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5 things parents should discuss with their teen before a sleepover, party or gathering

If you allow your teen to attend a sleepover, party or gathering on a Saturday night, you’ve made a pretty big decision. They’re going to be going to someone else’s home (often someone you don’t know particularly well) and they’re going to socialize with other teenagers. Regardless of whether alcohol (or other drugs) are going to be involved – things can go wrong. Once you’ve told them they can go to wherever it is that they’re going, your work doesn’t stop there!

I’ve written about the importance of making decisions about how they get to the event and how they get home (as I’ve said many times, I believe this is the one non-negotiable in this area – you decide what happens here – not your child), as well as talking about your expectations around behaviour, but it’s also vital that, regardless of their age, your child should never leave home without
a number of simple things being discussed. These are all around safety and planning and although I’m sure some parents will read these and think that these are ‘overkill’ and bordering on ‘smothering’, it’s the way that they’re raised that makes all the difference This is not about a sit-down discussion where you give them a lecture, but rather some of these should just arise in general conversation in the lead-up to them leaving home for the night or simply become just part of the ritual of dropping them off to wherever they may be going.

Most importantly, every parent’s mantra as their child leaves home on a Saturday night should be as follows – “You can call me anytime, anywhere – if something goes wrong and you need me – I’ll be there!”

Even though you’ve made the decision that they can go to wherever they’re going you continue to be a parent. Make sure you are available to them should they need you. Your child should feel comfortable calling you in any situation, at any time, feeling absolutely confident that you will be there. This needs to be conveyed to them whenever you take them anywhere, over and over again … Now if you decide to say this, you must be able to follow-through and ensure you are able to do it and that may mean that you’ll have to sacrifice your ‘fun’ on a Saturday night. If they’re at a party or even a sleepover (i.e., there are no plans for them to come home that evening), one or both of you are always going to have to remain sober to ensure that you can hop into your car to get them at a moment’s notice. That may be difficult for some people but that’s what being a parent is all about! Sure, you can always call a cab or an Uber if need be, but if your child calls you because everything’s gone ‘pear-shaped’, you’re going to want to get there as soon as possible and be able to look after them …

Apart from this mantra, here are five things I believe every parent should discuss with their teen before they leave home on a Saturday night:

  • remind them of your support should they need to call 000 – this is the one that I am always amazed that parents simply don’t do! In my experience, the number one reason that young men don’t call an ambulance is the belief that the police routinely attend ambulance calls (which, of course, is completely untrue – they don’t even know an ambulance call has been made unless the paramedics call them) and young women fear that their parent will find out … That is incredibly sad – they actually make the decision not to call for help because they’re scared of what you may think. Every child (not only teens) need to feel completely supported should they find themselves in a situation where they need to call an ambulance, always remembering that the slightest hesitation could possibly lead to tragic consequences. As already said, this reminder should not be part of a major lecture and could be as simple as a throwaway line as they’re getting out of the car like “You know that you have my 100% permission to call 000 if something goes wrong and then call me …”
  • check they have the address of wherever they’re going stored in their phone or written on a piece of paper this takes five seconds to do but can save a life in an emergency. Regardless of where they’re going, or their age (I’ve met university students who say this was one of the best tips I gave them when they heard me at their school years before, as they’re still doing it!), make sure that you see them put the address of where they’re planning to go into their phone. If something goes wrong and they need to call for help, they will need to know their location. I recommend every parent ensures their entire family downloads the ‘Emergency +’ app onto their smartphones (this activates your GPS and provides not only your latitude and longitude but also your street address), but just to be on the safe side, having the address written down somewhere is a great idea and also ensures your teen understands the importance of planning ahead, as well as providing you with some peace of mind
  • find out who their ‘buddy’ is for the night and make sure you have their number – the worst thing that can happen to a parent is when, for some reason, they need to contact their teen when they are out and they can’t get hold of them. For whatever reason, they don’t answer their phone or they don’t respond to a text. Establishing the importance of identifying a ‘buddy’ for the night, once again, stresses the importance of planning and also provides parents with a safety-net in this area. A buddy is the person that your teen is planning on being with for the night (it is important to make clear that this is not about being ‘joined at the hip’, it’s just they’re planning to be with or around them). The whole idea is that if you are unable to get hold of your teen (and you would only do so if it was absolutely necessary – you don’t want to be bombarding them with messages all evening – do that and you’ll never be given a buddy’s number!), you can contact the buddy, just to make sure all is fine
  • discuss your ‘out word’ and remind them you’re always willing to be the ‘bad guy’ if they need you to be – I’ve talked about coming up with an ‘out’ word or phrase with your child to help them get out of situations and still ‘save face’ many times before. This can be used in either a text message, a phone call or a conversation whenever your child wants to be taken out of a situation – e.g., they may not be enjoying a sleepover they are at (either missing their bed or you), there may be things happening at a party that they don’t feel comfortable being around or they just simply be bored out of their brains and want to come home. Remind them that if they feel that way, they can use the out word and you’ll be there and you’re happy to be seen as the bad guy by their friends and take the blame to get them out of any situation
  • “if it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t” – once again, this is a statement that needs to be thrown out in a casual conversation but needs to be put out there often. Making it a part of the ritual of dropping them off or as they walk out the door can be so powerful. Regardless of where they are going and who they are with, your teen is going to have to make many decisions throughout the night, some which could have major consequences if they make the ‘wrong’ one. You can’t make those decisions for them – they’re going to have to do it for themselves. You have undoubtedly aimed to raise your child with a set of values that are similar to yours – simply reminding them that ‘if it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t’ will hopefully demonstrate to them that you are trusting them to make the ‘right decision’, whatever that may be …

It constantly amazes me that many parents will often send or drop their teens off on a Saturday night without more than a quick “I love you”. Of course, you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool and protect them from absolutely everything that could possibly go wrong – they are growing up and they are going to have to fend for themselves at some point or another. That is why it is important for them to socialize with their peers and have a good time – some of them will make mistakes and things will go awry – that’s a key part of growing up. That said, it is also vital that parents remember that they are going to potentially dangerous events – taking the time to cover just a few simple things that can keep them just a bit safer is not ‘overparenting’ or smothering. If done correctly, it’s simply showing them that you love them and, at the same time, provides them with some basic life skills for the night ahead and their future …

Published: July 2019

1 thought on “5 things parents should discuss with their teen before a sleepover, party or gathering”

  1. Thank you for this – generally and usually I have most of these points covered but the use of a 'safe/get me out of here' code word will be an addition to our pre-sleepover chat from now on. I'm looking at letting the teen off to an overnight camping party, and while I instinctively think she's gonna be fine, i want her to know the rules and norms and that I will be on hand – and also that she needs to have her phone active/the buddy rule in place.

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