Changing Teenager's Behavior-A Word About Curfews
I've been a child psychologist for 27 years. Here's a short summary of some of the things parents consider when it comes to curfew; that variable time of night or day when kids should be home from the parent's perspective, and when they actually arrive, and the implications of both. This is the third in a series of article on Changing Teenager's Behavior. The First article covered Cell Phones. The Second covered Grades.
Parents are more prone to fudge when consequences are less; for example when their teen comes home a half-hour after curfew on a Friday night. Parents rationalize their teen can sleep later Saturday morning, ignoring the underlying defiance. On Saturday morning, the teenager will probably sleep in, but on that day, s/he may be just a little bit friendlier or more helpful or better behaved around the parents. This subtly celebrates the fact the teenager "got away" with something (the "dark side" of individuation), but also tells the parents the teen is aware of the slip up (if it really was "accidental") and is paying penance. The parents use the temporary but appreciated "sudden" conformity to behavioral and other expectations as justification to ignore the previous night's violation of curfew, thus avoiding the unpleasantness of confronting the teen and at the same time reinforcing looking the other way. This little game both parties play is a step-by-step manifestation--the minutiae of "The Dance." ("The Dance" is a concept that is discussed in great detail in an ebook entitled: How To Change Teenager's Behavior, which is linked to the
author's website, below.) While it isn't primarily pathological, it does illustrate the levels of interaction and some of the games parents and teenagers play in working out privilege. The bottom line for most parents is subjective.
At some point parents say to themselves, "My teenager is mostly OK, therefore, s/he gets ______________." In the first article in this series, that referred to cell phones. In the second article, that could have referred to any behavior as long as the school grades are high enough, which is also subjective. This kind of thinking depends in part upon the totals of the tally sheet of expected good teenager behaviors compared with the "other" ones. So, in this respect, parental expectation, temperaments, and adult circumstances play an important part in deciding what is OK, or not, and what rewards will follow what contingency of behaviors. Sometimes, parents are compromised too much and they tolerate less, but sometimes that investment paid off the night before, so one or another egregious teen behavior is more likely to be ignored.
In general, in trying to determine whether a behavior is normal or should be of concern, you can ask the following questions. How different is the behavior or attitude when compared with other children in his or her age group or his or her normal personality? How frequently does it occur? Does it interfere with others or with your child's ability to cope with his or her environment or to get along with people (not only his or her parents, but teachers, coaches, friends, neighbors, and others whom s/he deals with on a daily basis)? Don't hesitate to ask other
parents about what their teenager does. Don't hesitate to read. Don't hesitate to wait until you have your wits about you before you decide whether some behavior is OK, or not. Don't be pressured by your teen's insistence, impulsivity or impatience. If in doubt, consult with a behavioral health professional.