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Teens on Time: Keeping a Curfew

Once your kids hit their teen years, innocent playdates and daytime mall trips become things of the past. Suddenly, your son or daughter will want to go out at night. And it's just so easy to get into trouble under that blanket of darkness.

There is a grain of truth in the old 'nothing good happens at night' idea.

It's your job to set boundaries. First up: curfews. "It has to be a hard line," says teen parenting expert and clinical psychologist Jerry Weichman. "If you give your teen a 5 or 10-minute break, they will push for 15. If you give them 20 minutes of leeway, they will push for a half hour." If your teen senses you aren't totally serious about curfews, she'll take advantage. You need to draw the line in the sand from the get-go.

Establishing a Curfew

Once your child enters the 7th grade, it's time to think about what's acceptable. Ease them into curfews as they attend more nighttime social events. "It's really age-specific," Weichman says. "In middle school, discussion should be event-specific—if it's a dance, if it's going to a friend's house. Keep it case by case."

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As your teen reaches high school, start altering curfews to a establish a regular standard. "High school is a different bag of tools," says Weichman. "It's better to have a set curfew that they know. Generally, for freshman, it should be between 9 and 10 p.m. For sophomores, between 10 and 11. For juniors, between 11 and midnight, and between midnight and 1 a.m. for seniors."

Weichman explains that there is a grain of truth in the old "nothing good happens at night" idea, and the later the curfew, the more potential for trouble. However, since many older teens are on the cusp of college life, it's better to introduce them to social nightlife while still under your roof, so they can adapt to it responsibly. "Part of what you want them to do is learn how to navigate this," he says. "I tell a lot of parents that you cannot always protect your kids from the environment they'll be in, but you can keep them accountable for themselves."

Keys to Curfew

Set aside some uninterrupted time to talk about curfews and going out with your teen. Making a call on when he needs to be home after that concert is not something you want to do on the fly. Discussion ahead of time is important. "You don't want to have to make a decision as you're headed out the door in the evening, when you're going one way and your teen is going the other," Weichman says. "I really like pre-established curfews."

So, let your son or daughter know what information you expect before they leave the house, every time. "The criteria to talk about: where they're going, what they'll be doing and who they'll be with. Sometimes, kids migrate too, and it's really important to know where they are," Weichman says. Also, make sure to highlight these major points of emphasis with your teen. When she steps out the door, your expectations are: "You must be home on time, you must be home sober, you must say where you are going and if mom or dad sends a text, you respond to that text. Texts are great, because they don't have pick up the phone and say, 'Yes, mom. I'll be home later, mom.' Teens respond a lot better to that, as opposed to a phone call." Bottom line: You're requiring that they stay safe, and you know you can get in touch with them at any time in case of emergency.

Even for kids, night life can be full of detrimental temptations; drugs, alcohol, sex ...

Setting Them up to Be Safe

You can't hold your teen's hand with friends or at parties, but you can keep a watchful eye out in other ways. With younger kids, Weichman says to make sure you're communicating with the parents of their friends. Get specific whereabouts and event information, especially if a parent will be hosting or transporting your son or daughter. For older teens, although they will likely be able to drive and be more independent of parental help, you can still keep them safe without being with them every minute. "Install a GPS tracking device on their phone," Weichman says. "A lot of parents put one in their car, but that's not enough. They leave their car, and ride together to other places. Put it on the phone, and you'll always know where they are. Kids keep phones attached to them like umbilical cords."

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As they age, teens are also dabbling in new territory with potential hazards. Even for kids, night life can be full of detrimental temptations like drugs, alcohol and sex. "I tell parents to do random drug testing, especially on kids younger than 12th grade," Weichman says. "They are still in a critical stage of brain development until that point. And once a kid hits high school—no sleepovers anymore. This is when kids get into trouble, when they are given the ability to be out all night. They may not like it, but when they're under your roof, they need to stay under your roof every night until they truly leave the nest." Get them back inside your home at a pre-set curfew. Don't write them a blank check of time out at night to use as they please.

Keeping Kour Kid in Check

So, worst-case scenario happens: Your curfew rules are not being followed, and your daughter or son keeps pushing the boundary line. Weichman maintains the need to stand firm on curfews, and has a system to ensure your child abides by Mom Law: you take away weekend fun. "If she's late on Friday night, she loses the ability to go out on Saturday," he says. "If she's late on Saturday night, she loses the next Friday night." Yes, even if she just misses curfew by a few minutes. Your teen will probably groan over your harsh ruling, but she'll likely check herself next time she considers staying an extra fifteen minutes at her friend's house.

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OK, so what if she doesn't? Or worse yet, what if she comes home and then sneaks out? Coming home, pretending to go to bed and then sneaking out again is becoming an epidemic among teenagers, who can plan and plot with their friends via text about meeting up late at night. If your child does it, there shouldn't be any good cop/bad cop going on. Immediately render a consequence. "Ground them for an entire week. That means everything—loss of car, loss of phone, loss of TV, loss of computer. Then, if it happens again, go to two weeks. Then a month," Weichman says. "If that doesn't work, then you have to take it a step further. Seek help, look into therapy. Usually, all those things together really brings a kid back in check."

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