Curfews are no substitute for good parenting
It’s a waste of time chasing children and hauling them home – wayward kids need better outlets and parents who can control them
Do you know where your children are? Or have you decided that responsibility belongs to your community’s police?
It’s not uncommon for Alberta communities to attempt to manage marauding teenagers by introducing a curfew.
Bruderheim has done just that this summer. The curfew, from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., applies to children 15 years old and younger. Teens can’t be in public places unless they are working or on their way home from organized events that are supervised by adults.
If RCMP find Bruderheim kids wandering the streets after 11 p.m., they are returned home and their parents are issued a ticket. The first offence costs the parents
$100; subsequent offences cost $200 each.
Bruderheim adopted this strategy because local young people continually cause trouble late at night. “It’s just something that helps make residents feel safer and ensures the safety of the children,” Mayor Karl
Hauch told Global News.
But we know protecting children is not nearly the sole motivation. Every time a curfew is debated or introduced in Alberta
– think Taber, Millet, Blackfalds, Red Deer or several other Alberta communities in recent years – it isn’t just about protecting children.
It’s about protecting property and putting a lid on costly police response to reports of that stolen and damaged property.
The debate about the need for curfews – or the political and policing will to enforce existing curfews – is really a discussion about quality parenting, programs for youth and progressive, preventive policing strategies.
Less than a decade ago, Red Deer council re-examined the city’s rarely enforced curfew. A proposal to expand the curfew window for youth under 16 was ultimately rejected. There was little appetite to strengthen a bylaw that was already difficult to enforce – and didn’t get to the root of the problem.
Instead, council asked local groups to examine the origins of youth-related problems and come back with solutions.
The message was simple: it’s a waste of time and money to chase children and haul them home. And that strategy doesn’t address the core issues: that wayward kids need better outlets, and parents can’t or won’t control their children.
Curfews generally land on the agendas of town and city councils because members of the community feel threatened, are concerned about protecting their property, or are worried about youth activity having an impact on their property values.
Those are the kinds of concerns that should be heeded: violence, property crime and a feeling of diminished safety will ripple through a community.
But expanding or regularly enforcing a curfew is not the way to address safety concerns. By all means, communities can have curfews in place – it’s always good to have a strategy of last resort.
But the ultimate thrust of any community’s direction – to get young people on the right path – should make a discussion about curfews all but moot.
The best policing tends to use curfews more to guide young people than to punish them. Although it is certainly a useful tool available to police – it allows them to ask for identification, engage young people in conversation and even take them home – it should rarely be used to issue tickets.
Issuing tickets and restricting basic rights and freedoms should be far from the heart of this discussion. And there is no evidence that curfews actually work.
A study in Maryland’s Prince George County found that there was little or no impact on youth crime complaints or arrests as a result of imposing a curfew. A similar study by California’s Centre on Juvenile and Criminal Justice came to much the same conclusion. Even in communities where a weekday daytime curfew is in effect, and where police can actually hold curfew-breakers, there is no sign that youth crime has diminished.
So the better path is a collaborative effort between local crime prevention groups, the municipality and various youth agencies, organizations and community resource groups.
Some communities include a parental responsibility ordinance in their community standards bylaw.
Other communities have introduced behavioural health programs for families of children at risk. The programs include life-skills coaching, education and employment help, and parenting assistance.
In Rimbey a few years ago, council chose not to implement a curfew, instead focusing on establishing facilities and programs for local youth.
That sort of action is about choosing the constructive path rather than the punitive one.
And, hopefully, it includes parents knowing where their children are. -TROYMEDIA
Troy Media columnist John Stewart is a born and bred Albertan who doesn’t drill for oil, ranch or drive a pickup truck – although all of those things have played a role in his past. John is also included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.