My son and his friends looked ridiculous as they posed for Homecoming pictures. Though they were all freshly shaven and wearing ties, they were also donning silly white “clout goggles.” Because my son isn’t old enough to drive yet, the boys had gathered at our home so that I could drive them to the dance.
As we were preparing to leave, some of the boys asked if they could all head to a local diner after the dance. My son looked at me and said, “Can I go?” and I said yes. And then I wondered instantly if I should give him a firm time that he was going to have to leave the diner.
In short, even though he can’t drive yet, I wasn’t sure if I should give him a curfew.
In the end, we agreed that another parent would pick the boys up by midnight, mostly because none of us wanted to stay up until the wee hours of the morning, waiting on teenaged boys to finish eating their body weights in French fries and milkshakes.
Feeling unfamiliar about the ins and outs of curfews for teens led me to do a little bit of research on state and local laws related to curfews as well as the benefits of expecting your teen to come home at a certain time.
Of course, we all want our teens home, safe and sound, before our heads hit the pillows and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tiny bit selfish when I tell my kids I want them home before Cinderella’s carriage becomes a pumpkin again. It occurred to me, though, that I wasn’t familiar with the laws in my state when it comes to curfews. And I didn’t research the laws so that I could tell my teen, “The law says you have to be home at 11.” Okay, maybe I did, a little.
However, in my research, I learned that curfews benefit teens by teaching them effective time management, particularly when they’ve driven a distance to a party or event. If they have to be home at midnight and they are 40 minutes away, they learn pretty quickly that they can’t be speeding home at 11:55 pm. Teens, especially seniors in high school, will soon be on their own in college and curfews can help them learn responsibility when it comes to leaving room for homework, jobs and family obligations.
While we may have personal reasons for telling our teens to be home at a specific time, most states have strict curfew laws regarding newly licensed teens because vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death in kids ages 16-24. In Pennsylvania, teens with the “Young Driver” designation must be off the road by 11p. The American Academy of Pediatrics has even taken a position on teen curfews: they support a nighttime driving restriction from 12:00 am to 5:00 am until the age of 18.
In addition to state curfews applied to teens and driving, according to the National Youth Rights Association, “Over 400 towns, cities, counties, and states where it is illegal for young people to be outside of their homes at certain times of the day.” Most curfews are applied during the school day and are designed, again, to keep children safe from crime and victimization when they are away from their homes and parents.
But are curfews successful at keeping teens safe? Science says yes.
In a study done by the National Institute of Health and published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that, “juvenile curfew laws were effective at reducing adverse youth health outcomes (e.g., trauma transports), juvenile crime, and victimization.” Basically, this study justifies all those times you stood your ground and asked that your teenager be home by a certain time. #SorryNotSorryKiddo
Okay, so now that we’ve all agreed that curfews benefit teenagers, let’s get to the real question at hand: how do we decide on a specific time for a kid to be home? A curfew for a 13-year-old is going to be quite different than a curfew designed for an 18-year-old kid who drives. How do you create a timetable that will grow with your teen?
The solution is quite simple, really: work backwards.
A wise headmaster once suggested to ninth grade parents that they think long and hard about curfews. He explained it this way,
Think about what time is okay for a high school senior to come in at night. Realize that every year you will want to move their curfew back a little bit in acknowledgment of their growing maturity and freedom. Then work backwards four years. If you start ninth grade at midnight, you will soon find yourself in trouble.
Every teenager is different and can handle varying levels of responsibility when it comes to curfews. And, curfews require flexibility, too: a trip to the movies with friends requires a different curfew than, say, Prom or Homecoming. Talking with your teen about the laws in your state and allowing him to have input on curfew limits will help you both come to an agreeable solution that is easy to enforce. And, remember: teens will always press the limits so be sure to have clear consequences for those nights when they come tiptoeing in after curfew.
No teen wants to be told what to do and curfews can be a sore subject at times but, helping them understand the laws and rules will make it easier for you to fall asleep at night.