A juvenile curfew law is a local ordinance that prohibits people of a specific age, usually teenagers, from being in public or in a business establish during certain hours of the day. Most communities that operate this policy restrict teens from being outside of their home between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM unless they are with their parents, attending a school function, or have another authorized reason to be in violation of the policy – such as coming home from work.
The legislative intent behind the use of a teenage curfew is to maintain specific social order goals. By making it illegal for teens under the age of 18 to be out during this time, officials hope to prevent the number of crimes that involve juveniles from increasing, protect kids from potential predators, and maintain general peace during hours when people need to rest.
A teenage curfew is ineffective if it does not create a consequence for its violation. The actual punishments vary from each community, but they typically involve a fine, community service requirements, enrollment in an after-school program, restriction of a driver’s license, and possible time in detention if there are repeat offenses. Some parents who are proven to knowingly allow their kids to violate these laws may experience a similar outcome.
List of the Pros of a Teenage Curfew
1. There are exceptions in place for teens who need to be out during the curfew.
Although there are some teenage curfew laws that do not provide any exceptions, most of them identify specific activities under which juveniles can be lawfully outside during a restricted time. The exceptions can vary based on the community, but they typically involve the following situations.
- A parent or guardian is accompanying their teen after the curfew begins.
- Teams who have employment in their community and come home after-hours are permitted to be outside if they carry proof of their job.
- Attending a school event or a religious activity with verification is permitted under most laws.
- Minors running an errand for their parents, guardians, or an authorized adult are sometimes exempted from these laws.
- All emergency situations that may exist.
2. It provides an element of safety for the teens and their community.
Did you know that a child goes missing every 40 seconds on average in the United States? That means there are over 460,000 missing children each year, although there are about 1,500 kidnappings included in that data. About 300 kids each year are taken away from their homes in an incident that doesn’t include a family abduction. The presence of teenage curfew laws works to prevent this issue from occurring, especially for girls between the ages of 12-17, because it stops predators from having easy access to them while on the street.
3. These laws work to teach teens about responsibility.
In almost 90% of the missing children cases that exist in the United States, abduction is not the issue. Some teens decide to run away from their home. Getting lost is a significant issue, even with GPS functions on a phone. Simple miscommunication is another leading cause of this problem. By having a teenage curfew law in place, a community works to create a specific time each night when families can get together to discuss what is happening in their family. Although these conversations don’t guarantee that a teen might decide to start making choices on their own, it does give them a safe place to be while learning how to be responsible for their choices.
4. It offers peace of mind for the parents and guardians.
When a juvenile curfew is enforced consistently in a community, then the parents or guardians of that child can rest assured that there is a safe environment for them to access. With adult supervision becoming necessary with these laws at a restricted time for anyone under the age of 18, then it lessens the risk of having something terrible happen when response times may not be fast. Having a teen at home at night helps a family to feel relived because there is an assurance that nothing will happen without there being a chance to respond.
5. Teenage curfew laws help kids to understand boundaries.
All of us set boundaries in our lives in various ways. By restricting the time that a teen can come outside late at night, the juvenile curfew laws help to show why there are specific structures in place that keep all of us safe. It is a way to reinforce the boundaries that parents set in the home while fostering the independent spirit of teenagers as they work to discover who they are as a person. This advantage works well when there is active parental involvement in the teen’s life, but a mentor can also help kids to see the benefits that are possible when you make a decision to follow the rules.
6. It helps to provide structure in a teen’s life.
The biological changes that happen during a teen’s life between the ages of 13-18 can cause them to become impulsive. They start to think about the short-term benefits of what they are doing instead of any potential long-term consequences. Even teens who earn high grades, work a job, and have their family as a top priority in their life can make potentially harmful decisions that could impact the rest of their lives. The presence of a juvenile curfew provides an extra level of structure so that a random situation which could leave an adverse effect has less of a chance to happen.
At the same time, a teenage curfew should offer teens a reward that goes beyond not getting into trouble as a way to be effective. When we praise kids for making positive choices, then it begins to reinforce the positive habits that they’re trying to create in their life.
List of the Cons of a Teenage Curfew
1. Curfews have a negligible effect on crime in a community.
Information on teenage curfews that dates back to 1983 continues to show that the impact of this policy on our community has a negligible effect in the reduction of juvenile crime. Although most criminal activity occurs in the late afternoon when looking at teenage offenders, the structure of curfew laws only restricts the nighttime hours. Since the funding for enforcement typically comes from summer employment programs and other youth support mechanisms, it is not uncommon for the presence of a strictly-enforced curfew law to increase criminal activity from juvenile offenders.
The Campbell Collaboration examined over 7,000 studies on teenage curfews and synthesized a dozen of the most rigorous studies that were in that batch. Their report states that the presence of a curfew can actually increase the number of crimes that a community experiences from teenage offenders.
2. It encourages a system of autocratic, authoritarian parenting.
Research indicates that the authoritarian parenting style tends to be the least effective way to help children learn about who they are and how to function in society. By creating instructions which demand compliance where the only reward is that you don’t get in trouble, families often find that the presence of a teenage curfew creates more rebellion then it does community safety awareness. When a teen gets in trouble for being out in the community after-hours even with a permitted excuse, the entire encounter undermines the benefits that this law is supposed to create it in the first place.
3. Teens become a scapegoat for everything wrong that happens in a community.
Even during the years of the late 1990s, when juvenile crime was at an all-time low in the United States, teams were often blamed for the violent incidents that occurred in a community. This perspective caused the use of curfews to increase, often in areas where there were no issues with juvenile offenders. That is often why this law does not have the intended effect on criminal activities in a community. It is restricting the access of teens when most of them are not outside doing anything against the law.
4. It invites law enforcement to target teens with their enforcement.
In addition to the failures of reducing juvenile crime, a teenage curfew law invites unfair enforcement because it allows police officers to target people based on their looks, race, or views on life. According to Youth Law News, children who do not have both of their parents are home or are a racial or cultural minority are over-represented in the curfew violation statistics. Since there is little research available to determine what role a teen’s race plays in enforcement, there are perceived inequalities in many communities that can create division and undermine the effectiveness of the law.
5. The impact of a juvenile curfew is more about the needs of the parents or guardians.
Mayor Ted Green of Orange, NJ, told The Marshall Project in 2018 that the purpose of their curfew is safety. “With summer in full swing,” he said in July, “we want to remind our young people and their guardians that our city has a long-standing juvenile curfew. Safety continues to be our number one priority, and preventive measures such as curfews are paramount during the months when school is out.”
Councilman Glen Pruitt sponsored a curfew ordinance in Montgomery Alabama. “I really don’t understand why there is so much disdain or confusion for a curfew,” he said. “I have a son who is 16 and his rear-end is in the house at 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock.”
The reality of many teenage curfews is that they act as another parent or guardian, giving the family tools to use if they feel like their teen is being “too rebellious.” Although there are times when these laws can prevent victimization, it tends to be a tool that parents use more than police officers to create compliance.
6. It can create a false sense of security.
Even when a community has severe issues with juvenile delinquency during the overnight hours because of gang-related activity, poverty, or similar issues, a teenage curfew is not a cure-all for the problems that are happening in the community. It is necessary to solve the root cause of the behavior in the first place if you want to see things start to change. Kids join a gang for a specific set of reasons. Trying to counter the conditions of being poor through stealing is a commentary on the rest of society. We must look beyond the short-term decision to determine how a teen got to the place where they started breaking the law for a curfew to begin being effective.
7. Curfew laws don’t prepare teens for how the real world operates.
When a community decides to impose a juvenile curfew on everyone, then it makes an assumption that every teen is a potential troublemaker. It also suggests that these kids don’t have an awareness on how to care for themselves. The real world does have laws which demand compliance, but adults rarely find themselves restricted by a curfew situation unless there is an emergency situation happening. When teens must start making their own decisions in life without the protection of curfew rules, the responsibilities asked of them may become a shock to their system.
8. Could it be unconstitutional in the United States?
We have numerous laws which restrict behaviors to keep the general population safe, but they apply to everyone in that specific situation. Driving laws impact all drivers. Tax laws impact all income earners. Yet curfew laws typically target only teens and adolescents without holding adults responsible for their behavior during this time. By enacting consequences on people through assumption instead of fact, we are setting a dangerous precedent on what laws could target other demographics in the future.
The pros and cons of a teenage curfew all depend on what is happening in a community at any given moment. If there are high levels of juvenile crime during the overnight hours, then this law makes sense to implement. Since most communities see a peak in youth crime during the late afternoon during the transition between school and home or work, it makes more sense to implement after-school programs that reduce the amount of downtime that teens have. By taking this logical step, we can begin to move away from the unfounded fears of the 1990s.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.