Author: Alison Johnson
The words "summer" and "curfew" might not seem like a good match, given that one symbolizes freedom from routine and the other - at least in the rolling eyes of many a teen - an outright assault on that freedom.
But summer curfews are just as important as school-year curfews, parenting experts say. Teenagers still need to stay safe and get enough sleep to stay healthy, of course, but they also need chances to show they can be dependable and, in exchange, gradually earn more independence.
A key to making curfew work is to involve a child in the discussion, says Sam Fabian, a parent educator at Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. Teens can offer feedback on time deadlines and rules for outings, while parents can explain that curfews can be flexible but also will be based on how well a child follows the guidelines and takes care of responsibilities at home or at a summer job.
"Obviously the parent always has the final say, but as kids prove they will behave well - get home on time, check in when they're supposed to and not lie about where they are - then curfews might be more negotiable," Fabian says. "Kids should also understand that curfew is about keeping them safe."
So what time is right for what age? Parents should learn the legal curfew in their locality, and some use general guidelines such as 9 p.m. for a ninth-grader, 10 p.m. for a 10th-grader, and so on, with midnight an absolute cutoff without very special circumstances.
However, a much better approach is to consider each child and family situation individually, says Michele Borba, an educational psychologist in California and author of "The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries".
That includes many factors: age, maturity, past trustworthiness, personality traits - is the child generally levelheaded, a risk-taker, or susceptible to peer pressure - friends' behavior, the planned activity, neighborhood safety and sleep needs. Other parents with kids of the same age also can share what they're trying and what has worked well.
In general, Borba recommends a baby step model, with parents always aware of where a child is going, who she's going with and what adults will be around. If a child wants a 10 p.m. curfew, say, start at 9 and see how she does. Does she get home on time and check in as requested, whether at certain times or whenever she changes locations? Does she respect rules such as not going to houses where no adult is present, not drinking or calling for a ride if she feels unsafe? If a parent calls the place where she's supposed to be, will she be there?
"What you're trying to do is slowly help the child learn how to handle life without you," Borba says. "They should understand that curfew is an earned privilege, not a right. Say to them, 'This is you proving to me that you can handle it.'"
With all those variables in play, even siblings in the same household might have very different curfews, Borba adds. "You might have one child who gets to stay out until 11 and another who you'd never let out of the house after dark," she says. By the same token, a tween on a well-lit cul-de-sac might be able to stay outside longer - assuming good behavior and tolerant neighbors - than a teenager on a dark or traffic-filled street.
Curfews also can vary based on the activity and friends involved, so special occasions with well-known friends might mean extra time. Parents and teenagers can make compromises, too. "Maybe you alternate between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. on weekends," Fabian says. "Be flexible, but revisit things if kids aren't getting up and doing what they need to do during the day. Even in summer, kids need routines."
Tweens and teens could use refreshers on basic safety during curfew discussions, such as always walking with a friend and not going anywhere with a stranger. If they're ever uncomfortable, they should know to call a parent or maybe have a secret code they could text to ask for help.
Punishment for breaking curfew should be immediate and fit the broken rule, advises Chenequa Moulds, Parent Education Coordinator for the Healthy Families Partnership in Hampton. "If the teen is out late with the car, for example, take the car keys for two days," Moulds says. "Not, 'you were out late with the car, so you have extra chores to do this week.' Neither has anything to do with each other."
Spelling out possible punishments in advance also can help enforce the rules, Borba says. Penalties could come in increments: an hour earlier for curfew for a first offense, for example, followed by a full weekend's grounding or lost car privileges.
"The more specific, the better," she says. "The kid needs to know you're very serious about it - and that the consequences could always change depending on the circumstances surrounding a broken rule."
Inevitably, kids will protest that their parents' rules are stricter than another friend's. "The parent should just remind their teen that they are responsible for him or her, and this is the rules of their household," Moulds says.
Of course, kids can always save face by blaming their unfair life on their parents. "Give them things they can say," Borba says. "Like, 'if I don't get home now, or if I take this drink at this party, I'm going to lose my car for the next three years.'"
They may roll their eyes, sure, but they're more likely to get home safely.
Source: Tidewater Parent Magazine