I lived for almost 15 years in Wheaton, Ill., a wealthy suburb outside of Chicago. Within the city borders were five different colleges, therefore, city officials kept a very tight rein on teenagers. My sons, who went to high school with hair past their shoulders, often felt “targeted” by the high school police officers and the local cops patrolling our downtown.
Wheaton had very tight curfew laws. The Wheaton city code applied to anyone under the age of 17 requiring them to be home “from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights.” The state also had curfew laws that made parents responsible. My sons’ driving licenses “expired” after curfew, curtailing the amount of driving that was done by teens between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.
I rarely had a problem with my three sons when we lived in Wheaton, but there was one night when my best laid plans to keep within the law went awry.
My son, Josh, at 16 wanted to attend a concert in downtown Chicago on a weekend. He and his friends hired a limo driver to bring them back to Wheaton after the show. Since they would get back after curfew, I assumed Josh would be dropped off by the limo driver at home. Of course, teens rarely think the same way parents do so he asked to be dropped off with his friend. They were hungry, so they visited the Taco Bell drive-thru before heading to our house. It was about 1:00 a.m. when a Wheaton police officer called me to tell me he had my son in custody for a curfew violation.
I was glad to be living in a town where my sons were under so much scrutiny. They knew someone was always watching them, if not me, the cop in the police cruiser at the Taco Bell. And my sons rarely got in trouble. Crime was low and my suburban streets felt safe, even when walking home at night from taking the Chicago Northwestern trains home from downtown Chicago.
Was my suburban experience typical? According to Patrick Kline, a researcher from the University of California-Berkley, “…curfews appear to have important effects on the criminal behavior of youth. The arrest data suggests that being subject to a curfew reduces the arrests of juveniles below the curfew age by approximately 10 percent in the five years following enactment.”
I’m one parent who appreciated the governmental support to my role as a “good” parent. The police didn’t supplant my parental role of ensuring that my teenagers were home at a decent hour. But they did offer help.
Kline noted the role of parents in ensuring a safe community. In his study he said, “An alternative rationalization of the evidence is that parents play an important role in the enforcement of curfews over and above that of the police. If municipal curfews act as focal points in the establishment of household policies, a curfew with modest fines (and arrests) could lead to large changes in the behavior of youth. The potential role of parents in self-enforcement of curfews is an important area for future research.”
The Taco Bell lesson? My son learned if you’re going to be out after curfew, don’t get hungry. And, I learned as a single mom that it was great parental leverage to have the police officers watching my back by helping my sons to grow into decent human beings.
Cherie K. Miller lives on a lake in Georgia with her husband, Steve, and a blended family consisting of seven sons, two dogs, two geckos and a freakishly grumpy 17 year old cat. She is an author of three books. She and her husband have a nonprofit, Legacy Educational Resources that provides character education materials to school teachers, administrators and others who care about developing character in our young people. Contact her at www.character-education.info