Q: My twin boys just turned 13 and are demanding — that is the right word — later curfews. They tell us that their curfew, which is 8:30 on nights when there is no school the next day, is “pitiful.” We live in an area where there’s nothing for kids that age to do in the evenings but hang out in small groups or go to one another’s houses and watch television or play video games. I don’t especially want my kids doing any of that. We don’t have a video game console and don’t watch much television at all. And in our estimation, just hanging out is a prelude to trouble. We’ve told our boys that we will consider increasing their curfew until 9:00 when they turn 15, but that’s even more pitiful according to them. They’re both good kids, by the way. We want to keep it that way. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.
A: I doubt I’m going to give advice that you greatly appreciate because I tend to agree with your boys. Seven-year-olds compare bedtimes; teens compare curfews. A teenager’s curfew is not simply a matter of freedom, it’s also a marker of how cool one’s parents are, and having cool parents is, well, cool. Eight-thirty on non-school nights for admittedly good 13-year-old kids doesn’t amount to much freedom and it certainly speaks to very uncool parents.
You might say you don’t care if you’re cool or not, and you may even scoff at the idea, but if the truth were known, you should want to be cool. Teens gravitate toward cool parents. They open up to and confide in them. They seek advice from cool parents. Being cool affords parents the privilege of having a better sense of what’s going on in a group of teens. Cool parents enjoy a huge advantage. I’m not talking about letting teens do things they shouldn’t do, such as letting them consume alcohol. That’s not cool. That’s stupid and irresponsible. I’m talking about being perceived as an adult who’s approachable, who understands, and who, therefore, one can talk to. Take it from me (my wife and I were very cool when our kids were teens), you want that.
The trick to successfully negotiating the teen years is to recognize and accommodate to the greatest degree possible a teen’s overarching desire for freedom while managing issues such that the teen is motivated to behave responsibly. Many parents seem to think that the way to avoid problems during the teen years involves a combination of a short leash and saying “no” at least five times a day. That approach, while well-intentioned, is a recipe for rebellion. I’d say you’re running that risk with your boys.
My advice is that you bump their curfew on non-school nights to 9:00 with the understanding that if they don’t violate that curfew for six months, it will increase to 9:30. From that point, their curfew will increase by 30 minutes at the end of every violation-free six-month period. However, if even one of them violates the current curfew, the six months at that time begins over again the next day. The “one of you equals both of you” rule forces them to police one another.
I wish you a successful journey to being cool.