If it's not already here, the day will come when your children will not want you hold their hands or kiss them goodbye in public. One of the hardest things for parents to do is let go and trust their teens to make good choices, stay out of trouble, and stay safe.
Giving your child the freedom and independence to make his or her own choices does not mean you have to stop being a concerned or involved parent. In fact, quite the opposite. It means being even more involved in your child’s life, only in a different way. A way that let’s your child know you are still there, that he still has to answer to you, but he is free to experience life.
It's a tough balance and many parents find it hard to know where to draw the line. Most experts agree that parents should discuss rules, especially curfews, with their child, so the child understands why the rule is the way it is, and can have a chance to give input. If your child helps to create the rules, he'll be less likely to break them and defy your authority.
Curfews are important because they set up reasonable boundaries to protect your family culture,” says Susan Kuczmarski, Ed.D., author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. Kuczmarski says, “Teens hate fixed, out-of-date, and inhuman rules with a passion. They want to be involved in the process of establishing them.” So, sit down with your teens and work together on a list of specific rules for your household. Give them the opportunity to come up with ideas, add to the list, and comment on anything related to each of the rules.
Kuczmarski offers these simple rules for putting curfews in place:
1. Involve your teens in setting their nighttime boundaries. Reach an agreement together as to a curfew time that is age-appropriate for each teen. Compromise if necessary. You don't always have to be the "winner."
2. Communicate clearly what the agreed upon times are, through written and verbal reinforcements. This means, post it on the refrigerator and reinforce with a verbal reminder, such as: "Look forward to seeing you around eleven tonight." And be careful how hard and fast you make that curfew. Allow for a small buffer, perhaps fifteen minutes, so that your child does not drive faster in order to be home by curfew and avoid punishment.
3. Execute the consequences of broken rules. When she is late, give her the freedom and opportunity to comment and explain. Maybe there were unplanned events, like a flat tire, or a surprise party.Try to find a solution to the problem together. If a teen still breaks the curfew rule, let the agreed-upon consequences fall into place. Since you and your teen have already discussed these consequences and set them up together (e.g. take away car keys, remove home privileges, like TV use, etc.) you are not forced into the position of playing the "bad guy" or creating a punishment on the spot.
4. If your teen has missed curfew because drinking or drugs were involved, then the consequences are more serious. Simply enact these more serious consequences that you and your teen set up together.
Sometimes it really is okay to say yes, according to Debi Yohn, Counseling Psychologist and author of Parenting College Students: 27 Winning Strategies for Success. But, "it never hurts to check on your teen from time to time,” she adds. “If your teen says she is going to be at the coffee shop at 5 p.m. with their friends, drop by and see for yourself,” says Yohn, “You do not have to even let your teen know. If she sees you, just wave and keep on walking.” Yohn explains that kids need to know that there will be some unscheduled checking by you. If they are spending the night at a friend’s house, call and ask to speak to your child at an unusual time. “Parenting is active, and that means you have to make that effort to check on your teen,” she says. This takes courage, but it is the price of making sure your child is safe.
Does that mean you should follow your teen around or attach a tracking device to his clothing? Of course not. But as a parent, you should listen to your intuition. If something sounds sketchy, then it’s at least worth taking a closer look. But if you are open and honest with your teen about the rules of the house, there will probably be a lot less sneaking around. And that means a more harmonious household. Even if your teen would rather jump in an icy lake than be seen with you at Starbucks.