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Parents taking on curfews

Longtime readers of this blog will recall the Great Pigeon Debate here in my village. We wanted to get rid of the rats with wings under the L tracks and were willing to killing. I was in the minority in supporting that one. Eventually, the village backed down when animal rights people climbed all over it.

The latest feud I've waded into is curfew laws. And I'm apparently in the minority here, also, but in this case I have the law on my side even if not public opinion. So let me explain...

Over the summer, a group of 13 year olds were given permission by their parents to stop off at the 7-Eleven on the way to a friend's house at about 1am. Long story short is that police stopped them, called the parents, and they were issued citations for curfew which features 24 hours (a Board member says this is really more like 12 hours) of community service. The parents--who had been told it would be a small slap-on-the-wrist penalty--were surprised to get this large amount of hours. So they went to the Village Board, the story ended up in the local paper, and here we are.

Now, whether or not you agree with the wisdom, morality, or necessity of a 13 year old at a convenience store at 1am is beside the point. Would I let my own kids out at that late hour? Probably not. Maybe? I don't know. It would depend. Are they responsible? Mature? Handle themselves well? Have a cellphone? Randomly wandering? On the way to a particular place where they will be safe? Do they have to check in with me when they get there? Those are my personal parenting issues though.

The question is whether the local municipality has a say in all this.

I contend that they do not. Not without violating my right to make those parenting decisions. Not without violating the civil rights of a minor. Of course, the US Supreme Court has yet to take the issue up. So we're left with the lower courts and a mix of opinions. Some say you have to allow for written parental permission. Some say curfew laws in general are a burden.

I also contend that the idea of cufew laws is a moot point. We already have criminal laws and probable cause doctrines which tell the police who they may stop, why, and make arrests based on actual illegal behavior.

Not to mention the rise of helicopter parents versus the free range parents. I'd argue...perhaps forcefully...that it is in the interest of kids to foster independence and autonomy. The famous mom who lets her kids ride the subway alone ring a bell? Kelly tells me stories about how the rule in her house when she was growing up was to be back when the streetlights come on. Granted, she lived in a small town. I live in an urban area with crime patterns and statistics that have some arguing that minors are best indoors rather than victims.

I take issue with that mentality because it makes no difference whether someone is 15 or 35, they should feel safe walking down the street at night. If your community isn't safe for a 15 year old at 1am then you need to fix your community, not the behavior of kids.

I told my Trustee friend that I applaud the parents in this specific case for coming to the Board to fix the stiff punishment though. They could have gone straight to the ACLU, but instead are choosing cooperation rather than confrontation.

I'll also say this: if it were my kid and getting a 1am phone call I'd expect a couple things. One is the police to ask what we thought about our kids being out and the police to have some discretion. Warnings are always nice. If need be, escorting the kids home without sanction is another option. And if a penalty must be used, I'd be thinking a $30 ticket on the order of parking fines or other tiny infractions would be the rule. Our curfew law contains not only holes and constitutional problems, but doesn't work from a police or community angle either. Not to mention I'd rather have that police officer in my alley guarding against real crime than bothering with a 13 year old at the convenience store. Unless, of course, there was a real all means arrest shoplifters.

So I'll throw it out there to other dads, other parents, civil rights lawyers, whoever. If parents have a right to not vaccinate their kids...another controversy I've tackled...then doesn't it also make sense that we have a right to say yes or no to when and where they go late at night? Notice I'm not asking if you would...that's your choice about how to parent. But I will say that with the rise of free range parenting and wanting our kids to grow into responsible adults it is hard to look a teen in the eye and tell them they are not yet able to make that decision when we're asking them to keep good grades, possibly hold employment, do the laundry plus homework, etc..

My bottom line is that raising responsible adults isn't something that magically happens at 18. It's up to you, as parents, to make them step up gradually along the way. Maybe that involves a curfew maybe not. But at some point in their lives your children are going to be old enough to visit the 7-Eleven by themselves in the dead of night. I think the problem we have as a society in sorting that out is that we sometimes can't decide just when that happens.


  1. Curfew laws generally aren't imposed because of parents making parenting decisions. It is for those who aren't making decisions or aren't "parenting" at all. Living in some place between small town and urban sprawl (Columbus is about 1.5 million people) I know that curfew laws give the police some teeth in keeping 13 year olds out of harm's way as well as unarmed. I also agree that police should be able to use the law instead of it using them, but some of them aren't capable of making good decisions either. So, as much as I admire your philosophies in general, I have to say I disagree with this one. Heck, I worry about my 36 year old up and out at 1am!

    1. LOL Well, that goes back to my point about if you're worried about your 36 yr old being out at 1am maybe it's time she moved to a safer neighborhood! I should maybe clarify here that I'm actually in favor of keeping our curfew ordinance. My suggestion has been to rewrite it with broad exceptions that make it able to withstand constitutionality court challenges. Maybe get together as a community with the ACLU or some of the youth/parent rights orgs to craft something more like a model ordinance. Personally, I'm in favor of forcing the parental permission to be written and carried on the minor to show to police in the event of a stop. Problem solved and the unruly ones who sneak out are taken care of.

    2. LOL, indeed. However, HE does live in a good neighborhood, but is in a band that plays in, well, places bands play! Open communication is always the answer. So if the police will work with the community and the people will comply then it is a win-win. I wish you great luck and applaud your willingness to begin the conversations that will change the face of your neighborhood. I have been part of a local block watch and we have been able to enact changes to our neighborhood that has made it a much nicer place to live.

    3. If I had more time, perhaps I would get more involved. My friend who is the trustee wants me on a commission...but we also have a lot of drama around here when it comes to politics/civics. Which I find odd for a community that is known for being progressive and extra proud of diversity. We can't even get a traffic light on our corner, first of all. I'm not sure I'm ready to seriously tackle anything more complicated. lol


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