Ask BBB: Parenting Advice from Betsy Brown Braun

QUESTION: Our teenager is a sophomore in high school and is starting to ask to stay out with friends later and later. How do we know what is a reasonable curfew? All of his friends have to be home at different times, so it’s hard to know. When we do determine a curfew, should we also enforce a bedtime or let him stay up as late as he wants as long as he is at home?

Betsy Brown Braun
Betsy Brown Braun

BBB: Welcome to tricky times with teens. Ugh! This is the age when kids are working so hard to individuate, to demonstrate their separateness from you, to strut their stuff. Their peer group is incredibly important to them, and at times it feels like friends trump family.

Your question about curfews is just one of many you will encounter with your teen. And they get more and more difficult as your child gets older. Toddlers were so much easier, right? That’s because you didn’t question yourself. You were sure it wasn’t okay for the child to run in the street! Being sure is much trickier with teenagers. The times they are a changin’.

I wish there were a simple, easy answer to questions like this, but there isn’t.

I hope your teen has already heard you say that each family has its own rules. Just because one friend has a particular rule or a privilege doesn’t mean the same will hold true for your child. Your family your rules… and privileges.

Deciding your teen’s curfew should be based on your child. There are questions you can ask yourself to determine his trustworthiness. For example, how responsible is he? In the past, has he met his curfews? Does he follow through on his promises to you? Does he meet his responsibilities around the house (without repeated reminders)? This is one of the ways you gauge his readiness to have a later curfew.

Other questions you might ask yourself have to do with his social personality. Is he a child who is a follower more than a leader? Is he susceptible to peer pressure? Is he able to make decisions for himself?

The trick to your answer and others like it is that your child must buy into it – at least to some degree. In other words, does he think your decision is (kind of) reasonable and (somewhat) fair? And does he understand how you arrived at your answer? It is important that you involve your child in the discussion that leads to the decision-making.

Find out what he wants and why. Ask him how he came to that particular time; what were his considerations? Ask your child a lot of questions about his life during the week – his homework load and schedule, his sports or other extra-curricular activities. Kids need to learn how we parents make our decisions. And we certainly don’t make decisions based just on what others have decided. We think it through, going over lots of variables.

Presumably you (and the child’s other parent) have done your homework about curfews. You have discussed it yourselves and you have spoken to his friends’ parents, enabling you to know how others made their curfew decisions. While your answer will be right for your child, it shouldn’t be too radical one way or the other. It should likely fall somewhere in the middle of the pack.

For this particular question about curfew, it is critical that your child knows about the sleep recommendations for teens and what a lack of sleep does to their still-growing bodies and brains. There is just no way you are going to allow your child to jeopardize his health. About that there is no compromise.

I guess that answers your last question about whether your 14-year-old should have a bedtime.

So, the answer? It is up to you. I will, however, give you permission to do your job and be a parent. I personally believe that children should be home at night during the week. The only exception for which I have room is a school project of some kind. And even then, the child’s bedtime is his bedtime. As for weekends, he is only 14, and he has room to grow into a later curfew each year. Be careful not to give too much too soon.

Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals.  She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more.  Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.