Tips for Setting Curfews for Your Teens

6 min read

As a parent of a teenager, you know curfews are important. They help make sure your teen is safe while also teaching them responsibility, self-control, and time management skills.

Every teen is different. What works for one child might not work for another. Still, there are guidelines that can help you decide what your teen’s curfew might look like.

For traditional curfews, you’ll set rules for when you want your kid to be home at night. They’ll depend on your family and your expectations as a parent.

Make sure the curfew is rational. For a curfew to work, it should be reasonable. Consider asking your teen what they think is a sensible curfew and start there. Both your comfort level as a parent and theirs as your child are important.

Mary Francine, a parent from Suwanee, GA, says her family bases curfew time on the children’s schedules.

“My husband and I decided on a time -- initially 11 p.m. -- that was reasonable based on the activities they were doing outside the home,” she says. “As they got older, it moved to 11:30, then 12 a.m. It stays there, but when our college kids are home, they may stay out later, but they always let us know beforehand or call.”

Get familiar with local laws. Depending on where you live, it can be illegal for young people to leave their homes or drive at certain times. Many local laws include curfews for teenagers under 18. For example, your city might have a curfew Sunday through Thursday from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. This will affect the curfew you want to set.

Make sure your teen gets enough sleep.Teens need a lot of sleep. In fact, kids ages 13-18 require about 8-10 hours of quality sleep per night. Those who don’t get enough have a higher risk of conditions like diabetes and obesity and might have trouble paying attention. In a national sample, 7 out of 10 high school students didn’t sleep enough during the week.

If your kid has trouble sleeping because they stay out late, an earlier curfew might help them get the rest they need.

Set clear expectations. Curfews work best when you spell things out clearly. For example, maybe you decide your child must finish all their homework before going out. You might also expect them to call you if they’re running late because of traffic or other unexpected things.

Yolanda Lynch, a parent from Suwanee, GA, says her teens understand the rules because they’ve always had a curfew.

“We’ve always had a weekday bedtime curfew,” she says. “The boys understand that the household ‘shuts down,’ meaning Mom won’t be up all night. They know when I expect everyone to be inside and settled.”

As a single mom, Lynch says, it’s important to her to have a sense of security in her home at night.

A digital curfew means your kid can’t use technology, like a cellphone, video game, TV, tablet, or laptop, for a certain period of time (usually at night). In the age of COVID-19, digital curfews are more relevant than ever. Without them, it’s easy for kids to be online with friends any time, day or night.

Turn off devices before bed. Nusheen Ameenuddin, MD, a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic, suggests turning off devices.

“We have all of this good research that shows that when kids and even adults take electronic devices into bed with them or into the bedroom, the blue light actually activates parts of their brain that keep them alert,” she says. “We recommended having families turn off devices at least an hour before bedtime.”

Megan Moreno, MD, an adolescent health expert at UW Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, agrees.

“One thing I’ve seen from patients in clinic and in some of our research studies is that if there’s a digital curfew, it’s going to work best if everyone in the family follows it,” she says. “If there’s a digital curfew of 9 o’clock at night and a teenager abides by that but they see their parents scrolling, that probably is going to backfire on the parents.”

For example, Lynch and her family have a digital curfew for phones and video games. Her boys have a 2-hour maximum of video game time after homework is completed. They shut down their phones an hour before bedtime.

Embrace social media. Still, technology can be a useful way to keep in touch with your teens. If your kids use social media platforms like Instagram or Twitter, consider signing up and “friending” your teen. That way, you can see what they post online. It might also be a good opportunity to teach your teen about being a good “digital citizen” and cyberbullying.

Christine Burke, a registered nurse in Bethlehem, PA, is also founder of the parenting blog Keeper of the Fruit Loops. She uses social media as a communication tool with her teens.

“Social media is not the enemy when it comes to teenagers. It can be a valuable lifeline to when you’re having a really rough day with your teen,” she says. When emotions are running high, sometimes texting your kid a meme or even tagging them in a cute Instagram picture breaks the ice a little bit.

Consider keeping devices in a separate room. Your child shouldn’t have access to screens, like smartphones, tablets, laptops, or TVs, in their bedroom at night.

“One thing that I try to do is I keep my phone charger in a completely different room. That way, I’m not tempted to just check my phone,” Ameenuddin says. “That physically is a good way to distance myself, and that’s what we recommend for families as well.”

Create screen-free zones. This is another great way to create a digital curfew, Ameenuddin says. They can work for the whole family. For example, the dinner table is a good screen-free zone. As a family, agree not to use smartphones or tablets there. This could also include not watching TV during dinner.

Be flexible when needed. This has come in really handy during COVID-19’s forced togetherness, Moreno says.

“I feel like overall, in the pandemic, having a little more grace, and a little more flexibility, seems to be the rules of the road for many different health behaviors,” she says. “But sleep is so important to kids’ health. … For some kids, their sleep is not disrupted, but for other kids, their schedules are really wonky with online school. Protecting sleep is still just as important.”

Setting guidance about cellphone use, internet privileges, and social media use are good ideas.

“I would say it’s completely fine to be flexible when needed. There shouldn’t just be a rigid set of rules,” Ameenuddin says. “It’s more like guidelines.”

Have consequences for a missed curfew. If your teenager does miss a curfew, start by explaining how worried you were, but that you’re glad they’re home safe. Instead of discussing punishment late at night, try talking to them the next morning. It’s important to let them know that they’re going to lose privileges like going out if they show they can’t handle the freedom.

Still, blowing off a curfew once shouldn’t be cause for grounding, unless there’s a more worrying situation at hand. Try rolling back privileges instead.

The same rules apply to digital curfews, Lynch says. For instance, if they don’t cut their phone off, they get a warning. After the second warning, you cut their device time by an hour for the next day.”

Make adjustments as needed. While some parents rely on a set curfew, others make the rules fit he circumstances. For example, if your teen gets home from after-school activities at 7 p.m., a weekday curfew of 10 p.m. may make sense. On the weekends, maybe 11 p.m. is a more reasonable time. It depends on your family’s schedule and your child.

“We have always had bedtime curfew during the week and simply stuck with it, increasing the lateness by 30 minutes each year, since middle school,” Lynch says. “Of course, we allow for a 15- to 30-minute grace period if they need to complete an assignment or get in late from sports practice.”

Being flexible is helpful, especially if your teen is graduating high school soon and preparing for college. You’ll want them to feel comfortable making smart decisions themselves, as opposed to relying on others for guidance.