When Your Teen Sneaks Out of the House

Mom having an important conversation with daughter about sneaking out
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Sneaking out of your parent's house as a teen is the stuff of legends. Think about it. Just about every teen movie, book, and TV show has an epic scene where the kids sneak out of the house.

Many parents even have their own (often fond) teenage memories of tiptoeing out the door or shimmying down the trellis well past curfew. But while sneaking out may be a particularly powerful American meme, that doesn't mean you want your kid to do it.

Why Teens Sneak Out

At one time or another, most teens are faced with the temptation to sneak out with their friends. Regardless of whether they intend to get together for harmless fun (as in just enjoying the thrill of hanging out when they're supposed to be home) or to engage in more dangerous activities (such as drugs, alcohol, sex, and/or reckless driving), sneaking out is unsafe, a violation of parental trust, and generally a recipe for trouble.

Most of the time, when kids sneak out, terrible consequences won't happen, but sometimes they do.

As the parent of a teen, it’s your job to protect your child from dangerous things, unhealthy temptations, and dicey choices. You can't always prevent it from happening, but you can pre-emptively discuss this behavior with your child, explain why they shouldn't do it, and spell out what the consequences will be if they do.

If you catch your teen sneaking out (or sneaking back in), enforce consequences that will deter them from doing it again. Instead of getting (too) mad, focus on helping them learn from their mistake, talk about why they did it, and take steps to prevent it a repeat performance.

Prevent Your Teen From Sneaking Out

There are several things you can do to reduce the chances your teen will climb out of their window or walk out the front door in the middle of the night. Make it clear to your teen that sneaking out isn’t just a harmless prank—it can lead to serious trouble. Explain the consequences you'll apply if your teen sneaks out.

Acknowledge the temptation, however. Say something like, "Your friends might invite you to get together in the middle of the night and I know that sounds like fun. But it's a poor choice." Here are a few ways to reduce the likelihood that your teen will sneak out:

  • Determine the appeal to sneaking out. Have an honest and authentic conversation with your teen about the reason for sneaking out. It is important to truly listen without interruption and to hear their side of things. If you can hear them out, you might be able to help them meet their needs in a healthier, more effective manner.
  • Connect in meaningful ways. Many teens who engage in negative behaviors, such as sneaking out, do so because being with their friends is more exciting than being at home. They don't experience meaningful connections with their own family and seek out experiences elsewhere. Instead, have fun with your teen and connect in ways that matter to them.
  • Discuss the risks involved in sneaking out. Teens tend to think they’re invincible. Point out specific safety issues in your neighborhood. Share crime statistics and talk about the bad things that could happen in the middle of the night—or any time of day. For example, motor vehicle fatalities and other accidents are the leading cause of death for teens.
  • Don’t allow your teen to sleep with electronics. At bedtime, place your teen’s smartphone, laptop, and other electronics in a secure location outside of their bedroom. If your teen can't receive a message from their friends in the middle of the night, they'll be far less likely to be tempted to sneak out.
  • Emphasize that your role is to keep your teen safe. Executive functioning in the human brain, which regulates our ability to make good decisions, isn’t fully developed until the mid-20s. Make it clear to your teen that your rules are meant to help them make good decisions in the meantime. (If they're skeptical, they could read the 2015 bestseller "The Teenage Brain.")
  • Talk about peer pressure. Whether their friends want them to go to a party, or they simply insist they’re going to "hang out" at dawn, give your teen the tools they need to resist peer pressure. However, don't put all the blame on their friends—a midnight rendezvous could be your child's idea, too.

One of the simplest but most effective ways to prevent your child from sneaking out is to talk to them about the dangers ahead of time.

Consequences for Sneaking Out

If you catch your teen sneaking out once, follow through with consequences that will help them think twice about sneaking out again. Possible negative consequences may include:

  • Additional responsibilities, like extra chores to your teen’s to-do list.
  • Grounding your teen from social activities for a specified period of time. 
  • Restricting your teen’s privileges, such as taking away electronics or access to the family car. 

Make sure the time frame of the consequences is clear. For example, take away privileges for 2 weeks or until your teen has completed their extra responsibilities. Avoid vague end-dates, such as “until I can trust you again.”

Make it clear that lying and sneaking out breaks your trust. And, as a result, you'll be less likely to grant them permission to do activities in the future if you can't trust that they're going to tell the truth and be where they say they are. 

Create a Contract

A clear behavior contract can reduce your teen's temptation to sneak out. Involve your teen in establishing the terms of the contract. Include the following information:

  • Cellphone expectations: For example, you could require your child to always answer your calls and texts. Stipulate consequences (such as losing phone privileges) for not responding. Or, you could have your child share their location electronically with you so that you can always track where they are.
  • Driving privileges: If your child drives (or gets rides with friends who drive), make using the car contingent on abiding by the contract's rules.
  • Emphasize safety: Make sure your child knows that your aim is to keep them safe, not to eliminate fun or time with friends. Provide plenty of ways for them to socialize with appropriate supervision. Emphasize that if they show responsibility, they can earn more independence and privacy. Reinforce the message that good behavior will be rewarded.
  • The hours you expect your teen to be at home: Establish a curfew for school days and non-school days. Plus, include rules around keeping you informed about where they are and with whom whenever they're not home.
  • The negative consequences of breaking the contract: If your teen misses a curfew, sneaks out in the middle of the night, or breaks another part of the contract, outline the consequences they can expect.
  • The positive consequences of following the contract: If you caught your teen sneaking out once, it makes sense to create an earlier curfew for a while. If your teen is able to abide by the contract for a specified period of time—perhaps one month—agree to make the curfew 30 minutes later.

Invite your child's feedback on the contract rules. Be willing to listen to your teen’s opinions. Talk about their concerns and give them an opportunity to ask questions and provide ideas that you can all agree on. Insist that they participate respectfully. Gain your teen’s signature on the contract to ensure they understand the parameters.

Locks, Barriers, and Alarms

If your teen sneaks out of the house after you’ve established a contract, more serious steps may be needed to keep them safe, possibly including the following:

  • Get an alarm for your teen’s room. You can purchase an alarm that will go off when your teen exits their bedroom at night.
  • Hang bells on the door. If you’re a light sleeper, an alternative to an alarm is to hang a bell on the door that can’t be easily removed. You could also keep your bedroom door open so that you are more likely to hear them if they get up at night.
  • Secure the windows. If your teen sneaks out a window, get an alarm for the window. Although it may be tempting to nail the window shut, don't. Doing so could prevent your teen from escaping if there were a fire.  

A Word From Verywell

The thrill of sneaking out has an understandable allure for teens—that's why they need your help to resist. Research tells us that the teenage brain (and its immature frontal cortex) is especially prone to impulsive, reckless decision-making. Honor this truth by providing the support and guidance your child needs to stay safe.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bernstein NI. How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can't. Workman, 2001.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mortality Among Teenagers Aged 12-19 Years: United States, 1999-2006. NCHS Data Brief No. 37.

  3. Jensen F, Nutt A. The Teenage Brain. Harper Collins, 2015.

Additional Reading

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.