May 18, 2013

Communicate with your teen about curfews

By DR. LEWIS FIRST First With Kids

---- — With prom season here, parents have likely been questioning the curfew rules they set for their teens. Well, let me see if I can help everyone rest easy on the subject of curfews.

While your teen might believe that instituting a curfew represents you having issues of control or trust, a curfew is actually an active way to show concern for your child’s well-being and safety, and it should be presented in just that way. Tell your child that doing this allows them to get adequate sleep for school or sports to make the curfew feel more like you are helping than restricting their autonomy.

A good way to institute a curfew is to discuss why you are instituting one and teach them how to set limits for themselves so that they do well at college and later in life. It is great to ask your teen what seems reasonable so that they can buy in and make the curfew achievable. It is reasonable to ask what your teen’s friends’ curfews are as you make a decision on your own family’s curfew.

Be flexible in setting a curfew based on circumstances — special occasions, for example, such as prom. This will help your teen feel like they’re being listened to, as long as they are adhering to that curfew. Failure to do so might limit the flexibility you can offer.

To make a curfew work, set it in advance and be specific about the time. Put all important rules in writing such as the “check-in rule.” What is the “check-in rule”? It’s a rule that requires your teen to check-in visually with you and say good night to you when they come home — even if you are asleep. This can prevent your teen from engaging in risk-taking behaviors like drinking or taking drugs if they need to let you know in person that they are home.

If your teen misses a curfew, tell them you are glad they are home safe. Wait until the next day to discuss consequences, such as the fact that flexible curfews are earned with demonstrated responsibility and lost when that responsibility is not shown. A missed curfew should not result in an automatic grounding, but perhaps an earlier time that your teen needs to be home.

The bottom line is that curfews are not a punishment but a change to ensure safety and teach self-control and time management.

Hopefully, now you won’t lose sleep when it comes to knowing more about the benefits of instituting a curfew.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children’s Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine.