#AskAlyson: Curfew rules

There are a lot of factors that determine an appropriate curfew, including age, the safety of your neighbourhood and how well your child manages schedules.

Alyson Schafer 5 minute read December 3, 2021
Dali Landscape

Some parents of teens ask that their kids stay in touch by sending text updates or making a FaceTime call home. GETTY

Dear Alyson,

My son recently turned 14 — a super social, great kid. But lately, he seems to be constantly debating the time he needs to be home. Are there any guidelines I should be following? Also, part of what influences my decision on how long he stays out is how late I have to stay up — is that bad? Should I stay up until he is is home? I have a friend who insists that his son wakes him up to say goodnight so he knows he is home, but also so he can smell his breath. 

Need Advice

In our efforts to be reasonable parents, it’s natural for us to ask the question “what time is a typical curfew for kids the same age as mine?” If we simply guess and randomly impose a time, we might get some teen blow back: “But Jake is allowed to stay out ‘til midnight!” Worse, if we unilaterally decide and impose a time that our teen feels is too early, they’ll likely decide to defy us and stay out past curfew anyways. So how do we move forward?

A closer look at curfews
A curfew is simply a social agreement between a parent and a child. It’s ultimately about getting along with one another and co-operating to solve a problem of finding the balance between a teen’s budding independence and need to hang with friends on the one hand, and our needs. What are our needs? We need to be sure they are safe and being responsible with their use of time. We need to get some sleep. And, if we have to pick them up, we might want to get our driving responsibility over with so we can pour ourselves a glass of wine and enjoy some of the evening ourselves. Feel free to add any other items to this basic list that fit your unique family situation.

So the big question is, how can we work through all those variables and come up with a workable solution for both parties? Invite your teen to chat with you in a spirit of wanting to find a good solution. Something that is a win-win, best-for-both outcome. People are more likely to uphold agreements they had some input in creating, as opposed to those made in a competitive environment.

A great metaphor that parenting expert Jennifer Kolari uses is rock climbing, The parent is safely on the ground, responsible for belaying their teen safely as they ascend the wall to greater independence and adulthood. The teen needs to communicate that they have a grip and that the parent can let out more line. It’s an opportunity for the teen to prove they can handle more independence and responsibility with higher levels of risk. If the parent holds on too tight and refuses to let out line, the teen gets angry. If the parent lets out too much line, the teen might fall and get hurt. By working together, figuring out autonomy and curfews can be a relatively smooth process of transition.

One way to start is to consider how they are doing with other “curfews.” Are they late coming home from school? Do they come to the supper table when dinner is ready? Are they waiting and ready at the spot you agreed to meet them for a ride home from the mall?  Each of these are opportunities to practice scheduling skills and have them prove to you that they are able to be responsible about watching the time and holding up their end of the agreement.

Depending on factors like where you live, how safe your town or neighbourhood is, how street-proofed your teen is, and how they are getting around, you can expect a 15 or 16 year old to be out till 9 or 10 p.m. on a school night — later on the weekends. By 17 or 18 years old, the parties start later and end later, so a time between midnight and 1:00 a.m. may be more age appropriate.

Some parents of teens ask that their kids stay in touch by sending text updates or making a FaceTime call home at some point in the night so parents have assurance they are clear-headed. This helps teens save face when they refuse alcohol or drugs: “I can’t, I have to FT with my mom and she’ll know.” But again, if you sour the relationship with your teen by being overly cautious and controlling, or if you stop trusting them, they will be less motivated to make this contact. You may hear excuses like, “Oh, I had my ringer off” or “Someone took my phone.” The level of co-operation between parent and child is the biggest predictor of whether they will keep curfew and make responsible choices for themselves when they are not being supervised.

If you can’t sleep until they are home, you are going to have some serious sleep loss over the adolescent years. Try heading to bed early and then wake up at curfew time, have a warm cup of milk and greet them when they arrive, or offer to be the driver and pick them up. Some parents have their kids say goodnight and kiss them so you can assess their eyes and breath before going into a deep sleep. Just tread carefully here as you navigate that thin line between being astute and not trusting them. How resentful would you feel if you were given a breathalyzer every night by your loved one? I promise you will have a chance to catch your kids drunk and stoned — but that is a whole other column.

Alyson Schafer is one of Canada’s leading parenting experts. She can be reached at hello@alysonschafer.com or on social media @alysonschafer.

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