How Late is too Late to be out for teenagers?

One of the hardest parts about raising children is when they go through their teenage years.

One of the hardest parts of being a child is going through the teenage years. It is a strange time of life – an age when puberty, a growing sense of self and expanding knowledge come up against the limitations of physical youth and legal restrictions.


Contentious issues between parents and children are many – from food choices to religion, from studies to a choice of friends. But the issue of ‘staying out late’ brings forth the clash of generations like perhaps no other.

The teen wants his ‘freedom’. Like an unruly pet dog, he strains at the limits of his curfew, the temptation to hang out with his friends, to explore a city he has hitherto been content to see from the back of his father’s two-wheeler, to try out the ‘night life’ means that being asked to come back home before a certain time is a painful reminder of his childhood. For girls the deadline is always even tighter, ‘safety’ considerations are paramount, and accepting the reality that India is safer for men than women, the concerns of parents are justified.

The fact of the matter is that answering the question is not a matter of setting a hard deadline. In fact, to understand ‘how late is too late to be out’, we need to understand that each city and town would have a different answer to that question.

In a city with good public transport, a relatively good safety record and a long-term night-life culture like Mumbai, a later curfew seems to make perfect sense; in cities where a night life is not the norm and adequate public transportation is not available, the opposite would be true.

In fact, the answer is ‘it depends’.

It depends on the parents, on the child and on where they are living. Just as an investor needs to assess the availability of investible funds and risk factors, the parent needs to understand their child and the risks involved. A chaperoned event, where responsible adults (such as teachers or parents of other children) are going to be present would obviously allow a greater comfort level, and allow the curfew time to be later than in a case where the reason for staying away is an unsupervised party. Similarly, the curfew should be different for a public event like a music concert or a movie where the parent himself or herself will be picking up the teenager for a drop home than for a date where the child proposes to return home on his or her own.

A parent’s trust level would ultimately be the most important determinant of the deadline set for the child. Unlike Cinderella, whose fairy godmother had very strong reasons for telling her protégé to leave the Prince’s ball before midnight, the deadlines we set in this day and age must be flexible, while taking into account the vagaries of traffic, youthful enthusiasm (for breaking rules) and the basic level of faith the parent has in the child. In an age where children are exposed to the outside world through social media and the World Wide Web in any case, restricting physical freedom has limited use anyway.

It is equally important that the teenager realises his or her responsibility in this situation. We live in a world where the young are increasingly being made to grow up while being mollycoddled at the same time. They need to undertake the responsibility of the freedom they have by looking after their own safety and making intelligent use of devices like mobile phones to keep their parents informed of their whereabouts.

Remember, it is when you demonstrate a sense of maturity about the rules imposed upon you that you are likely to win relaxations in them. The best way to widen a boundary is to accord it respect.

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Kunal is an ex-banker with a (largely self-proclaimed) flair for writing. He is an associate member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India and an MBA from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies (NMIMS), Mumbai.

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