Here’s what the curfew conversation sounded like in my childhood around 16yo. Remember, there were no cell phones for texting or tracking.

Parents: “Where are you going?”

Me: “We’re all meeting at Jackie’s then hanging out.”

Parents: “Doing what?”

Me: “Hanging out! Just sitting around and talking.”

Parents: “Ok, well, be home by 11:30pm.”

Me: “Ok” (eye rolling, frustrated, annoyed and knowing full well I wasn’t coming home on time).

My friend’s all lived in walking distance to my house, so I didn’t need a car and appreciated the freedom of being on foot and outside. We always met at one house and might have moved to another, walked to the store for a candy run or be hanging out at the park (this was before my fake ID, bar hopping days of 17 and 18 when I was drinking and out later, but that’s another story for another time).

Around 11:30pm, I’d call home, waking both my parents up to plea my case (although my mom had one eye open until I was back home).

Me: “We’re at Jackie’s hanging out, can I please stay later? Her parents are home and we’re just playing games in the rec room.”

“Nothing good happens after midnight.”

That statement grated my nerves as if to imply I wasn’t trustworthy, I somehow lost all judgement after midnight or maybe I turned into a sex crazed ware wolf or something. It felt damning and there was nothing I could do to change my parent’s minds about who I was or prove my own sense of morality and values.

My Dad would gruffly go on, “You knew you weren’t coming home so why did you bother to call? Now your mom and I are both awake and you’re not home when you said you would be.”

“Anything you can do after midnight you should’ve done before.”

This statement felt more infuriating to me because it was so ridiculous. Teens don’t plan. They have a starting point, if that, and the rest unfolds organically which is the best part of being a teen – not having to know every single detail like the 5 days a week in school. I always felt like planning fun sucked the enjoyment out of everything, and that’s what I loved about hanging out with my friends (my parents knew them all and each set of parents).

Me: “I’m calling to ask and I’ve told you where I am and who I’m with.”

Dad: “No, I suggest you get walking and be home in the next 20 minutes (he knew I would cut through the orchard and make it easily in that time).”

Me: “Fine. I’m leaving then.”

Dad: “Good. We’ll talk tomorrow”.

This conversation happened almost every weekend for a few years, like a broken record where the needle would skip when it hit the big scratch across the perfectly even lines.

“What more do you want from me?!”

One day after such a conversation I remember standing in my basement with my Dad as he addressed ‘the phone call’, wondering what it was going to take for me to respect a curfew. I burst into tears and started pleading my case.

“I get straight A’s, I’m a top athlete in 3 sports which take a ton of my time, I babysit at least once each week to earn my own money, I don’t do drugs (ok, I tried I few but had no lasting interest), I do my chores on weekends, I’ve never been arrested or in any serious trouble. What more do you want from me?!”

My Dad hugged me and said, “I’ll talk to your mom.” Whether he did or didn’t, nothing changed. I felt damned no matter what and I got no credit for the good things I did to show good character.

Being a ‘good kid’ wasn’t paying off, so why bother?

Although there were many factors leading to my unravelling the following year, feeling unseen for what the good I was doing and unheard in what I wanted and felt was fair contributed to me deciding to be a bad kid. I started lying and sneaking out to create the freedom I craved as a break from my other commitments – down time with no plan, no structure, just be. I acted with the same disrespect toward them that I felt from them.

Here’s my tips for setting curfews that work

Listen first – What does your teen feel is fair and why? Are there exceptions to staying later like being at a known house with parents home? Are their friends welcome at your house instead of being out?

Let go of the plan – Teens don’t plan so thinking your child is safer because they have a detailed plan down to the minute with first and last names of those participating is a false sense of security.

Negotiate in good faith – Setting a curfew time based on your worst fears or need for control isn’t fair nor is it your teen’s problem. The time you agree on will likely feel uncomfortable for both of you (early for them, late for you).

Stop tracking – Using apps to follow your teen’s whereabouts doesn’t mean they’re safer. Create conversations about safe zones, tracking for certain events/parties or when they’ll be driving or passengers in friend’s cars.

Check ins – Negotiating check-in texts/calls may work for you and your teen as long as your teen has a strategy to remember (like alarms on their phone or you initiate, because they’re having fun and not thinking about you) and you don’t freak out if they’re a few minutes late. Depending on their age, try every 90 min and go from there.

Connect – Frequently talk about what’s working and what’s not with your teen and listen rather than lecture. Your teen is learning to adult and they need certain freedoms to build responsibility, solidify their values and beliefs, practice setting boundaries with friends and experience natural consequences.

Our sons didn’t have a curfew.

If they needed a ride, 10:30-11pm was the limit because we’re early to bed and up early people. We decided to operate on trust and faith, even when they used our vehicle. They texted if/when they changed location and were home around midnight because that was their friends’ curfew. Sometimes they drove a friend home and would text us so we knew where they were going and why they’d be later. When they got home, they had to text us ‘home safe’ so if I could look at my phone in the early hours and not have to check their bedrooms or wonder because we weren’t waiting up.

Our sons never abused that freedom and it was a huge trust building exercise that paid off. Now that they’re adults we don’t ask where they’re going, however if they live with us, the ‘home safe’ text rule applies.

Curfew can feel like a huge stumbling block or connection gap in your relationship with your teen, and you’re not alone in that. Warmer nights and longer days with less structure of school and sport can make curfews even harder as your teen wants more independence and freedom.

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