than his mother and I would have been. He usually set curfews for himself that were earlier by a long shot than we would have set. I never told him so, of course. Why? Because like most parents, I could not sleep soundly until he came home."


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