Q. I have a 16 yr. old daughter home from boarding school after 3 years. Since school started, she has been with “friends” every evening till 8 or 9 PM. On weekends, she has been out at least till 11 PM. She wants me to extend weeknight curfew to 9 PM and to midnight on weekends. I had said no, that she needed to be home by 6-7 PM at night and by 9 PM on weekends. She said that she does not have homework and gets bored at home with nothing to do. She brought home her first grades report — mostly As & Bs, except a D in Biology and an F in Language Arts. What are your thoughts on curfews?
A. My thoughts on curfews is that they stem from a reward and punishment system that depends on the parent holding all the power. Many parents think this is necessary. I don’t. What is necessary is to know when and how to use your parent authority and when not. But authority is not the same as control, which makes a connective approach harder and trickier — but once you get it, it makes complete sense, and your children will respond so much more cooperatively – because you are not trying to control them.
Instead of rules and curfews, I think agreements. The power of connective parenting is in finding balance. Instead of a hard and fast rule, agreements can be made when they are needed and match what the need is. What does the circumstance call for? Does the party Saturday night need special consideration? Does the amount of homework she has together with the effort she has or has not been putting in make a difference to how late she can stay out – tonight? When you work with her instead of telling her what to do, she will, in time, be more willing to hear your side.
You can agree each day when she should be home, and if she complies, no need for a curfew. But this depends on a good, mutually respectful relationship. Curfews rarely work if they are imposed against a child’s will. If she feels controlled, and she is a strong-willed girl, your curfew could provoke sneakiness and rebellion. Agreements don’t do that. If she is breaking curfews consistently that is a sure signal of rebellion and resistance to a lot more than just a curfew. Curfews often send the message, “I don’t trust you.” The more you tell her what she has to do, at this age especially, the farther you will push her away from your realm of influence.
Together discuss school nights and weekends, what her friends’ curfews are, hear what she wants and what feels fair to her, state what you think and own your concerns and fears. Then negotiate a balance.
When she says what she wants, listen and hear her. Let her know you understand that her friends are most important to her — and seem even more important that work. Make sure she knows that you get it. Then add, “I am not comfortable with 9 on most school nights because…. I’m also concerned about your two low grades. I need reassurance that your work will get done, that you will be safe, and get enough sleep. And I know those are things I care about more than you do. It’s my job to care about them and make sure they happen. How can we make this work for both of us?” Do not have the answer. Work it out.
When you state your need and don’t tell her what she has to do, you will get more cooperation — same for weekends. Try not to stay stuck on what you want but be willing to negotiate with an open mind. You have conditions that must be met in order for you to give her a green light and you want to balance those conditions with what is important to her.
Of course, the age of your child plays a big part. It’s important to realize that at 16, she is no longer a young teen. And all teens are fighting to find a way to separate and individuate — as well they should. And in your case, you are working with a child who has been away from your daily control for a long time. Easing her back into your care and nurturance so she doesn’t feel smothered can be difficult. She has had the controls of a school, but every student has the same controls. At home, it’s back to just her family.
A parent’s reins must loosen all the way along the child’s developmental continuum, so that when she is a teen, she knows how to make smart decisions. In order for that to happen, she needs to have been making decisions for herself for several years, falling down, making poor ones, and learning from each and every one how to get back up and be smarter next time. That will happen with your support and understanding, not your control or your fixes.
When parents make all the decisions and remain in the habit of telling children how to think and what to do, they do not get the practice they need. All they get is more and more resentful and motivated to get the hell out. And then when they do, they don’t know how to manage their lives smartly.
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