Sleep On It: How Kids’ Curfews Help Your Whole Family’s Sleeping Habits

A parent of a teenager recently asked me my opinion on curfews. And once again, like so many parenting topics, my answer wasn’t simple. As it so often does, the answer reached back to include many early-year parenting issues.

Curfews are critical, in my opinion. And they remain critical until a child graduates from high school. Why?

4 Reasons Curfews Are Critical

1. Safety

I wish I had a dime for every time of my kids argued, “I can get in just as much trouble at 8:00 p.m. as I can at 2 a.m., Dad.” And, from one perspective, they had a point. A child who wants to break rules will ultimately break rules.

The “safety” I’m referring to, however, is a safety from others. Like late-night poor decisions of tired friends. Or (at the top of my keep-me-awake-list) late-night drunk drivers. I’m not making this stuff up. Data confirms that your child’s safety is more at-risk the later they are out and about.

Curfews help everyone by bringing predictability to the family.

2. Harmony

Family units are like highly-engineered Swiss watches. Numerous interconnected pieces that – when in sync – manage to tick through day after day after day.

And if one piece is out of sync? The entire watch can go haywire. The same goes for your family.

One of your many jobs as a parent is to give every one of those watch pieces (your kids!) the best chance for success. This means minimizing disruptions from things that can knock other pieces off balance.

That’s where curfews can help because they bring predictability to the family. They are also one of the many rules we all live by in a high-functioning family.

  • We put laundry in the hamper,
  • We do dishes,
  • We take out the trash,
  • We mow the lawn,
  • We are respectful of each other,
  • We arrive home at agreed to times.

Curfews are a part of a family’s playbook for success.

3. Health

When my kids were in their “curfew eligible” years, I tended to focus on “Safety and Harmony” as my reasoning for enforcing curfews. In hindsight, unfortunately, I was missing a third and very important reason to be a believer in curfews: health.

It took me years to understand that when you talk about a lot of tough subjects in the context of your child’s health and the value of them taking care of their own bodies, they often make good choices themselves. Drinking. Drugs. Sex. Food. Nutrition. Exercise. They are all measurably easier to discuss when presented under the umbrella of “health.”

So is curfew. Because it ties directly to your child’s sleep needs. Most sources will agree that teens need around nine hours of sleep each night. Each and every night. I don’t need to do the math for you. It’s rare to find a teen that is meeting their sleep needs on a daily basis.

And that’s where this curfew topic – at least for me – goes way back to those early years of raising your child.

4. Sleep

I wish I worked harder at helping my tiny children understand the importance and value of sleep. We measured so many things in their early years. Their grades. Their piano practices. Their timeouts. Their television time. During their waking hours, we measured virtually everything.

But we never measured sleep. Nor did we talk about it much. And I think that did the kids a disservice because they didn’t grow up with an appreciation for the value of sleep. And the impact of sleep on their health. So do as I say. Not as I did.

Tips for Successful Sleep Habits

  • Keep a schedule. Same time. Every night.
  • No video games (or wild play) an hour or so before bed.
  • Have routines – especially those that calm your child down.
  • Model good sleep habits yourself.
  • Be consistent with all of the above

Tips for Successful Curfew

  • View curfews as an extension of “bedtime rules” – so start the entire conversation when your children are toddlers. It will make it so much easier when they are 16!
  • It’s OK to extend a curfew as a child ages (such as 9 pm for a weekend curfew for a 12-year-old, 10 pm for a weekend curfew for a 14-year-old and 11 pm for a weekend curfew for a 16-year-old) but don’t extend a child’s curfew simply because they are older. They need to earn those extended hours by proving to you they are maturing in their decision-making skills. And when they abuse their curfew privileges or make bad choices, don’t be afraid to roll their curfew back until they prove that they are capable of having a later curfew.
  • Curfews also come with rules about communication with each other. That includes things like your child letting you know if they are changing locations or running late (or need to be picked up early!).
  • Consider having curfews that are a range. I was always amazed how often my children arrived home at 10:02 when their curfew was “10:00 – 10:30.” It helped me gain confidence in them.
  • Have predetermined consequences for violation of curfew.
  • Know your town law regarding curfews. Often, city curfew laws can be your best friend!

Curfews and sleeping habits influence each other directly. So make sleep an integral part of your on-going dialogue about health with your child. Start young. And don’t stop.

If you do, I’m betting that when they are teenagers, your kids will not view curfews as something to argue about – but just another good excuse to say goodnight to their friends and enjoy a good nights sleep.

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