The curfew does not help – indeed, it probably hurts
The question was raised this week: Does Aspen’s 11 p.m. curfew for anyone under 18 do any good?
Perhaps more to the point, we should ask whether the curfew actually is bad for the community.
The issue arose during a community meeting at the Aspen Institute, where students, community leaders, police officials and others talked about Aspen’s youths and their feelings about the curfew.
The genesis of this meeting was the recent spree of armed robberies and the charges by police that a group of local teenagers was responsible for the crimes.
For some, those crimes may demonstrate the need for a curfew, as just one very necessary step toward controlling the troublemaking youth of the community. But a stronger case can be made that the crimes actually show how ineffective a curfew is. If Aspen is troubled by a criminal element among its teenagers, that trouble is clearly not going to be solved by a law that makes it illegal for all teenagers to be out on the streets at night.
In fact, the curfew is worse than merely ineffective. It is destructive.
To begin with, it places government in a role that clearly belongs to parents. Parents cannot abdicate the responsibility for controlling their children and they cannot assign that role to the police. Perhaps we should pass laws making it illegal for children to not do their homework as well. The law is not a babysitter.
More important, it is very wrong to pass a law that takes away a citizen’s right to be out on the streets of this town simply because that citizen happens to be less than 18 years of age. Yes, those under 18 (or, in some cases, 21) have fewer freedoms than adults – but we question the appropriateness of any such limitations and we certainly do not accept that such forbidden freedoms can possible include the right to walk the streets of one’s hometown.
We try to teach our youth the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Such lessons cannot possibly begin by suspending basic human rights. This is not the lesson we should be teaching – that one’s right to walk the streets can be suspended by the government for vague and arbitrary reasons. This does not build respect for society and the law; it may do just the opposite.
On a more practical note, curfews simply do not work. They rarely have the desired effect of keeping troublemakers off the streets and in their homes. It is usually the ordinary kids, full of energy and curiosity and adolescent rebellion but not dangerous to society or themselves, who get caught up in curfews. Kids who are truly bent on criminal mischief know how to get around curfews and avoid the officers who enforce them, just as they know how to get out of their homes and away from their parents.
The main effect of curfews is to give parents and officials the comfort of self-congratulation, the false sense that they are doing something to keep the kids off the streets and out of harm’s way.
From this false sense of security, how far is it to jump to the false conclusion that enough is being done, that there is no need to actually do the hard work of talking to our children, of teaching them real values, of keeping track of what they are doing, where they going – and who they are becoming.
A curfew is a “quick fix” left over from an earlier era. It is an attempt by adults to shirk responsibility and pass some portion of a difficult task to the government. That is a poor precedent for society as a whole and a poor example to set for the very youth whom we want to control. It doesn’t work – and, as recent events have shown, the price of failure is sadly high.
Teenagers need to be given respect. They need to be treated like the adults we all hope they will become. They need to be listened to. They do not need to be treated like second-class citizens.
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