It’s Midnight: Do You Know Where Your Teen Is?

By Susan Bartell, Psy.D

It's Midnight: Do You Know Where Your Teen Is?My fifteen-year old daughter wants to spend all day and night this summer hanging out with her friends. She wants little or no curfew! She says I’m unreasonable for disagreeing with this since she works hard all year and this is her vacation. And of course according to her everyone else’s parents say this is a fine way to spend the summer! Is she right? Should teenagers have curfews? Help!!
—Linda, In need of Curfew Counseling

Dear Linda,
To begin with, you are to be congratulated: It takes a strong mother to question the social plans of a teenager. You should also know that you are not alone. I am confident that at least some of ‘everyone’s’ parents feel exactly the same way as you—unsure that spending the entire summer with little structure or supervision is a really good plan.

And in fact, your instincts are correct! Research shows that during the summer months there is an increase in the use of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs by teens.

The reasons for this are consistent with your concerns. Kids are more likely to use these substances when they are bored and when they have too much unsupervised free time. In addition, during the summer, teenagers have more time with their friends—and to make new friends. If they hang out with kids who drink, smoke or use drugs, they’re more likely to do it too.

If that’s not enough of a reason to make sure your daughter spends at least some of her time in structured, supervised activity, it’s also important to consider that the adolescent years are an important time for kids to learn about earning money, becoming organized, goal-setting and making active decisions about their futures. You don’t ‘check out’ from your life simply because it’s the summer. A fifteen-year old can learn and understand this.

For all these reasons, balance is called for and appropriate during the warm months, rather than spending the whole summer doing nothing. Kudos to you mom, your instincts were right on! Summer is NOT a time for total lack of structure or supervision for teenagers. That being said, it is perfectly acceptable for your daughter to spend some of her time just hanging out, but with a curfew and frequent check-ins with you.

But a good part of her time should be spent in some combination of structured, supervised activity during which she will be contributing meaningfully to the world and/or benefiting her own future in some way. Examples of activities that will achieve this are volunteering, earning money (working at a local job or babysitting), participating in sports, attending/working at a camp, traveling (with you or on a supervised trip) and doing academic research.

When helping your teen to set up a summer schedule, it is reasonable to take into account some of her wishes like sleeping late once in a while or having time to go to the beach, pool or movies with friends. If you are flexible while also being gently insistent, you are less likely to be met with resistance.

We all know that being a parent is a constant challenge. This is particularly true when faced with a teen’s intense desire for independence. But teenagers can fool you into thinking they are all grown up, when in reality they still have quite a way to go. It’s worth the fight, believe me, it really is!

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Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized psychologist and award-winning author who has been helping children, teens and families lead healthier, happier lives for over fifteen years. She is the author of four books: Dr. Susan’s Kids-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Parent’s Action Plan for Success; Dr. Susan’s Girls-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Easy, Fun way to Look and Feel Good!, and Stepliving for Teens: Getting Along with Parents, Stepparents, and Siblings; and Mommy or Daddy: Whose Side am I On?