Setting a curfew for teens is something most parents are faced with. However, it’s easier said than done. Curfews can be divisive. Parents set them in place to keep adolescents safer and healthier, but they can make teens angry and resentful.
Are teen curfews a good idea? How should you handle a teen staying out all night? And how can you put a reasonable curfew into place? Here’s what you need to know about curfews for teens.
- Curfews should be set in place to keep teens safe and healthy rather than controlling them.
- Reasonable teen curfews can improve teens’ sleep and mental health, and help them establish a balanced schedule.
- If your teen stays out all night, wait until the morning to ask questions and get details.
- As your teen ages and shows more responsibility, consider making the curfew more flexible.
Why Teens Stay Out All Night
If your teen stays out all night on a regular basis, it’s natural to be worried, angry, and confused. Here are some reasons your teen might be staying out all night:
- Asserting independence
- Peer pressure
- A romantic relationship
- Drinking and drug use
- Poor time management
Often teens stay out late at night because they feel pressured by their peers, or because they’re preoccupied by a new relationship.
Other teens stay out all night as a purposeful act of defiance. This is usually because they’re angry with their parents or are struggling with mental health issues.
If you think your teen is engaging in risky behaviors like unprotected sex or substance use, seeking help from a mental health professional can provide support for the whole family.
Are Teen Curfews a Good Idea?
Teen curfews can be a great way to keep your teen healthy and safe. However, teenagers may see them as restrictive and controlling. Ultimately, the impacts of a curfew will be different for each individual teen and family. What works for one teen may not work for another.
Don’t be afraid to include your teen in the conversation and ask for their input on curfew rules. You can ask them what feels like an appropriate time to get home on weekdays and weekends, and whether they think their schoolwork should be completed before they go out.
Of course, you don’t have to agree to whatever they want. But if they feel that the rules around curfews are fair and reasonable, they’re much more likely to stick to them.
Below are some pros and cons of setting a curfew for teens.
Pros of Setting a Teen Curfew
- Improves sleep: According to the CDC, adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 need 8–10 hours of sleep per night. Teens who don’t get enough sleep experience worse mental and physical health, as well as poorer academic performance. Setting a curfew allows them to establish a regular bedtime routine and get better sleep.
- Enhances mental health: Knowledge of a teen’s whereabouts, relationships, and various activities is known as parental monitoring. This type of engagement with your adolescent helps boost their well-being and strengthen parent-child trust. Specifically, it may lower anxiety, depression, likelihood of risky behaviors, and suicidal ideation or attempts.
- Helps establish a healthy schedule: Establishing a regular routine, including bedtime and waking hours, is a healthy part of adolescence. It also helps teens build life skills through learning to balance other aspects of their life, including schoolwork, extracurriculars, and time with friends.
- Limits risky behavior: A curfew can help your teen avoid peer pressure and negative influences. Additionally, curfews help them learn how to be responsible, manage their time properly, and take accountability if and when they mess up.
Cons of Setting a Teen Curfew
- Hinders independence: If your teen’s curfew feels unreasonable or restrictive to them, they may feel frustrated and resentful. When their freedom and independence feels inhibited, they may act out.
- Limits time connecting with peers: Time with peers is essential during adolescence. If your teen has a curfew, they may miss out on chances to connect with their friends and feel like part of their community. Inadequate connection with their friends and peers can lead to loneliness, isolation, depression, and anxiety.
- Can create feelings of distrust: Setting a curfew for your teen may leave them feeling that you don’t trust them to make good choices for themselves. This can set up a negative family dynamic. If you do set a curfew for your teen, it’s important to explain the reasons and make it clear that it’s not because you don’t trust them to do the right thing.
What Is a Digital Curfew?
A digital curfew is a limit on phones, screens, and other digital technology. Unplugging from digital products can help improve sleep and circadian rhythms, particularly if your teen struggles with sleep deprivation or is unable to get out of bed in the morning.
If you want your adolescent to get on board with a digital curfew, it’s best for the whole family to abide by it. If your teen is supposed to put their phone away but sees you scrolling, they’re less likely to abide by a no-screens rule. A digital curfew can include limits during certain times of day, like at family mealtimes. It also typically includes turning off your phone at a certain time of night, usually an hour or more before bedtime, and charging it in another room.
What to Do When a Teen Stays Out All Night: 5 Steps to Take
When your teen comes in late at night or early in the morning, your first impulse might be to yell at them, ground them, and punish them. This is a natural reaction—you’re angry, and they’ve violated your trust and boundaries. However, getting reactive can backfire. Here are five steps to take instead.
1. Make sure they’re okay.
When your teen comes through the door after staying out all night, first make sure they’re physically and emotionally okay. Observe any signs of drinking or drug use, such as slurred speech, stumbling, or glassy eyes. Once you determine they’re all right, tell them you want to talk about what happened later, and that there may be consequences for their behaviors. However, avoid asking them questions or imposing punishment at this time. Instead, wait until morning to talk, when you’re less angry or frightened and they’re more rested.
2. Get details.
The next day, find a time to sit down with your teen and get details about what happened. Healthy communication starts with listening. Listen to what they’re saying without immediately judging or arguing with them. You can ask questions, such as why they didn’t stay in touch with you. You can also explain why you’re upset. But be careful not to berate or belittle them.
3. Agree on consequences.
Create an agreement about how to handle curfew on weeknights and weekends, including consequences for violating curfew. Make it clear to them what these consequences are and how long they’ll last. If this is the first time your teen has violated curfew, a warning might do. If they’re a repeat offender, you may choose to do something like take away their phone service for a certain amount of time.
4. Connect with their friends.
For most teens, friendships and romantic connection take precedence over just about anything else. Teenagers are hardwired to connect with their peers at this age. If you want to understand why a teen is staying out all night and who they’re with, get to know their friends or romantic partners. Invite them over for dinner, or ask them to come over before your teen goes out at night with them.
5. Address mental health or substance use issues.
A teen staying out all night might be “normal” teen behavior, or it could be a sign of a mental health condition. Underlying mental health or substance use issues can exacerbate teen defiance and risky behaviors. If you suspect your teen may be using dangerous substances or is struggling with their mental health, seek help from a mental health professional.
How to Set a Teen Curfew
Think of a curfew as a set of rules coupled with a clear set of consequences for breaking those rules. There’s no one right or wrong way to set a curfew for your teen, because all families and teens have different needs and considerations. You can establish your own set of rules and adjust them as needed. However, it’s a good idea to keep your kid in the conversation when things change, and to have a good reason for changing something.
The first thing to do is set an agreed-upon time of return to the home. This is the curfew itself. As a general rule, younger teens should have earlier curfews, and older teens can have later curfews and more responsibility. Consider expanding the freedoms of a curfew as your teen ages and shows more responsibility. For example, it may make sense to let a senior in high school negotiate a more flexible curfew for themselves at times. They’re older and need to learn to set their own schedule if they’re heading off to college or planning on living on their own soon. However, this strategy likely won’t work as a curfew for 13-year-olds, because they need more external structure and regulation.
Second, impress on your teen the importance of communicating with you when they’re out. Make sure they know to tell you where they’re going, how they’re getting there, who they’re with, and what they’ll be doing. Make it clear that if plans change, they’re to give you all the details for the new plan. And set the expectation that if you need to reach them while they’re out (for an emergency or other good reason, not just to check on them arbitrarily), they’ll agree to answer your calls or texts.
The third part of setting a curfew is establishing consequences for what happens if it’s broken. Involve your teen in this decision-making process if possible. If they know and agree to the consequences to breaking curfew, they may be more likely to stay accountable.
Teen Treatment for Mental Health and Substance Use at Newport Academy
If your teen is exhibiting defiant or risky behavior, or they’re showing symptoms of mental health problems, teen treatment at Newport Academy can help. Our medical and clinical teams guide teens to learn strategies for managing emotions, overcome substance abuse, and heal underlying causes of trauma, depression, anxiety, defiance, and other mental health issues.
Our comprehensive approach is tailored to each individual teen and their family. Every teen’s customized schedule includes the following:
- Psychiatric care with our MDs, including medication recommendations and management
- Individual therapy, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, and other trauma-informed modalities
- Group therapy to work through challenges with peers who understand what they’re going through
- Attachment-Based Family Therapy to strengthen parent-child bonds and inspire trust
- Experiential therapies, including music, yoga, meditation, adventure, equine-assisted, and culinary therapy, depending on location
- Academic support, including individual tutoring, instruction, and educational testing
Start the healing journey today: Contact us for a free teen health assessment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it normal for a teenager to stay out all night?
Many teenagers push the boundaries of their curfews. If they’re staying out all night regularly, they may be engaging in risky behaviors, have underlying mental health issues, or have behavioral problems such defiance.
How late should a 17-year-old stay out at night?
Your 17-year-old’s curfew will vary depending on their behaviors and capacity for responsibility. It may make sense to let a 17-year-old negotiate a more flexible curfew for themselves at times. They’re older and need to learn to set their own schedule if they’re heading off to college or planning on living on their own soon.
Should I give my teen a curfew?
It’s a good idea to give teens a curfew that’s fair, reasonable, and agreed upon by both parents/guardians and the adolescent.
Why are curfews good for teens?
Teen curfews can help keep your kid safe, as well as improve mental health and sleep. It also helps them establish a healthy schedule and life skills.
What should I do if my teen breaks curfew?
Wait until the morning to ask questions and get details. Then, ask them what happened and listen without judgment. Enforce any necessary consequences. Next, make an effort to connect with the friends they’re hanging out with. If necessary, address underlying mental health issues or substance use problems.
J Affective Disord Reports. 2022 Dec; 10: 100420.