Keeping Your Kids Safe During the Dog Days of Summer

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Designer sleepaway camps, sailing in the Caribbean, teen tours across Europe — some kids have it easy over the summer. But what about children, like mine, who stay home and go to the local day camp? Without their every move scheduled and with more time on their hands, it's sometimes hard to keep our kids out of trouble. As parents, we set curfews, impose house rules and threaten groundings, but arming ourselves with the law may help us get through their tweens and teens.

Curfews are a favorite way for parents to keep track of kids' elusive nighttime activities, and I'm no exception. But I find the worst part of setting these rules begins when my children start comparing their curfews to friends' curfews, as in, "Why do I have to be home by 10 p.m., when Johnny doesn't have to be home until 10:30 p.m.?"(Insert your own child's adorable voice here.) Most of the time, our answer is, "Vecause I said so." But now, you can have actual law to back up your rules. Many cities impose nighttime curfews on kids, usually a 10 p.m. cutoff for those under 18. Status reports show that cities with curfews feel that they combat violence and give police officers what, in legal jargon, is called "probable cause" to detain youths out after curfew for suspicion of other crimes. And parents are notified when their kids are out too late — that's good deterrence!

You should know that there are times when cities tolerate breaking curfew. In Evanston, Ill., for example, a teen on an errand for a parent, school or work is permitted to be out after curfew. And most city curfews impose different times on the weekdays than on the weekends; weekends usually being an hour or two later. Call your local city hall to find out if your city has curfew. If so, the next time your child asks why Johnny gets to stay out until 10:30 p.m., you can say Johnny can't stay out until 10:30 p.m. either.

When kids are out at night (hopefully obeying curfew) they're always looking for ways to express themselves. This can lead to graffiti and tagging, or what the law labels “vandalism.” Coming to work in New York City every day, I pass by graffiti and remember a time when Keith Haring was famous for his graffiti art in subway stations. This is not to say I endorse illegal activity, especially not for my children. Instead of calling this work “art,” using words such as deface, vandalize and damage make this act sound more serious and, for lack of a better word, bad. Miami-Dade County defines graffiti as any expression that includes symbols, nicknames or pictures painted on walls, fences or signs done without permission of the landowner. The most common punishment for graffiti is a fine and restoration of the property. As parents, this means that we pay the fine and for the restoration of the property and it may take your kid years of lugging the garbage out and raking the leaves to pay off the debt.

Kids like to “hang out,” but what does this really entail? Going to the mall or the local Carvel, but at some point, this can turn into loitering. "Loitering” as a cause for arrest has come under scrutiny lately in a Chicago case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 1999. Chicago targeted gang loitering, but the Supreme Court declared the anti-loitering law unconstitutional because it was too vague and didn't set strict parameters for arrests. Since then, Chicago has revamped their loitering laws and redefined its definition to help guide police and clarify what loitering actually is: hanging out in one place for a period of time suggesting intimidation or establishing control over an area. In New York, loitering involves activities such as begging, gambling and remaining on school grounds when you aren't permitted to be there.

Loitering, curfews and vandalism play into one of the most common concerns all parents have about our kids out on the town — underage drinking. It's no secret that you have to be over 21 to drink, but what actually happens if your child does drink and gets caught? In Texas, possession of alcohol by a minor carries a fine of up to $2,000, community service and suspension of the minor's license. Or worse, it also means the possibility of up to 180 days in jail. And we know some kids get alcohol with fake IDs or driver's licenses, and possession of a fake ID is a separate offense. In addition to the prosecution of a minor in possession, if a minor presents a fake ID that appears to be real, there is an additional fine of up to $500. Then, there's what Texas calls “misrepresentation by a minor,” which means someone under 21 represents themselves as over 21 and this carries an additional $500 fine, more community service, license suspension and alcohol awareness classes. Phew! That's a lot to take in — and a lot of money to put out. If you can impress upon your children the seriousness of this offense, you'll probably have an easier time getting them to see real, tangible repercussions to their acts.

A great way to keep your kids out of trouble this summer is to schedule activities and keep them busy. Take a day trip to the public pool or go see a matinee at the local movie theater. Wear them out, so they can't get into trouble!


• City curfew police reports

• Evanston's curfew laws

• Miami-Dade graffiti laws

• City of Chicago v. Morales

• Chicago loitering laws

• New York loitering laws

• Texas' alcohol laws relating to minors

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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. She is currently a professor of law at the New York Law School. Wiehl received her undergraduate degree from Barnard College in 1983 and received her Master of Arts in Literature from the University of Queensland in 1985. In addition, she earned her Juris Doctor from Harvard Law School in 1987. Lis is also the author of The 51% Minority — How Women Still Are Not Equal and What You Can Do About It. (Watch the Video) To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.