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Is midnight really an appropriate curfew for a 15 year-old?

Last year while presenting at a girl’s school in Melbourne I thought it could be interesting to find out what kind of curfew they had on the weekends. The Year 10s were a particularly interesting group, obviously very much into parties with the social life of many of them appearing to be centred around a vodka bottle. A core group of girls were particularly worrying – as I have described them before, the ‘evil princess’ group – they seemed to rule the roost and obviously controlled what was regarded as ‘in’ or ‘out’! To avoid embarrassing the girls, instead of asking for a show of hands, I gave them a piece of paper and got them to write down what their curfew was on weekends … the responses were staggering!

Around one third of them indicated that their curfew was 2am! 2am – that’s right 2 o’clock in the morning! Well over half of them reported that they were allowed out until midnight, while a very small number of them said 10pm or earlier. One or two wrote that their parents didn’t believe in curfews, or something to that effect. Now these were Year 10s, 15 year-old girls, most of whom were given curfews of midnight or later (when I sometimes raise this in parent seminars some audience members have said that the girls must have been having making this up, but sadly, I actually have met one or two parents who have admitted to allowing their 15 year-old to have such a curfew!) – what were their parents thinking?

My major issue with this is – where do you go from here? When parents establish rules around parties and gatherings there aren’t many things that they have to bargain with … as I’ve said many times, one of the most important things around rules is that a teen has to know that good behaviour will be rewarded. If they follow the rules you set, those rules will change as they get older (my suggestion is that you sit with them at least once every six months, discuss how the rules are going and then, if you’re happy with their behaviour, renegotiate accordingly). In reality there aren’t many bargaining chips available to a parent and without a doubt, one of the best is a curfew. Adding 30 mins to the curfew time each time you meet up is a huge reward to a 15 year-old but you’ve got to begin at a baseline that is workable. If you’re going to have a curfew of midnight when they are 15 years-old, where do you go from there?

The other issue is around ‘sustainability’. Just how sustainable is a pick-up time of midnight for a parent who is attempting to monitor their teen effectively? How many parents are still up at midnight on a Saturday night, ready, willing and able to pick up their child from a party or gathering each and every weekend? I can tell you that it won’t take too long before this ritual just gets too darn tiring and only the most vigilant of parents will be able to resist finally turning around and agreeing to allow their son or daughter to stay at a friend’s house rather than pulling themselves off the lounge and driving to yet another party to pick them up and bring them home safely!

Look, young people are going to absolutely hate me for this but realistically I believe if you have a curfew of any later than 10pm for a 15 year-old, you have written your own death warrant for the years ahead! You have no bargaining power for the future and you make your ability to monitor your child effectively much more difficult (you will simply be too tired!) ….

If you’ve already established a curfew of midnight there is very little you can do – you’ve made your bed, you will now have to lie in it! Changing it for no apparent reason (saying that you’ve changed your mind is simply not going to cut it!) is going to be seen as terribly unfair and you are going to have major problems. Of course, if they’ve broken your rules in some ways and you need to make it clear that they have disappointed you and let you down, adjusting their curfew time accordingly and telling them that they are going to have earn back your trust is entirely appropriate. They’re not going to like it but it is entirely fair, particularly if it has been made clear that a curfew time has been established because of the trust you have in them – they’ve broken that trust and there are consequences for that …

Of course this issue around curfews starts early – I don’t think there are many parents who start off with a curfew of midnight straight off the bat! I’m increasingly hearing of parties that parents are holding for Year 8s and 9s that end at 10pm! Really? Where have afternoon parties gone? Why oh why do we need Saturday night parties for 13 and 14 year-olds? Having a couple of friends over on the weekend makes perfect sense but setting realistic curfews (and of course, when they’re that age I don’t think we even really need to call them curfews – they’re simply the time that you expect your child to be home with you) when they’re younger is going to make your life much easier in the years ahead!

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