I lived for almost 15 years in Wheaton, Ill., a wealthy
suburb outside of Chicago. Within the city borders were five
different colleges, therefore, city officials kept a very tight
rein on teenagers. My sons, who went to high school with hair
past their shoulders, often felt “targeted” by the high school
police officers and the local cops patrolling our downtown.
Wheaton had very tight curfew laws. The Wheaton city code
applied to anyone under the age of 17 requiring them to be home
“from 12:01 a.m. to 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, and from 11 p.m.
to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday nights.” The state also had
curfew laws that made parents responsible. My sons’ driving
licenses “expired” after curfew, curtailing the amount of
driving that was done by teens between the hours of 11:00 p.m.
and 6:00 a.m.
I rarely had a problem with my three sons when we lived in
Wheaton, but there was one night when my best laid plans to keep
within the law went awry.
My son, Josh, at 16 wanted to attend a concert in downtown
Chicago on a weekend. He and his friends hired a limo driver to
bring them back to Wheaton after the show. Since they would get
back after curfew, I assumed Josh would be dropped off by the
limo driver at home. Of course, teens rarely think the same way
parents do so he asked to be dropped off with his friend. They
were hungry, so they visited the Taco Bell drive-thru before
heading to our house. It was about 1:00 a.m. when a Wheaton
police officer called me to tell me he had my son in custody for
a curfew violation.
I was glad to be living in a town where my sons were under so
much scrutiny. They knew someone was always watching them, if
not me, the cop in the police cruiser at the Taco Bell. And my
sons rarely got in trouble. Crime was low and my suburban
streets felt safe, even when walking home at night from taking
the Chicago Northwestern trains home from downtown Chicago.
Was my suburban experience typical? According to
Patrick Kline, a researcher from the University of
California-Berkley, “…curfews appear to have important effects
on the criminal behavior of youth. The arrest data suggests that
being subject to a curfew reduces the arrests of juveniles below
the curfew age by approximately 10 percent in the five years
I’m one parent who appreciated the governmental support to my
role as a “good” parent. The police didn’t supplant my parental
role of ensuring that my teenagers were home at a decent hour.
But they did offer help.
Kline noted the role of parents in ensuring a safe community.
In his study he said, “An alternative rationalization of the
evidence is that parents play an important role in the
enforcement of curfews over and above that of the police. If
municipal curfews act as focal points in the establishment of
household policies, a curfew with modest fines (and arrests)
could lead to large changes in the behavior of youth. The
potential role of parents in self-enforcement of curfews is an
important area for future research.”
The Taco Bell lesson? My son learned if you’re going to be
out after curfew, don’t get hungry. And, I learned as a single
mom that it was great parental leverage to have the police
officers watching my back by helping my sons to grow into decent
Cherie K. Miller lives on a lake in Georgia with her husband,
Steve, and a blended family consisting of seven sons, two dogs,
two geckos and a freakishly grumpy 17 year old cat. She is an
author of three books. She and her husband have a nonprofit,
Legacy Educational Resources that provides character education
materials to school teachers, administrators and others who care
about developing character in our young people. Contact her at