Does your teen have a curfew when they go out at night? How late should you let them stay out, what special conditions should you set and do they have an exit plan?
It’s tricky to know how much freedom to give your teenager – you may want your teen to learn independence and take advantage of living in notoriously safe Singapore, but as a parent you also want your child to be responsible for themselves and have a sense of self. We asked different mums – both expat and Singaporean – and their teens what their thoughts were on staying out late, on curfews and on bedtimes. We all know there is no one way to parent so rather than conclude the right way to do things, here’s how different families are coping and some talking points to consider for your family’s decision.
Take into your child’s wake time/routine when deciding a curfew and bedtime. The National Sleep Foundation advises that children aged 5 to 10 need 11-13 hours, and teenagers aged 11-17 need 9.25 to 9.5 hours per night.
Read more: 10 Steps for Better Sleep in Kids and Teens
1. Setting a curfew
Australian mama Tracy lets her teens, 14-year-old Isabelle and 15-year-old Noah, go out by themselves with different curfews for weekdays and weekends (see table) but they must always have their phones on them and answer calls from mum to check in. Tracy says “My belief is nothing good can happen after midnight for a 15-year-old, so they need to be home. I also sit up and wait for them to make sure they come home and I don’t want to be sitting up until 3am, I am too old for that!”
Discuss setting a curfew with your teen so they are involved in the decision. Once you have set a curfew time, decide what will happen if your child comes home later than the agreed upon time – will there be a punishment as advised in the book Raising Resilient Children by Dr. Sam Goldstein and therapist Robert Brooks, who say the consequences should fit the crime and teens should be aware of the rules and consequences in advance?
Australian mother Angela* has a 16-year-old son Craig* whose phone must be on at all times when he is out by himself, and she would need to know his intended itinerary (if anything changes, he must sms/call). “For me it’s important to know his whereabouts, for his safety. I also make a point to sms every now and then, throughout the night, a little reminder just in case he is up to no good, I’m fresh in his mind!”
- Family talking points: Discuss a reasonable curfew depending on your child’s age and how much sleep they need. What conditions will you expect from your teen when they do go out? Will they tell you where they are going and with whom? Will they be contactable at all times?
British mother Sally* says she would need to know exactly where her 13-year-old is when she goes out by herself and she would like to know who her friends are, too but says “I think I’d only be comfortable with her going to a friend’s house at this age. Going into town like Clarke Quay would not be an option.”
Sally advises parents to say “keep me posted on the plans” rather than say a categorical no when asked if they can go out. “I usually find there is lots of hype by one or two girls to organise something and then as it gets closer to the time, it fizzles out and turns into some outing that is more sensible and safe. Get to know the mechanics of the friendship group – discuss who your child has the most fun with, who they trust the most, who they are wary of, if they want to go to have fun or so they don’t miss out or worry they will be talked about. Be consistent with your boundaries and remind your kids of the impact of social media.”
- Family talking points: Get to know your teen’s social group – the individuals and the hierarchies. Easier said than done sometimes but it’s a thought! Agree with your child how they will get home and to notify you of any changes in the agreed plan
3. What’s your #1 concern as a parent?
When asked what mums were most concerned about when their teens went out by themselves, safety was at the top of the list, including knowing where their kids were, what they were doing, and with whom. Hong Konger mum Andrea says “I suppose the one thing that I’m most concerned about is not knowing exactly where they are ALL the time. Peers can lead them astray, but fingers crossed that we have raised strong and independent children. Tracking apps like Life360 and Singtel’s Qustodio help!”
Some parents we spoke to were worried about alcohol, drugs and drinks being spiked, about the influence of peers and dares around having boyfriends and sex. Other parents were concerned about fights and being involved in violence.
Singaporean Seah says “The one point that we reiterate to 17-year-old Kayla is that she needs to come to us when she has any issues or if she’s in dire straits. As her parents are divorced, we’ve always strived to have a cordial relationship with all concerned and both parents (and their respective families) are in contact with each other.”
- Family talking points: Decide if you want to come up with an Exit Plan to help your teen in bad situations. Bert Fulks has devised an X plan where his kids can text “X” and the parent will call them and ask them to come home so they can blame their exit on the parent and leave a situation where they feel uncomfortable (like a party gone bad or a situation when facing peer pressure to do something unwanted) — the key thing is that parents can’t reprimand the kid for getting into that situation afterwards.
Read more: How to ensure your kids are Internet safe
4. Curfews Abroad
Most of the parents we spoke to have different rules for their kids when they are outside Singapore. Sally says “In the UK I would not let my child go into town at all on their own. I would be driving her and picking her up. She would generally not travel anywhere on her own.” Tracy admits that when she is in her home country they are more nervous about the kids staying out late. “Singapore is an amazing place to bring up kids but because it is safer than most other countries our kids don’t tend to be as ‘street smart’ when they are in other countries.”
Hong Kong-British mother Andrea has a 11-year-old tween who has a bedtime of 9pm but isn’t ready (by her own admission) to go out by herself at night. Maya would gladly go with a friend to the mall down the road during the day – something her mum says she wouldn’t allow back home.
- Family talking points: Decide what your rules are on holiday or in your home country if different to here in Singapore.
5. When to give your child a phone
Andrea’s 11-year-old daughter catches the public bus after school so has a mobile phone (with restricted access) and they installed the Life 360 App, which tracks where she is for safety reasons. Before giving her a phone Andrea sat down and talked about the rules and why she had to put restrictions on the phone. Andrea says “Surprisingly my daughter hardly uses it for her personal use. For me the phone is peace of mind. She is only 11 so going out by herself is not something she has asked to do. She has such a busy life balancing school and extracurricular activities that she doesn’t have that much time to wonder around. Perhaps that is what you do – keep them busy! Any downtime is spent within our condo as she’s lucky to have a number of friends to hang out with there.”
- Family talking points: Decide when to give your child a phone, what access they will have and any special conditions attached.
Read more: Healthy Social Media Habits For Kids
6. Communication and Trust
Tracy is big on keeping an open dialogue with her teens. “Trust is a big thing between parents and teenagers, we talk regularly with our kids about incidents that have happened in Singapore, everything from graffiti, to those selling electric cigarettes (which are illegal in Singapore), to talking about drugs and alcohol. The kids know the score if something happens here, so it is a huge responsibility for them to bear and they need to understand that without putting too much pressure on them.”
Daughter Isabelle 14, agrees that having a good open dialogue with parents is key saying “My relationship with my parents is pretty good, we can talk about almost anything whenever.”
Maya, 11 says “I can talk to my parents. We have family talks. But I’ve had no big problems I need to talk to them about. We have a lot of discussion about mobile phones, snapchat and Instagram. I have friends that have it and really want Snap Chat but I have to wait. Sometimes I think it’s unfair.”
Singaporean Elizabeth, Aunt to 17-year-old Kayla says “I’d say that building a strong foundation of trust is essential. I practice controlled-freedom/independence early on and we celebrate a child’s individuality. There’s always so much to worry about, but at some point, we have to appreciate that the youngsters need to learn to be enabled teens, in order to be responsible and level-headed adults. Parents have to realise that molly-coddling their young will not bode well for them eventually. Cloistering children is not the right move, in my humble opinion.”
- Family talking points: Find a way to keep conversations open with your child. One idea is the ‘Circle of Safety’ – a method used by Will Smith. When in the Circle of Safety, Will’s kids are allowed to say anything they have done or experienced good or bad and they know they won’t get in trouble if said during that time to encourage them to be able to talk to parents without fear of being told off.
This idea is echoed by 17-year-old Singaporean Kayla who says “At first, I was not open to sharing much with my aunt/elders, because I feared that they would be angry or reprimand me for some of my actions, although all I needed was some adult advice and help. I feel that my relationship with all my elders really started to open up and become better when I realised that instead of lecturing me and making me feel guilty for any wrongdoings that I may have done, they instead helped me work through it and gave me advice, which really made me more at ease and okay with talking to them openly.”
Advice to parents from a Teen
Kayla says “My advice to parents would be to try and let go a little bit when it comes to their teens. I’m not saying don’t worry about them, but instead trust that they are smart enough to be aware of certain dangers and that they have good judgment on a situation when it comes to it. Certainly, it is good that parents are worried and I’m sure many teens are very appreciative of this, but being too restrictive makes the teen feel as if they have no choice/say in their lives which may lead to them being angry at their parents. We just want to fit in with the crowd and do what all our friends are doing (except for the bad stuff)!”
Thanks to all the mums and teens who took part in this discussion!