When are you coming home?

I can still picture my mom in her bathrobe, cracking the curtains at the sound of an approaching car, worrying, waiting for one of my older sisters to come home on a late Friday or Saturday night. Miraculously that same memory vanished when I was old enough to be out late with friends. Now the tables have turned and I'm the one waiting for our 17-year-old son, Tom, to come home. Only there's something different about the picture now. I wait in bed, sound asleep. The bonus hours of sleep are thanks to a magazine article I read a few years back while sitting through my younger son's piano lesson.

The article advocated that teenagers be allowed to set their own curfews - not just out of the blue, but after a trial period establishing reliability. It sounded good, so my husband and I decided we'd try it when the time came.

We told one seasoned parent about our curfew plan. She nodded sagely and said it had worked with all four of her kids, though one son had been a challenge. One night he had stayed out past his curfew. When she woke at 4 a.m. with him still not home, she called all the parents of the kids he was with, trying to locate him.

Of course, this meant several sets of bleary-eyed parents were none too happy with her son. After hearing about his slip-up from each of the sleep-deprived parents, her son never goofed again. We, of course, passed this story on to our son, Tom, wiggling a few eyebrows during the telling.

Then the time came for us to try it out with Tom, and as often happens with developmental milestones, it arrived much sooner than we anticipated.

The summer before his freshman year of high school, Tom started practicing with the high school marching band. The camaraderie of the band gave him a ready-made set of friends of all ages, and some of those friends drove! We took a deep breath and let Tom begin to set his weekend curfews.

At first midnight had to be the upper limit. And he had to tell us where he would be, or call us from any unplanned destination. It seemed to work like a charm. Tom even set some of his curfews for before midnight. He came home on time. Then one night he rolled in 20 minutes late.

For a while we set the curfew 10 o'clock and no negotiations. After two weeks we let him take over again. From then on he came home on time, every time, and on rare occasions would call us near the allotted time to ask for a short extension.

After several months of honored curfews, he asked to set times past midnight for special occasions. We agreed. And somewhere in there, confident of his dependability, we began to sleep before he came home.

Now that Tom is about to start his senior year of high school and his choices have become more challenging, we often come back to his demonstrated reliability around curfews as an example of his responsibility and good judgment.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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