Q: My 12-year-old daughter thinks she’s old enough to set her own bedtime. We told her that we want her in bed, lights out, by 9:30 on weeknights and 10 on non-school nights.
This really isn’t working, however, as she continues to try to stay up later. In one of your books, you describe a system for letting teenagers earn their curfew. Can we use a similar system for bedtime?
A: Curfew and bedtime are horses of two different colors. The former involves safety, peer group, maturity and responsibility issues that are not involved, or as involved, as regards bedtime.
For that reason, I would not advise using an approach similar to the curfew system that I describe in my book, “Teen-Proofing.”
I generally recommend that parents set no specific bedtime for a child 12 years of age or older; rather, they simply insist that after a certain time — say, 9 p.m. — the child is on non-punitive restriction to her room. Assuming that she does not make it difficult for other family members to get a decent night’s sleep, the youngster can stay up as late as she wants. However, if getting up in the morning and getting ready for school, church or whatever becomes problematic, then the parents go back to enforcing a specific, and relatively early, bedtime. In that unfortunate event, they also remove distracting electronic devices — cell phones, computers, and the like — from the child’s room so that she can fall asleep more easily and get the sleep she obviously needs.
If that step needs to be taken, then the child’s room is cleansed and the “old” bedtime is enforced for at least a month, but no more than two months. Then parents replace the distractions and let the child determine her own bedtime again. My experience is that the “punishment” doesn’t have to be used more than twice before the problem is solved.
This approach helps the pre-teen or young teen see the life-long relationship between freedom (what this age child wants most) and responsible behavior (what parents want most from this age child).
To maintain or gain more freedom, the child begins to act more responsibly. Win-win!
A psychologist, Rosemond answers questions on his website at www.rosemond.com.