How can you embarass a teenager who is sneaking out at night?
October 10, 2008 11:23 AM   Subscribe

How can you embarass a teenager who is sneaking out at night? A friend of mine (how cliche) has a daughter who is indulging in some early teen hijinks by sneaking out and basically getting into trouble. None of her actions are illegal or really THAT bad, but still the parents can't condone it. They've tried everything, taking her phone away, grounding her, taking her television, internet, away...nothing. It seems she feeds on that kind of resistance. So he's ready to try a new tactic.

I suggested that the root of her disobedience is the feeling of being cool while "breakin the law" and that by somehow making it not so cool, she'd loose interest in it. So a harmless prank that will both alert him to the fact that she is sneaking out and also embarass the hell out of her could do the trick...along with some more traditional parenting tactics. So, any ideas?
posted by jeff_w_welch to Human Relations (52 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Big theatrics never work ("and that's why you don't use a one-armed person to scare someone"). What about making it impossible for her to sneak out by just letting her go? "Are you going out tonight, sweetie? Here, take a sweater. [Help daughter out the door.] We love you, drive safely!" It'll take away the novelty of sneaking out.
posted by phunniemee at 11:34 AM on October 10, 2008 [22 favorites]

I don't think *anything* should be aimed at embarrassing her. That is likely to alienate her further, and isn't easily defended as being legitimate.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 11:36 AM on October 10, 2008

Booby traps. The parents should set a trap where she's sneaking out that makes a lot of noise and wakes them. I suspect that she would be embarassed to be caught, especially if she's all tangled up in tin cans and string, or if water has fallen on her head.
posted by amro at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2008

Maybe when she sneaks back in, her bedroom is entirely empty. She gets to earn one item back per night/week of not sneaking out. Each night she sneaks out, the room is empty again.

No drama or yelling by the parents. Parents remain calm and matter of fact. She just gets to choose if it's more important to sneak out or have a bed, or clothes, or whatever, in her room.

Not to get this into other territory, but this really has to stop before real trouble does indeed start. I raised a daughter, so I know where I'm coming from.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:40 AM on October 10, 2008 [17 favorites]

In terms of teaching her a lesson... her parents could try getting the girl up very early in the morning for some reason. Back in the day my dad thought one of my brothers was partying too much (he was). So, one morning after my brother had been out until two or three in the morning, Dad went into his room at 7:30 a.m., shook him awake, and said, "I need your help cutting firewood back in the bush today." Dad made my very tired and hungover brother use the chainsaw all day. Nothing was said on either side in acknowledgment of the fact that this was intended as a lesson. Did it work? No, my brother still drinks too much twenty years later. But he laughs about the story.

I'd go with positive reinforcement as that usually works better than punishment. Her parents could try making a deal with her. She respects her curfew for a given amount of time, she gets x. I'd recommend that X be something experiential and cool, like a trip with her friends rather than a material object.
posted by orange swan at 11:43 AM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

....Maybe ensuring that there is no way for her to sneak back IN? I.e., if they catch her out, lock all windows, deadbolt all doors so her key doesn't work -- maybe leave the garage open so she's not TOTALLY locked there's the plausible deniability of "oh, goodness, what happened? We thougtht SURELY you must be safely in your room before we locked up for the night, because you didn't tell us you otherwise, I wonder what could have happened?..."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:45 AM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

I like Fuzzy Skinner's idea...I think it would be really effective. Might be a little work, but well worth the effort.
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:47 AM on October 10, 2008

How soon does she regain privileges after having them taken away? I would think that not having a cell phone, internet, TV, etc would get very old after two weeks or so. Is she getting these things back after only a few days?

Is she using a car to get places after sneaking out? Take away her car keys. Don't leave spares where she is able to get to them easily.

This may not work for your friend's daughter, but I would feel incredibly guilty if one of my parents saw that I snuck out and waited up for me to get home. Then, not yelling, they would just mention how tired they were and wished me a good night. At that point, I wouldn't feel like I was rebelling, but instead like I just made my parents stay up all night waiting for me to get home. There wouldn't be any resistance to fight against. However, I can understand not wanting to undergo sleep deprivation to make a point.

Some kind of booby trap might work, like a string of cans outside of her door. Yet if she has windows, this could inspire her to some kind of rope ladder shenanigans that put her in real physical danger.
posted by amicamentis at 11:48 AM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Have they tried talking to her?
posted by blue_beetle at 11:50 AM on October 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

You should do what my parents did: take away my door.
posted by parmanparman at 11:52 AM on October 10, 2008 [23 favorites]

Unless she's sneaking out solo in order to skateboard glamorously around the lonely streets of the town, she's not doing it to be cool. She's doing it to meet up with her friends and/or love interest(s). As long as they're out there and wanting her to join them, she'd need a pretty strong competing desire to stay home in bed in order to resist.

The only way to keep her safe is to fully inform her of the risks that she may be taking (both to her health, personal safety, and future), and to make sure she has a future worth reaching for.

Don't lock her out; she'll just sleep at some guy's house and feel like her parents don't actually care about her safety, that they're only concerned about appearances.
posted by xo at 11:54 AM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Have they tried asking the reason for the sneaking out? Maybe she thinks the rules are too strict, compared to the ones of her peers. In this case a compromise could be reached.

If all her friends have the same curfew rules and they all sneak out, forming an alliance with the other parents to set consequences for the entire pack might be the answer.
posted by francesca too at 11:55 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

maybe they could sit her down and talk to her like a person -

"sweetie, i know you think your dad and i are just the meanest, but we have fears for you we feel are legitimate. however, we also understand that you're growing into an adult and a natural part of that is to want to push against us and learn your own lessons. we want to give you a chance to do that in a way that makes us feel that you're being safe. why do you sneak out?"
this will be followed by a chorus of 'all my friends do it' 'i dunno' 'cuz it's cool' 'because i can' and that sort of thing.
follow up with "what do you think would be a good compromise to what we want and what you want?" then discuss the compromise (a later curfew, the ability to request special nights with a later curfew etc...). after a compromise has been reached that everyone agrees on, the parents should get something they want "now, the only way i see this working is if you do your chores/wash the car once a week/bring home all A's (make it attainable. if she's more of an a/b student, make the goal a 3.5 gpa)" and finally end it with "now that we've set new boundaries and expectations, we need to agree on a punishment" again, ask her what the punishment should be.

if you allow the child to be part of the framework of the rules they'll feel less like the parents are making arbitrary laws with no concern for her as a growing human. there won't need to be any discussion if she breaks the rules because the rule and the punishment is already established. no more of this "throw whatever punishment at her we got and hope it sticks!"

i would certainly shy away from embarrassing her. that will not get the results you're looking for.
posted by nadawi at 11:57 AM on October 10, 2008 [11 favorites]

Embarassing? When they know she's snuck out, sleep in her bed.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:02 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a teenager, I snuck out of my room almost every night for many years.

I don't know if I turned out perfect, but I haven't been in jail yet.

I like orange swan's idea (a positive behavior reward) and I'll nth that additional embarrassment is not a good thing to deliberately add to a teenage girl. She deals with enough of that already, and it'll just make her lose trust in you.
posted by rokusan at 12:02 PM on October 10, 2008

You could do a series of escalating and embarrassing things

Paste her photo on the milk carton in the fridge.
Poster the neighborhood with "Have you seen this girl" posters.
Do you know a local cop? Have him or her just pick her up (like right after school in front of her peers) claiming that there was an Amber Alert on her.

When (if) she gets annoyed enough to confront you then you introduce the idea of mutual respect, self respect, yada yada yada
posted by Gungho at 12:03 PM on October 10, 2008

Doing any of the suggestions so far other than just talking to her will only escalate the situation, which in my opinion will not work. The parents might be able to make her life miserable enough that she stops trying to sneak out, but they will almost certainly come off as crazy and unreasonable in the process regardless.

You should do what my parents did: take away my door.

It may have worked in your case, but someone tried this a few weeks ago in my neighborhood, and the result was a fist-fight between the father and son, ending with the cops taking the kid away in a squad car.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:04 PM on October 10, 2008

but still the parents can't condone it

Maybe not, but what about ignoring it? Explain to her she can get into trouble and how and then leave it in her hands. If she's old enough to be sneaking out and ignoring her parents, she's old enough to accept the consequences.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:05 PM on October 10, 2008

How about a session or two (or more) with a family therapist? If she isn't talking with her parents, she might open up to a third party.
posted by Carol Anne at 12:07 PM on October 10, 2008

Fuzzy Skinner reminds me of when we put all the kids' toys "in jail" because they wouldn't take care of them or put them away. They could earn back one a day. I'll tell you they still remember that.

I like the idea of removing all her stuff and making her earn it back. Or buy her own with her own money.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:13 PM on October 10, 2008

Hide her shoes. All of them.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:15 PM on October 10, 2008

I was that girl. The only suggestion I've seen so far that would have even marginally worked on me is from amicamentis - stay up until she gets back in, and make it clear that you're deeply disappointed, not to mention exhausted, because of her behavior.

Once kids get to an age where they realize their parents can't control them, it's a dicey situation. Try something sneaky to keep her in or embarrass her, and it just becomes a competition to see who can outwit whom. She's probably got a lot more spare time to figure out ways around her parents' tricks, than vice versa, and this kind of approach does not breed respect among family members. You don't want to get into a cold war with your disobedient teenager, particularly if she's just breaking arbitrary house rules but otherwise staying out of trouble. That's a sure way to get her to ignore you on the things that really do matter.

So, ask yourself (as parents, that is; I'm addressing this to your friend): what is it that you actually want? Do you want your daughter to be safe and out of trouble? Or do you actually just want her in her room after 10pm for some nonsensical reason? I'm guessing it's the former, so figure out a way to work towards that. Loosen up on the curfew as long as she promises to tell you where she's going and who she'll be with. Make sure she knows that she can call you at any time, day or night, to pick her up from a situation she's uncomfortable with. Explain that your real concerns - potential for falling grades, trouble with the law, pregnancy, etc. - are things that could mess up her chances of reaching her dreams. In the end you are looking out for her best interest, and she is too. Obviously you won't always agree on what's best for her, but she's a lot more likely to hear you if your rules come from a rational reason than from "because I said so". Help her see that you, as parents, are her allies - not her jailers.
posted by vytae at 12:15 PM on October 10, 2008 [22 favorites]

I always thought Roseanne had a great solution to this problem when she discovered that young DJ had been skipping school. She walked him to school one morning, while wearing clown-like overalls, and a hat with a huge flower sticking out of it.

Perhaps simply telling the daughter that the next time she sneaks out, Mom (or Dad) will come to school and dance and sing in the parking lot at dismissal time (or some other public place). And then follow through with the threat - take a boom box or whatever, and make a fool out of yourself, dancing and singing off-key. Then explain to daughter that when she sneaks out and disobeys your rules, it makes you feel as bad as it makes her feel when you humiliate her in front of her friends.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:16 PM on October 10, 2008

follow up with "what do you think would be a good compromise to what we want and what you want?" then discuss the compromise (a later curfew, the ability to request special nights with a later curfew etc...). after a compromise has been reached that everyone agrees on, the parents should get something they want "now, the only way i see this working is if you do your chores/wash the car once a week/bring home all A's (make it attainable. if she's more of an a/b student, make the goal a 3.5 gpa)" and finally end it with "now that we've set new boundaries and expectations, we need to agree on a punishment" again, ask her what the punishment should be.

if you allow the child to be part of the framework of the rules they'll feel less like the parents are making arbitrary laws with no concern for her as a growing human. there won't need to be any discussion if she breaks the rules because the rule and the punishment is already established.

But no one really likes to compromise, especially teenagers. Right now, she gets to go out as much as she wants, and her punishments are things that don't seem to phase her. Why would she agree to 1) having to work harder in school or whatever in order to 2) get to go out less than she currently does, and be faced with 3) a reasonable punishment that she would be upset by? Right now she has a sweet deal of 1) doesn't have to work at all in order to 2) get to go out as much as she pleases, and in turn gets 3) punishment she doesn't really mind.

What is her incentive for her to trade for the crappier deal?
posted by 23skidoo at 12:19 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You should do what my parents did: take away my door.

This is what my parent's did after my sister began sneaking her boyfriend in/sneaking out. My dad just took the door off the hinges. It was quite some time before she got it back.

It wasn't very effective, though. My sister is married to the guy now.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:22 PM on October 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

How quickly is she regaining privileges?

It sounds like their has been a loss in mutual respect. Blue beetle has it. There needs to be more communication.

I have a parenting book I like that I refer to from time to time, Raising Children Who Think for Themselves, by Elisa Medhus, M.D.

Her is an excerpt from the section of running away. Sneaking out at night isn't the same as running away, but this advice may be helpful:


(paragraph about small children running away or threatening to run away omitted)

There are certainly no acceptable natural consequences for running away, but there are logical ones. You can tighten the reins by becoming their little shadow. Tell them that until you feel certain they won't fly the coop, you're on them like white on rice.


Take a long, hard look at the family dynamics. Are your children being over-controlled? Do they have plenty of choices? Help them define their role or niche in the family. They must understand how important they are to the entire family.

Using the walk-through, pros and cons list, and other techniques mentioned earlier in the book, help your children deal with any problems they may be running away from.

Communicate, communicate, and communicate. Take the time to listen and understand your children without refuting their word, trying to have the last say, or letting it go in one ear and out the other. Most kids who run away complain that their parents don't understand or listen to them.

Use questioning: "What troubles are you having that made this seem like the only solution for you?" "What other options can you think of?

Try providing information: "Your Uncle Phil ran away
(or sneaked out in your case) when he was sixteen and here's what consequences he had to endure." (List as many as you can, and make it as graphic as the law will allow!)

On Defiance:

Children defy us because they have their own minds. They want to test their limits and power. Some defy us to counterattack being over-controlled and over-protected, to take revenge, or to avoid doing something unpleasant. Some defy us because they feel they have been unfairly treated. And some defy us because they've been raised in a permissive environment and get away with murder!

After you have done the above work, your friend might say something like this:

"Teenager, you know how mom and I feel about you sneaking out at night. We have asked you repeatedly to respect this rule. We fear for your safety and worry about you at night. Until we can trust that you won't sneak out, one of us will have to sleep with you nightly."

For the record, I'm female. I crawled out of my bedroom window more times than I can count as a teen. I was a regular angst-y teenager. My self-esteem also sucked and my parents weren't concerned or involved with my life. I felt they didn't respect me and I didn't respect them enough not to sneak out.
posted by Fairchild at 12:25 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't know what's with all the booby trap suggestions, or hiding shoes, removing doors and stuff from her room, and other punitive nonsense.

Look, I don't know how "early" teens you're talking about, but the parents need to start treating this kid like the adult they expect her to become. That means, as several answers have suggested, talking to her. I refer you to the details as laid out by francesca too, nadawi, vytae, et al. They're not going to communicate with embarrassing stunts, only with honest talk. If they don't know how to do that, family therapy is in order.
posted by beagle at 12:31 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

There is a great book called "Get Out of My Life But First Would you drive me and susie to the mall" (or something close to that). His advice is that you don't want to create an escalating power struggle. Recognize that your opinion still matters even if you can't control them. Set up a curfew and be clear that she is to STAY home after curfew.. When she gets home, be very clear that you expect her home at curfew, you are disappointed she didn't do it and next time you expect her home on time. You can adjust this slightly to cover sneaking out. Give her the "why this is a bad idea" lecture just once - after that just say "you know why we are so concerned"

In addition since you are so tired from staying up worrying about her, you might not have the energy to do things you would normally do and expect her to take up the slack, since it was her fault (like drive her to school and cook dinner, whatever is plausible and you think she will comply with.) The consequence is primarily symbolic - better to go for a milder one that you can enforce than being tougher and starting another power struggle. The bottom line is that you want to make it clear what the right thing to do is, even if you don't punish her for doing the wrong thing.
posted by metahawk at 12:33 PM on October 10, 2008

Doing any of the suggestions so far other than just talking to her will only escalate the situation, which in my opinion will not work.

I think it's implicit that any consequences to her behavior are within the context of a relationship that already has decent communication. I'm assuming talking to her hasn't worked. There has to be more consequences other than just more talking.

I don't understand how it will "escalate the situation." Like, she will sneak out more? Yes, it will be confrontational, if that's what you mean. By continuing to ignore the rules, the daughter is escalating the situation. Confronting the daughter over this is the parents' responsibility. If she ends up in trouble, how many people here who think they shouldn't worry about it would accuse them of being negligent parents?

Having raised a daughter, I know how important it is to choose your battles wisely, and not alienate your kid. But too often, parents are downright scared of their kids, afraid of making things worse, afraid of confrontation, afraid of looking like the bad guy, and afraid their kids won't like them.

I raised my daughter with as much open communication as possible, and didn't sweat the small stuff. So when something extreme had to happen (such as my suggestion to take all the furniture... which I did myself at one point) then it gets taken seriously.

Being a parent, enforcing the rules, and allow kids to suffer consequences of their actions, is a parent's responsibility. No one can control anyone's behavior. But a parent must set rules for their child's own protection, and to teach how to treat others, and parents can only effectively do this by setting consequences. Just because something ended in fist-fight for someone else, doesn't mean it was the wrong method. A friend of mine set rules for his son, and the son ended up assaulting his own sister and mother. The kid was arrested, as he should have been. Good parenting does not allow evading your responsibilities because your kid might get mad about it.

To me, sneaking out can be downright dangerous. There's plenty of trouble to be had even when teens are out and about with permission. The most trusted, intelligent, upstanding, sensible teen can end up wayyyyyy over her head very quickly. I could never with good conscience recommend that a parent just ignore sneaking out as a harmless activity.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 12:35 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I dressed in the nerdiest clothes I could find, including the pants hiked up to my nipples. I told my daughter "This is what I'm going to wear when i go out looking for you."
posted by a.mosquito at 12:39 PM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

To make it uncool, you must permit it. Forbidding something can never diminish its coolness.

If she feels that her parents' rules and restrictions are fair, she'll obey them. If she finds them too restrictive, she'll disobey. Clearly she does indeed find them too restrictive, so the only thing you can do is relax the rules--talk with her and come up with some new rules that permit these not-illegal, not-really-bad hijinks, as long as she doesn't do anything that is illegal or really bad.
posted by equalpants at 12:58 PM on October 10, 2008

As the sister of a girl who snuck out at night (and aunt to her delightful daughter, who is only 17 years younger than both of us, if that tells you anything), they should definitely do something about it.

Have they asked why she's doing this and required her to answer logically? Have they tried talking to her and explaining the reasons why sneaking out at night is a bad idea? Have they explained the concepts of respect and trust and how much it means to them that she's worthy of both? That she otherwise shows good judgment but that this one thing is kind of making them worry based on experiences they've had or been exposed to when they were young? What I'm saying is, they need to relate to her. Not in a corny "hi, I'm using your slang to get on your level!" way, but in an "we care about you and what your life to be happy and full of good things, and this isn't leading anywhere positive" way.

If they have (or if they do those things and they fail, they can do some educational stuff after finding out about why she's doing it and why she thinks this is necessary for continuing her social life outside of normal hours, like exposing her to the risks she's courting (but not in a "omg, we're gonna scare you straight!" way). She wants to be treated like an adult, so show her what adult things she's going to need to think about and consider. Let her know there are repercussions, consequences, and implications based on her actions.

If none of that works, yeah, emptying her room of anything she doesn't need to exist on a daily basis will definitely send a message. Hopefully they'll say it out loud: "hey, we see you're getting ready to leave all this behind, so we thought we'd make it easier for you."

I'd also encourage them to get her to an ob/gyn ASAP for a baseline exam and a BC prescription. Definitely the first even if the family morals don't support the second.

One thing that could help is to see if there's a volunteer organisation she can apply herself to that would help her to see that being inside at night is not the worst thing that can happen to someone of her age. That may open her eyes in ways that nothing else would.

If they take gifts, privileges, events, and socialisation away from her, encourage them to make clear to her that she's making the choice to go without those things by saying they aren't worthwhile enough to her to exercise her better judgment.

Finally, they may want to consider giving her a once-monthly late night where she's dropped off and picked up which can be expanded to twice-monthly and so on if she handles that privilege well. She should be offered this as an incentive to stop the current behaviour, not a bribe or trade for the current behaviour, if that makes sense. Maybe let her have a once-monthly small party she gets to plan and look forward to, giving her the social control she seems to be craving.
posted by batmonkey at 1:06 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

my gods i'd like to edit that. a lot.
posted by batmonkey at 1:08 PM on October 10, 2008

To me, sneaking out can be downright dangerous. There's plenty of trouble to be had even when teens are out and about with permission. The most trusted, intelligent, upstanding, sensible teen can end up wayyyyyy over her head very quickly.

I would keep this in mind when deciding how or if to embarrass her. She needs to know for sure that if she does get wayyyy over her head, she can call home and her parents will help (e.g. come pick her up), no matter how many rules she's broken to get into the situation.

Are these "not THAT bad" actions worth escalating conflict between you? Or is it just normal teenager stuff? If you start a war, she may not be so sure she can turn to you for help when she needs it.
posted by heatherann at 1:15 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Be careful about taking her things -- it shows a massive lack of respect for her, and sometimes has the unintended consequence of letting her know it's ok to steal from family. (Or kidnap stuff, to hold hostage until daughter gets her stuff back.)

But without more knowledge about what the rules she's breaking are, what kind of trouble she's getting into, etc, it's hard to make any good suggestions. Every one has a risk -- in the end, there's not much they can actually do if she really, really wants to sneak out and doesn't care about upsetting her parents -- and it would depend on knowing the daughter to have an idea which ones are more likely to backfire.
posted by jeather at 1:17 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is she allowed to go to school dances and participate in sports? Whenever I, for example, came home with bad grades, I wasn't allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. If I failed a test on Friday, no way was I going to that night's football game, and missing those hurt much worse than losing TV privileges. Perhaps your friend could try the same approach.
posted by girlmightlive at 1:22 PM on October 10, 2008

I snuck out once and I honestly think my parents didn't know, but what stopped me from sneaking out anymore was that I ended up freaking out my dad. He was going into the kitchen for a snack and he heard me come in and all the lights were off. I heard him grab a knife and say "Who's there?"

I was dually freaked out from the rush of being caught sneaking in and getting stabbed. Never did it again.

The funny part of the story is I said "It's me! It's me!" all freaked out. My dad said "what are you doing?" I said "I'm going to the bathroom!" He said "Why are you doing it in the dark? Let me turn the light on." Me: NO. Dad: Why not?

Now I was in my cheerleading outfit because it was the night before the final game and we were papering/decorating our football team members' houses. My parents didn't know I was a cheerleader but that's another story. Anyway, my mind was racing and I blurted out "I HAVE MY PERIOD."

I then heard him shuffle away at mach speed.

posted by spec80 at 1:22 PM on October 10, 2008 [112 favorites]

If she tends to go out with the same people every night (and if you have access to her cell phone where she keeps their numbers), you could potentially embarrass her by calling them up after she sneaks out and playing a worried parent who just wants their little angel safe and sound.

Do you know her friends' parents? It's possible that they aren't aware that their kids are escaping at night. If there is no one to meet outside, the allure diminishes greatly.

However, I think you should try some of the above methods first.
posted by amicamentis at 1:24 PM on October 10, 2008

Spec80, that's the best story I've heard all day.
posted by amicamentis at 1:25 PM on October 10, 2008

Are she and her friends clearly welcome at her home? Have the parents made it appealing for her to hang out at home? Are they cool with her friends coming over late, watching movies, hanging out, goofing off with minimal oversight? Or are they micro-managing, or sending the message that she's not trusted, her friends are not liked, she's dressed improperly, or the stuff she wants to do on "her time" is stupid? Definitely have the conversations about parental concerns, minimum acceptable behaviors as a member of the family, logical consequences and pragmatic steps (I particularly like batmonkey's smart suggestion about the gyn appointment)--this person is about to be an adult and should be increasingly treated like one. But if she's getting the message that she's not trusted and autonomous in her own home, then she will probably continue to leave.

(And echoing that more detail about the age--12, 13 or 17?--and actual hijinks would really help with answering.)
posted by cocoagirl at 1:39 PM on October 10, 2008

install an alarm system. Motion detector in front hall and alarms on windows.
posted by By The Grace of God at 1:43 PM on October 10, 2008

Maybe I was just a nerdy kid, but I never felt the need to sneak out in high school. I went out, I told my parents where I was going and tried not to do anything stupid. My parents had rules, but they weren't crazily strict. I got to go to concerts, I go to go hang out with my friends. If it's the lateness they're worried about, what do they think is a respectable time to be in? Even if I was in on an evening in high school, chances are I would stay up until late hours anyways because my room wasn't near my parents'.

As I didn't pull stuff like this, I don't have a good insight into the minds of teens that did it. I do agree, though, that embarrassment isn't the way to do this. But I'm also not of the mind that you should let teenagers do whatever the hell they want, because, hey, they'll do it anyways.

As with any of these threads that ask for parenting advice, we have a bunch of people who think back to their own teen days (rebellious or not), and think that if their parents had just sat them down and leveled with them, then there would have been no problems. Unfortunately, with 20/20 hindsight, yeah, that's true - but at the time, would it have been? Or are teens just teens?

Good luck OP's friend.
posted by SNWidget at 1:45 PM on October 10, 2008

I don't understand how it will "escalate the situation." Like, she will sneak out more? Yes, it will be confrontational, if that's what you mean. By continuing to ignore the rules, the daughter is escalating the situation.

What I mean is that unlike the OP's scenario, it is very unlikely that this would somehow make her decide that sneaking out is "not cool" and completely resolve everything. There is obviously a conflict established, and the fact that several normal punishments have failed suggests to me that this conflict will not go away very easily because the root motivation for it will not be resolved. More severe punishments might work, but they also might result in a more severe strain in the relationship. As others have said, doing something that breaks the daughter's trust in a major way might make things worse.

A friend of mine set rules for his son, and the son ended up assaulting his own sister and mother. The kid was arrested, as he should have been.

I don't blame the parent, but in my book this is a failure that's worth trying to avoid. I've seen a lot of situations where parents do things that obviously won't work, and instead have unintended damaging effects on everyone involved. I'm not advocating doing nothing, I'm just saying that it's worth really thinking through how a plan might backfire before going through with it, and that reaching a compromise might be a better alternative.

What is her incentive for her to trade for the crappier deal?

Just because the girl is continuing to go out doesn't mean that the punishments aren't affecting her. She might hate every second that she's home because her parents have taken away everything she is interested in. Maybe she really does want to stop being punished, but also wants to stand up to her parents to prevent them from winning the power game that has developed. It would be easier to get her to agree to a compromise than to force her to unilaterally cave, if only because forcing a compromise will be seen as at least a partial win from the daughter's perspective.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:57 PM on October 10, 2008

After reading through some of the suggestions here to do nothing, I have to say one thing:

I had a friend (still a very close friend, actually) who used to sneak out until some guys from an associated social group raped her. She was too scared to tell her dad because being out was verboten entirely, and this was an apex rule-breaking. She couldn't see the big picture. We never convinced her to tell him or go to the hospital (she was also a member of a faith that made that a bit glitchy, too, which didn't help), but she did quit sneaking out. We learned from her horrible example and gave her as much "friend love" as we could to get her a little healing in her soul.

Hell of a way to learn a lesson. This was in the '80s, and things are even more confusing for kids these days. She faces some serious risks. She should, at minimum, be respectfully and lovingly informed of those risks and what to do if something happens and that her parents will always have her best interest at heart and always take care of problems first before dealing with the behaviour that led to them.
posted by batmonkey at 2:05 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

You have not provided enough detail (and you may not have enough) to ascertain why she is leaving, which is the key to a dignified model of behavioral modification.

Children will actually hit puberty at an earlier age in stressful home environments. It's the body's way of saying, "Get the hell out of Dodge." It is entirely possible that the daughter is trying to get out of the house just to be by herself. Are there privacy issues? Are there late night shouting matches? Is the home intolerable? Hint: parents never answer "yes" to this question.

If her home is miserable, if her parents are constantly checking on her, if she is awoken at three a.m. by flying pots and pans, training her to stay at home is counterproductive. Her temporary escape would actually be helpful. I'll bring up a grinning specter which is unlikely, but give it time to rattle its chains - if there's a situation of "bad-touch" at home, late night bailing with obnoxious behavior is practically textbook.

If her home is not miserable and she's acting up, then look at some behavioral modification. But it's probably for Mom and Dad. While you can get bad seed kids, your best bang for the buck is therapy. Family therapy.
posted by adipocere at 2:15 PM on October 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

23skidoo - she'll trade for a "crappier" deal because teenagers want to be left the hell alone and they want to be respected. other people have hit the nail on the head - this is a escalating lack of respect between parents and child. every action on either of their parts dealing with this situation just makes it worse. both sides feel like they can't back down now. which is why i suggest defusing the whole thing, treating her like an adult (even if she isn't acting like one - treating her as if will help her start to own that), and actually including her in her own rule/punishment framework.

a lot of times as a teenager you feel you get a bunch of stuff thrown on you by your parents that's completely arbitrary. they make rules. they try to come up with "creative" punishments. they change rules at the drop of the hate. they aren't consistent. you never know what punishment you're going to get. and, here's the kicker, you start to feel like nothing you do is good enough and no matter how much you try you're still going to get in trouble so you might as well enjoy yourself for the few sweet hours you have out of their eyesight. if she gets to be present and accountable for why the rules are there and what she can do to affect them, she'll be less likely to break them because she put real work into them. this isn't just some lame thing her parents came up with, this is something she planned out and agreed to.

and if everyone is throwing book names out - my parents raised me and my 2 brothers (we're 36 months apart from oldest to youngest - each 18 months apart - my parents had their hands full) on "raising self reliant children in a self indulgent world". the main lesson they seemed to learn from it was - your kids will be adults one day and treating them like children longer won't help that go smoothly.
posted by nadawi at 3:02 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If your set on embarrassment, record yourself singing "I Just Called To Say I Love You" and surreptitiously set it as the ringtone on her phone for when you call. When she sneaks out, call her.
posted by advicepig at 3:46 PM on October 10, 2008

I was a teenager not that long ago and I think all of these coddling answers are not going to do it. You have to create real consequences. She lives in their house, teenager or no, and still must abide by their rules.
How long are they taking away her cell phone/TV/ etc. for? Not long enough. Nowadays cell phones are teenagers' lifelines and if they take it away for a consistent period of time, she WILL want it back. She pitches fits and screams about how unfair it is? Tough shit. Parents nowadays often seem way too worried about their kids liking them. Your kid might think you're lame for making them come home by midnight when they're 16, but if you're reasonable, they tend to get over it by the time they've spent a year to two in college.

When I was a teen, I was allowed to stay out late often because my parents knew I wasn't getting into trouble, but on the nights I wasn't allowed out late, I faced real consequences if I didn't get home on time. My younger sister, however, was, so she was not allowed to stay out but did so anyway, with very little consequence. She wore my parents down with her yelling and snotty attitude. She has continued to be irresponsible, whereas I kept my shit together because I knew it was in my best interest not to get in trouble.
posted by fructose at 4:36 PM on October 10, 2008

I used to sneak out nightly during the summer. The only thing that had any effect on me was when my parents would figure out I was gone and call my cellphone, which happened twice. Embarrassing, but it didn't deter me.

The only thing that kept me inside was screws in the window and an alarm on the door. Am I angry at my parents for taking it that far? Not one bit! They did what they had to do to keep me from hanging out with older guys, having sex, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol, all of which was part of my nightly escapades.
posted by Sufi at 9:45 PM on October 10, 2008

My grandparents used to rearrange the furniture sometimes when I came home late, and my drunk ass would fall every time. They'd hear a loud thud from their bedroom, and I could hear my grandpa click off the light and chuckle to himself.

I was fairly rebellious, but if this girl is sneaking out regularly, and her parents are aware and can't control her, then something is very wrong. You say that her actions aren't illegal - how do her parents know that?

Lots of kids sneak out. Most don't continue to sneak out despite repeated punishments. I'm not sure that embarrassing her will really help matters, either...It almost seems like they're giving up on her, which is a very dangerous message to send to a teenage girl.

If she were my daughter I would bolt down the window, buy an alarm system, and invest in some serious family therapy...but then again, there's a reason I don't have kids. (Thanks for reminding me.)
posted by jnaps at 2:09 AM on October 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Don't go with pranks, or punishment, or anything like that. Just at a normal time (so not when she's just snuck back in), just have your friend sit her daughter down and ask why she's sneaking out. Have her stay calm, and get her to try and listen more than talk. There's no way anyone wants to hear a lecture - what she'd most want with whatever she's doing is support.

Go from there depending on the cause. If it's something really bad (definition of really bad depends on the parents), they probably don't want to give the daughter carte blanche by pre-emptively agreeing to anything. They need to work through whatever comes up with the daughter, and just say that they're worried for her, not simply irrationally mad at her. If it's something less serious, just seeing friends etc., they can probably come to some sensible agreement.

Have your friend always make clear to the daughter that she can call and that they will come get her wherever she is, whatever situation she's in. The last thing they want is her getting into a bad situation and feeling like she can't turn to her parents.
posted by djgh at 5:22 PM on October 11, 2008

You should do what my parents did: take away my door.

For the record, when this happened my parents had just announced they were getting a divorce. I had just started my junior year and it was all particularly frustrating. I kicked the bottom panel of the door out and my mom refused to fix it. My own anger at my parents increased as the level of ambiguity about the divorce rose and when Mack, the handyman, removed the door to fix it, it did not return for four weeks.

About nine months later, my dad moved back in. One night, I was walking with him near our house and I asked, "So, are you getting a divorce or not?" And he said, "Well, we decided that we weren't," or something to that effect. It was all a traumatizing experience and I think rather than being punished so much for what I did (my only real problem was bad grades and crummy teeth), my parents really took out their anger for each other on my brother, sister and I.
posted by parmanparman at 11:06 AM on October 21, 2008

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