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On Parenting
Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/29/2011

Montgomery curfew controversy: How much is this about location?

The proposed curfew in Montgomery County is, to put it mildly, controversial. Curfews are hardly new, they’ve been embraced in cities across the country and are currently in place in Montgomery’s neighbors, Prince George’s County and the District. What makes this proposal, with its 6,000-plus-Facebook-page opposition so different?
A melee this month that included more than 80 teens and young in downtown Silver Spring helped trigger the curfew legislation. (Jeffrey Porrter - The Washington Post)

Could it be the old realtor’s adage: location, location, location?

Let’s recap. Montgomery officials have proposed a nighttime curfew, with several exceptions, for kids 18 and under. It’s intended to help police deal with a feared spread of juvenile gang violence in parts of the county.

Scores of county teens oppose the curfew and this week stepped up their vocal opposition campaign. Several parents have joined with their children, citing the curfew as an infringement of their parental rights.

Municipality-imposed curfews have long been used to address juvenile crime, with mixed results. A secondary, often less publicized, intent is to step in when authorities think parents may need “encouragement.”

When a curfew was being debated in New Haven, an alderwoman said that it might be “the only way we’re seeing now to get parents involved,” according to a 2009 U.S Department of Justice report on curfews. In other cities, such as Camden, N.J., curfew regulations have been combined with assessments of family involvement and have threatened parents with a “Failure to Supervise” summons.

This is not to say that urban parents are more likely to be absentee, though they may be more likely to accept that other parents are. After all, cities tend to be places where fewer people know each other and there are a wide range of life experiences.

One of the peculiar elements of the Montgomery proposal is that it would be imposed on a sprawling and diverse county. Many of its affluent residents moved there expressly in the interest of their children.

It’s in this context, especially, that one person’s idea of “encouragement” is another’s idea of infringement.

One father, Ron Ely, wrote on the Facebook page that’s been set up in opposition to the curfew, “I take offense at the notion that that the Montgomery County government is qualified to give me ‘parenting instructions’ should I choose to permit my kids to stay out til 11:30 on some occasion.”

His note echoed other parents, including a mother who stood up at this week’s public hearing on the curfew, according to an account in Silver Chips Online, the online student newspaper of Montgomery Blair High School. She defended her right to give her son permission to stay out later if he texting her asking for approval.

That mother’s hypothetical assumed an intense involvement in her son’s life: that she knew where her son was at midnight; that he communicated with her through the night; that he asked her for permission; that he would obey her decision; that she was awake and willing to provide a response.

That kind of relationship is hard for any family to maintain, in Montgomery County or elsewhere. The question is when the family has a much different type of relationship, and those families exist, unfortunately, everywhere, should a curfew pick up the slack?

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/29/2011

 
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