Should Teens Have a Curfew? The Great Debate


Chances are, you know the tagline from the vintage PSA that used to air before the evening news: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?”

The announcer’s ominous tone served as a not-so-subtle reminder for parents to stay informed about their children’s whereabouts late at night. And one of the most practical ways parents do that is with a curfew.

Yet, it’s no surprise that curfews can cause problems. It’s the classic yin-yang of a parent-teen relationship: The kid is always clamoring for independence, while the parent strives to raise a responsible person and keep him safe.

So should all teens have a curfew? More importantly, are they actually effective?

The Research

While there are several studies looking at the pros and cons of city-wide, legally-enforced juvenile curfews aimed at reducing crime, there aren’t many on how curfews play out in individual families.

However, one survey conducted by Columbia University shows that curfews can help curb teens’ risky behavior. Researchers found that teens with “hands off” parents were four times at risk for drinking, smoking, and drug use compared to those with established rules and expectations.

STORY: Should You Spank Your Kid? The Great Debate

Curfews can even reduce the risk of car accidents, the leading cause of teenage death in the U.S. Since kids are more likely to receive citations or be involved in a serious accident between 9 p.m. and 5 p.m., according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the state, including Virginia and Nevada, have implemented teen driving curfews. As a result, such states are associated with 60 percent less crashes during curfew hours, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So in theory, a similar rule at home could be beneficial.


Photo: Nina Leen/Getty Images

What the Experts Say

The fact is, if a teenager wants to find trouble, he or she can do so before the curfew ends, Barbara F. Metz, author of Put Yourself In Their Shoes, writes in Boston. “Do I believe in curfews? Yes. Do I think they will keep a child out of trouble? It depends what you mean by trouble. If you mean trouble with the law, there is lots of discussion about that. If you mean, will curfews keep her from getting pregnant? From smoking cigarettes? Trying pot? Drinking? Hanging with the ‘wrong’ kids? Not so much. These are all activities that determined teens will find a way to do, curfew or not. What protects teens from these and other potentially dangerous activities is not rules and punishments but conversation and relationships. From respecting you and trusting you and feeling respected and trusted by you in return. These are qualities that happen over the course of a child’s lifetime.”

However, others argue that coming home on the earlier side is safer. “But the later you are out, the more you are exposed to people who are fatigued, who are celebrating, who are drug or alcohol affected, who are more inclined to social violence, who are more likely to have a fatal car accident,” psychologist Carl Pickhardt writes in Psychology Today.

Rather than setting a blanket curfew, though, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), suggests giving trustworthy teens flexibility on special occasions such as prom night rather than, say, on a study group night. According to the AAP: “Flexibility encourages a teen to demonstrate responsibility in exchange for expanded privileges.”

STORY: Sleep Training Your Baby: The Great Debate

Other experts recommend allowing teens to help set their own curfews, to boost the odds they’ll obey them and to foster independence, especially if they’re close to college-age. Planned Parenthood suggests this happy medium: “It’s important that we set clear expectations about what time we want our teens to be home. It sends the message that we care about them and their well-being. We can also set the expectation that we expect a phone call or text if they’re going to be late. We can discuss with our teens what they think are appropriate curfews given their age and what they will be doing. By listening to them and allowing them to negotiate with us, it shows that we respect them and understand that they are increasingly responsible for themselves.”

What the Parents Say

“My daughter doesn’t have a curfew yet. The topic hasn’t come up because she doesn’t have her license and mostly relies on us to drive her around. I’ll consider giving her a curfew when she is driving next year.” —Beth H.

“My teens’ curfew is 10 p.m. It’s late enough to have fun, but early enough not to get into trouble.” —Kachina K.

“Our children have a curfew. We want to know where they’ll be and what they’ll do before they leave the house. Since we talk to them about their plans, the curfew has never been an issue.” —Sharon Ofer

The Bottom Line

It’s up to parents to decide whether their teen needs a curfew or is mature and trustworthy enough to set his or her own schedule. If you opt for one, parenting experts recommend discussing upcoming plans and an appropriate time to end the evening, depending on the circumstances.