Firm consistency the key to winning the curfew war

Part six of eight excerpts from the new book “Letting Go with Love and Confidence.”

“Curfew” is one of those words that adolescents seem programmed to hate because it’s often interpreted as meaning “You just want to control me,” or “You don’t trust me.”

In actuality, a curfew is a reflection of your concern for your child’s safety and well being.

Part six of eight.

Excerpted from the new book Letting Go with Love and Confidence.

Curfew is one of those words that adolescents seem programmed to hate because it’s often interpreted as meaning “You just want to control me,” or “You don’t trust me.”

In actuality, a curfew is a reflection of your concern for your child’s safety and well being.

So present it as such. Your teen will probably push back with “I’m the only kid who has to be in at 11.” You need to respond “I love you, I care about you, I want to help keep you safe.”

Make it routine

Get your pre-adolescent in the habit of being in from playing at a designated time or turning his lights out at 10. That helps teach time management. Stress the importance of sleep for school and sports performance.

During the middle-school years, setting a curfew as the need arises gives you a chance to see how your child handles responsibility. Does he allow enough time to walk home from a friend’s house? Is he waiting where promised when you pick him up?

Some parents prefer a set curfew for their teens, while others prefer to vary curfew depending on the circumstances. Flexibility encourages a teen to demonstrate responsibility in exchange for more privileges.

That’s not to indicate that the agreed-upon curfew is open to interpretation—tonight’s 11 o’clock curfew is 11 o’clock—but that you will sometimes give permission ahead of time for a later curfew on a particular night.

A good starting point is to ask your teen what she thinks a reasonable curfew should be. Your comfort level, your teen’s comfort level, and the safety of your community should be part of the discussion. You’ll always be on the defensive if your child’s curfew is decidedly earlier than his friends. Discussing communal rules with other parents can help.

Curfews relieve pressure on teens

Enforce “the check-in rule ” that requires her to say good night when she comes in.  It will give you peace of mind she’s home safe and give her a face-saving “out” to avoid drinking or drugs: “You kidding? My mom smells my breath.”

Spell out the expectations and consequences in advance. You need to know where she is. Homework must be completed. Your child must call to explain if she is delayed because of traffic. You expect her to follow the check-in rule.

If your teen misses curfew, tell him at that moment that you were worried, but are relieved he’s home safely, and tell him you’ll talk more about the missed curfew in the morning.

Make it clear that freedoms are earned with demonstrated responsibility and that privileges are lost when he shows an inability to handle the freedom. Blowing curfew should not lead to grounding (unless some troubling circumstances require a break from friends).

Instead, roll privileges back to where they were when your teen was acting with realiable 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 until I see that you’re once again able to keep track of time.”  A similar rollback should occur if school performance slips because of fatigue or missed homework.

One last key point: Your teen’s curfew should not violate any community curfew or state driving laws that forbid new drivers from being on the road after a certain hour.

Discussion questions: What time is your teen’s curfew? What do you do if he breaks it?

—Excerpted with permission and edited from Letting Go with Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century (Avery, 2011).

In September and October, NewsWorks is presenting a series of eight excerpts from the new book, Letting Go with Love and Confidence. Here are the dates for the rest of the series.

How do I talk about:

Success? Thursday, Sept. 29
Sex? Monday, Oct. 3


Ginsburg_77x77Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D., M.S.Ed., is a pediatrician and researcher specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Regularly voted a “Top Doc” by Philadelphia magazine, he also serves homeless and marginalized youth as the Director of Health Services at Covenant House Pennsylvania. He talks around the country on the importance of cultivating resilience in children so that they can thrive in a complex world. He is an advisor to the U.S. military, providing strategies to help families cope with a loved one’s deployment. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two teenage daughters.

Fitzgerald_77x77Susan FitzGerald is an award-winning journalist with a specialty in children’s health issues. A former staff writer and editor for The Philadelphia Inquirer, she now works as an independent writer and editor and teaches health writing in the graduate Writing Studies Program at St. Joseph’s University. She and her husband have three sons.

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