As kids grow older the rules in the family change – and one of the last to change is the parents dropping the set bedtime or having a curfew time. We often set bedtime for our kids based on a cultural norm – and yet, when we do so we are missing the opportunity to teach our kids a life skill and a moral value. Are bedtimes or curfews really necessary? What is the moral lesson going on that we need to make sure our kids understand?
How have you dealt with this aspect of growing up?
In our house when our kids where around 15 (slightly different for each child) we gave them the freedom to choose their own bedtime. We did this because we wanted them to learn to manage their time, limit their own freedoms and live with the consequences of their choices.
My kids have made some poor choices: they’ve stayed up and read books, or watched a movie, or talked to each other till way past their usual bedtime. The consequence? A tired, sluggish day the next day.
This is where it is a bit different for homeschooling families so I offer this caution: Because there are no other external factors dictating the severity of the consequences of having a late night, we must stick to our plans and not let them go just because someone is tired. We cannot afford to say “oh well, you had a late night last night, take it easy today.” That is simply removing the consequences of their choice. When our kids go to school, or have a job to go to the next morning, no one is taking away their responsibilities for that day – they have to turn up and do well regardless of what happened last night.
As my kids grow older their social activities change – they go out more on their own, with their own friends (especially once they get their own car). When it comes to getting home at a decent hour, I treat this much like bedtimes. They need to manage their time wisely. They also need to stay safe, which means driving home before they are too tired. I also like my kids to stay in touch if their plans change, not because I need to know their every movement, but for safety and follow up, should something go wrong. In this day and age of the mobile phone – a text message is a common courtesy.
Staying out too late has the same lifeskill and consequences attached as going to bed late. Our kids have got to learn how to say ‘I gotta go’, how to limit their activities so that they can balance their whole life. When we continue to manage this aspect for them, they don’t get to flex this muscle till they are older and have actually left home, and by that stage they don’t have the support network (you) around them.
It is easy to assume that if they need support we need to bring back the bedtime, bring back the rule. But that is not consistent with the phase of parenting we are living in with teens – instead of being the boss, we are now the coach – guiding and helping our kids to grow strong social, emotional and moral muscles for themselves.
Instead of insisting that they get home earlier, or go to bed earlier our role in teaching these things is to be a prompt – to help our kids see what is going on in their life, to help them understand and front up to the choices they made, and to learn that they can make better choices.
It is not about me coming down heavy on them, but rather approaching them in a way that they know that I am on their side, that I want them to succeed, and that I am here to help them.
When I speak of these things (after they have made a poor choice) I am reminding them of the things they may be feeling but haven’t acknowledged to themselves yet, it isn’t just stating the obvious, it is prompting them to think. For example, I could ask: How are you going today? Why do you think you are having a sluggish day today? What can you do about tomorrow? Have you noticed you are sketchy with your sister today? What’s going on?
This is where we have to be VERY careful. Our prompting can quickly descend to nagging. If we come at this issue as correcting, and chiding and annoyed at them, they won’t learn and they certainly won’t take responsibility for their time management. Instead we need to prompt them to think about the choices they are making, in light of the consequences they are living. We become a bit like a conscience – sitting on their shoulder prompting them to think about the choices they made last night and the consequences they are facing in the morning. As they reflect on those two – and maybe add a thought as to what could have happened last night, they will start to appropriate these thoughts and make better choices.
What if they don’t? Of course, there will always be the child who just doesn’t care! They are tired, but the party was worth it!! The issue here, isn’t that they stayed up late, but rather they are being irresponsible with their day. This isn’t an issue of simply not having enough sleep – they don’t care what happens in their day.
We need to make sure we don’t get stuck on a particular issue; instead, we need to really read what is going on in our teen’s heart. Are they being irresponsible with their sleep or are they being careless about their responsibilities during the day? Don’t presume it is one over the other – observe and talk it over with your teen.
Parents can harp on (and yes, our kids hear it as harping) about getting to bed on time, but when we talk about the consequence, the struggle, the failed efforts, the touchy temperaments and how that affects relationships – these are the things they’ve got to consider, these are the things they have to learn how to manage and making a rule isn’t going to help them grow. They need to learn to be responsible.
Over to you:
Please leave a comment on any thoughts you have on this topic. But if I was talking with you face to face I think I’d be keen to know:
What have you seen as the natural consequences of your kids going to bed too late? How have you worked with that in your home?
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