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Picture this: It’s late and getting later.  Jessica was supposed to be home an hour ago and Marie, Jessica’s mom, feels her blood pressure ratcheting upwards with every tick of the kitchen clock.  Marie alternates between fear for her daughter’s safety, and anger at being late for curfew — again. When Jessica finally walks in 30 minutes later, Marie explodes: “Do you have any idea what time it is?  I’m sick and tired of you waltzing in here at all hours — you’re grounded for a month!!”  Sound familiar?

Curfew issues are one of the top questions we get on the Parental Support Line — especially during the summer months. Parents are frustrated over this issue, and rightly so. An exasperated dad recently said to me, “My kid  knows how to tell time, but he can’t seem to make it home by curfew. What’s going on?” If you’re facing this dilemma right now, you are probably angry, irritated and frustrated with your child. You might have tried nagging, lecturing and grounding to no avail. So how can you get your teen to listen and comply with the curfew you’ve set?

The first thing we recommend is that you think of your family as a business — if you come in late to work, your boss is not going to jump on you when you walk in and start screaming, “Who do you think you are?  Do you have any idea what time it is?”  Chances are, your boss will approach you later and let you know that your continued tardiness is unacceptable and that you will experience consequences if it continues.  No emotion, no speeches — yet the expectation for your behavior is clear and straightforward.

In the above scenario with Maria and Jessica, we would advise Marie to talk with Jessica in the morning, and not handle this when Jessica comes in the door.  As James Lehman reminds us, transition times are difficult for everyone, and your best problem solving is not likely to happen during these times.  This also allows Marie some time to calm down, and think about how to handle this in a rational manner.  In the morning, we recommend that Marie lets Jessica know that coming in after the curfew is unacceptable and to do some problem solving with her teen on how she is going to make it home on time.  For example, Marie might say, “Jess, this isn’t the first time you have been home after curfew.  You know the rules about coming home on time.  What are you going to do differently to make sure that you follow that rule and come home on time from now on?”

Once Jessica has decided on a specific action she is going to do differently the next time (for example, setting an alarm on her cell phone for 30 minutes before she is supposed to be home), Marie can let Jessica know what the consequences for her action will be.  We recommend that the consequence be time-limited and task-oriented.  Examples of this might be that Jessica cannot go out with her friends the next time, or that she will have an earlier curfew until she comes home on time for one week.

Now, I realize that some of you reading this may be thinking, “Sure, that all sounds good, but what about my kid?  My teen is defiant, and will scream and swear at me when I’m trying to problem solve.  Not only that, but if I tell him that he can’t go out with his friends, he’s not going to go to his room — he’s going to run out the door while flipping me off!”  This is a challenging situation to be sure, yet the principle is the same: Look at what you can control, and follow through in a calm, rational manner.  If your teen refuses to sit down and problem solve with you, you may choose to suspend a privilege until he is willing to do so.  You may also choose to let him know what you will do if he chooses to leave the house without permission, such as turn off his cell phone service, or call the police if you are concerned for his safety.

Related: How to give fail-proof consequences to defiant teens.

Ultimately, it is up to your teen if he or she is going to choose to follow your rules around curfew.  You have the power to hold them accountable, and teach the lesson that if you are tardy in the real world, consequences are sure to follow.

Rebecca Wolfenden earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University in 2005.  She has been with Legacy Publishing since 2011 working on the Parental Support Line. Rebecca, who is also a new mother, has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.


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  • Claire C Says:

    Wow, now this post is empowering. I still remember the battles I had with my parents when I was a teenager, thinking that they didn’t understand me. Years have passed and we are now great friends but I am not looking forward to going through this with my own. I will definitely be bookmarking your advice for the future!


  • Yelman Says:

    This battle will never go away, my parents did it with their parents, I did it with my parents and I am positive my child is going to go through it with me. Approaching this situation like a business is a great way to think about it. Thanks for the suggestions!

  • karen Says:

    When my boys were teens we had a discussion at the beginning of each summer on what a realistic curfew would be. One during the week (as I needed to get up early to go to work) and a later curfew for Friday and Saturday evenings. The deal was for every minute they were late, that same amount of time was removed from their curfew for the rest of the summer. When my son came in at 11:10 one night and realized that his new curfew during the week was now 10:50 he was upset, but I reminded him we had come up with the rule together. I did go back to 11:00 when he stuck with the 10:50 for two weeks without being late.

    We found making them part of the process helped considerably when things didn’t go with the plan.