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As parents, we are confronted with this question at one time or another. The answer depends on a number of considerations. How old is your child? Where is your child going? Who will accompany your child? Is it a school night or a weekend? How safe is it?
How old is your child? Children under the age of ten should always be supervised when they are away from the house at night. Usually they will be at a friend’s house or at a movie or a birthday party where there are adults.
Children between the ages of ten and fourteen are usually a little more independent and capable of staying home alone for a few hours. Children this age are able to stay at a movie theatre, skating rink, arcade, or shopping mall with their friends without parental supervision for a limited time. However, in this age range, there is a wide discrepancy of maturity, and children must be evaluated for safety and responsibility in each situation.
Depending upon the situation, children fifteen to seventeen years old are usually responsible enough to stay out until midnight, give or take an hour.
Children eighteen and older probably can stay out as late as they like. If, however, they still live at home, they should be considerate of family members and household rules.
Where is your child going? It should go without saying that you should know where your child is going. If your child is going to a friend’s house, you should know the parents and know where the house is. This is usually not a problem for children under the age of twelve.
The problem usually arises as children move into the teenage years. Children’s social groups begin to expand, and there are many new kids moving into and out of groups. Teenagers go to houses of people you’ve never met and may not ever meet. More transitory relationships are formed. Sometimes it is hard to keep up with a teenager’s social life. The problem is compounded when your child or his peer group reaches driving age, because then teenagers can travel greater distances and can greatly expand their boundaries.
For children ages sixteen and up, there may be regular friends, “hang outs,” clubs, parks, and so on, where your child and his or her friends go. Try to find out from your child where these places are. Then take the time some weekend evening to see for yourself what these places are like. You don’t have to take your child with you or tell your child of your plans. You don’t want your child to be embarrassed or feel like you don’t trust him or her. It just might help some parents feel a little more secure to know where their child is when he or she is away from home.
Some parents invest in a beeper or cellular phone so their children can reach them in a crisis.
Who will accompany your child? This is another important factor about staying out. Some children have friends that make parents feel secure, and some children have friends that make parents worry. Before adolescence, parents usually can influence whom the child has as friends. As children move into junior high and high school, peer groups usually expand and there is more exploration of attitudes and values (not to mention haircuts and dress).
Always encourage your child to bring friends home so you can meet them. Make it as informal as possible. Have friends come over to watch movies, have a barbecue, go out for dinner, go on a camping trip, or short vacation – any activity in which they have to interact with you as an adult. In a short time, you’ll get a good sense of who they are as people. Don’t be seduced or repelled by the appearance of your child’s friends. Sometimes a very clean-cut preppie friend may be a bad influence, while an earringed, tattooed, longhaired friend may be a good influence for your child. Take the time to talk to your child’s friends.
Curfews and bedtimes. Before the age of ten, most children have a bedtime between the hours of 8:00 PM and 9:00 PM. Many children have fifteen to thirty minutes of quiet time before bedtime. They get ready for bed (bath, pajamas, and so on), then they read a story or sing a song. Some bedtimes start at 7:30 PM, while others may begin at 9:30 PM.
Between the ages of ten and fifteen, bedtimes usually range between 9:30 PM and 11:30 PM. The older the child, the more flexible the bedtime.
For older children and teenagers, whether it is a school night often determines earlier or later bedtimes. The most difficult curfews to set are for children fourteen to seventeen years old. Children this age push for their independence and the freedom to set their own curfews. Yet they are not capable of setting limits for themselves, and oftentimes overextend their energies. After a child reaches eighteen it usually becomes pointless to try to set curfews. Your only leverage at this point is your child’s consideration for other family members. If your child is consistently uncooperative, then he or she should be asked to live somewhere else.