It’s midnight. Where’s your teen?

Establishing a curfew with input from your child gets the results you want—a teen that arrives home safely each night at the designated time. Here is how to make it work:

Make local law your scapegoat.

Every town has its own curfew. Be aware it’s different on weekdays than weekends and let that be your guide, says Charley Smith, a counselor at Haven Youth and Family Services in Wilmette. “Your job is to keep your child safe and follow the city’s ordinances.”

Write a contract for curfew with your teenager. 

It will nix the “I’m the parent, you’re the child, and it’s because I said so” routine, because the teenager knows what to expect, Smith says. “It gives them ownership of their behavior and a chance to prove that they are responsible.”

Let them negotiate the terms.   

If the city’s ordinance is 11 p.m. on weekends, set your child’s curfew at 10 p.m., Smith says. If a child insists on a later time, give them an incentive, such as increasing it by 30 minutes if he or she can meet the current curfew for 2 months. Break curfew, and it could get reduced by 30 minutes.

Include in the contract:

  • The set curfew.
  • The rewards of keeping curfew
  • The consequences of breaking it

Establishing consequences together is better than giving a punishment on the spot, says Sheryl Dubinsky, a counselor at North Shore Wellness Services in Northbrook. Off-the-cuff consequences make teenagers feel dictated, and in the process, parents inadvertently end up punishing themselves along with the child.

Be flexible within the limits.

  • Casually remind teens of their curfew before they walk out the door. “See you at 10 o’clock.”
  • Allow a 15-minute buffer. You don’t want them racing home to meet curfew.
  • When they do break curfew, give them the opportunity to tell their story, and let them come up with a way to prevent it from happening again.
  • Serve them a more serious punishment than an earlier curfew when they arrive home late because of alcohol and/or drugs.

A parent’s checklist

Before your teen leaves for the night, Rafael Rivera, a counselor at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, suggests you:

  • Make sure they’re accessible by phone or text.
  • Get the address of where they are in case of emergency.
  • Know who they are with.

Rivera says setting limits now is good practice for the college years, when teens have to rely on their own judgment.