As your child gets older, it’s important to give them enough freedom to learn how to make their own choices and lead more independent lives.

At the same time, setting reasonable boundaries on their activities can help teenage children make responsible decisions and develop healthy habits. Establishing a curfew is a key part of striking that balance.

There’s no universally agreed upon curfew for teenagers. But there are strategies that you can use to set a realistic curfew — and keep your child accountable to it. Here are some of the do’s and don’ts of establishing curfews.

Choose a reasonable curfew time

In some cases, parents set a blanket curfew that stays the same from one night to the next. In others, parents take a more flexible approach to setting curfews.

On one night, you might ask your teenager to be home by 9:00 p.m. On another night, you might let them to stay out until 11:00 p.m.

When establishing a curfew for your teen, it might be helpful to consider these factors:

  • How much structure do they need? If they struggle to make responsible choices without firm boundaries in place, a consistent curfew might be the best approach for them.
  • What does their sleep schedule entail? If they need to wake up early in the morning or struggle to get enough sleep, an earlier curfew might benefit their health and productivity.
  • How safe is your neighborhood? If your neighborhood sees a fair amount of crime, an earlier curfew might help keep them safe.
  • How do they plan to spend the night? If they want to attend a special event that extends past their usual curfew, it might be reasonable to adjust their curfew for the night.

Whatever curfew you set, it’s important to clearly communicate it to your child and hold them accountable to it.

Know and follow the law

Does your town, city, or state have any laws that might affect your child’s curfew? In some parts of the country, there are juvenile curfew laws that prohibit children below a certain age from spending time in public after certain hours.

Similarly, some jurisdictions set limits on when teens can drive at night.

It’s your responsibility to know and follow the laws in your area — and to help your child do the same.

Help your child get enough sleep

Setting a curfew can help your teenager get to bed at a reasonable hour.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 years old need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day. Getting enough sleep is important for their mental and physical health, as well as their ability to excel in school and other activities.

When you’re setting a curfew, take your child’s sleep needs into account. Consider what time they wake up in the morning, as well as the amount of sleep they need to get.

Clearly communicate your expectations

Before your teenager leaves the house, make sure they understand:

  • when their curfew is
  • what they should do if they’re running late
  • the consequences they will face if they break their curfew

In some cases, it might be helpful to invite input from your teen on what they consider to be a reasonable curfew. If their point of view has been taken into account, they might be more willing to follow their curfew.

On the other hand, some teens might have unreasonable expectations. If you’re uncomfortable with their preferred curfew, let them know why and clearly state when you expect them to arrive home.

Set consequences for missed curfews

When you set a curfew, it’s important to create consequences for breaking it. For example, you might roll your child’s curfew back by 30 minutes if they violate it. They can earn the 30 minutes back by showing they’ll stick to the new, earlier time.

Clearly communicating the consequences of breaking curfew might motivate your child to abide by it. If they do break their curfew, let them know that you were worried but you’re happy that they’re home safe.

If you’re feeling irritated or angry, try telling them you’ll talk about the consequences in the morning, when you’re both feeling calm and well rested.

Sometimes your child might have to break curfew for reasons beyond their control. For example, poor weather conditions might make it dangerous for them to drive. Or maybe their designated driver has gotten drunk and they need to call a cab.

You can help prevent some worry and confusion by letting your child know that if they’re running late, they should call you before they miss their curfew — rather than make excuses afterward.

Adjust their curfew when they’re ready

If your teen shows good self-regulation by consistently getting home on time, it might be time to extend their curfew. By giving them more freedom, you can provide them with an opportunity to exercise the judgment they need to lead healthy and productive lives.

But if your teen regularly gets home late, they’re probably not ready for a later curfew. Let them know that they need to demonstrate greater responsibility before you expand their privileges.

The takeaway

Setting a realistic curfew can help your teenage child stay safe at night, get enough sleep, and learn how to make responsible choices about how they spend their time. It’s important to clearly communicate when you expect them to arrive home each night and create consequences for being late.

If your child always arrives home on time, it might be time to reward their conscientiousness by extending their curfew.