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Editorial: Curfew no stand-in for mom and dad

Updated: July 8, 2011 2:16AM

If only an 8:30 p.m. curfew for the littlest Chicagoans would do the trick.

A trio of aldermen want an earlier curfew for children under 12, forcing them indoors by 8:30 p.m. during the week and 9 p.m. on weekends, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday. The curfew for kids 12 to 17 would remain 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on the weekends.

The logic behind it makes perfect sense: These South Side aldermen say too many parents and guardians aren’t doing their job and they’re looking for help protecting their kids — as well as help protecting the rest of us from children bent on making trouble.

“If parents aren’t ready to protect their children, we have to make laws to protect them,” said Ald. Michelle Harris (8th). “If they’re not on street, they are less likely to get shot, to do something they really shouldn’t be doing.”

But will a new law actually accomplish those worthy goals?

We doubt it.

And in the meantime, countless 10-year-olds who love staying out until 9 p.m., enjoying some good, clean fun on a beautiful summer night, will be forced indoors.

For starters, there is no evidence that moving curfew times for juveniles reduces delinquency, says Gary Jensen, a sociology professor at Vanderbilt University. Juvenile offenses peak in the after-school hours.

And the government, in general, has a poor record of effectively standing in for mom and dad. This is especially true if parents don’t back the law and if police lack enforcement resources.

The Chicago Police don’t have a great track record of going after curfew violators, despite summer crackdowns and tougher penalties in recent years. And given staffing problems, we aren’t confident the police will vigorously enforce this new law, even if they want to.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Supt. Garry McCarthy both embraced the concept Thursday, though they emphasized that this proposal does not relieve parents of their responsibilities. (Children who are outside and supervised by an adult, or on their way home from a supervised event, are exempt.)

Which gets us to the real problem: parents who won’t or can’t look after their kids — a hugely vexing and growing problem at the heart of this ordinance.

Sending a few kids home at 8:30 p.m. might help, but making a real difference requires far more.

We don’t have all the answers; few do.

But confronting the real problems will bring us closer to real solutions.

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