My Teenager Missed Curfew — Again!

Teenagers both need and hate curfew. That’s their developmental reality. They both need boundaries and parenting and containment, and push up against those things and that need like crazy. Crazy? Is that how you parents feel? Yes, that’s about right.

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Curfew is often a battleground on which this tension gets played out. The key here is to stop playing. Let’s take a look at how we can lay down our arms and make this a bit less bloody.

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Bearing in mind that the goal in raising teenagers is to help them achieve their developmental task, individuation, it is helpful to remove the concept of compliance from your viewpoint. While we want our children to do as they are told, that has to be the final result rather than the starting point.

One trick I have learned over the years of parenting my own teens is to ask them to set their own curfew. I ask, what time do you think you’ll be home? They usually suggest a reasonable time. If it’s acceptable, I then say, Ok, see you then. If it’s unreasonable to begin with, then say, I think that’s too late. Make me another offer. They do get better at this over time.

If they are late, there has to be a conversation. Notice I said conversation, not confrontation. Ask a leading question, like, “What happened? I was worried about your safety.” Avoid discussing things like how you felt disrespected. There is a time and place for that conversation but this is not it.

By asking what happened, and then shutting up for a few minutes, you open the door to hearing what your teenager is really struggling with. While it is possible they simply lost track of the time, it is more likely there is a story. Listen to the story with interest and compassion. Reflect your concern. Ask questions. When they feel heard and understood, you are more likely to then gain compliance.

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Next, schedule a “cold time” conversation about why you think it’s important to have a curfew. You are helping your child reach adulthood. It’s important for responsible adults to learn to be where they say they will be so other adults (and eventually, children) can learn to rely on them. This is how we help our teenager navigate the gargantuan task of growing up.

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