I’m sure many of you who read the title of this entry looked at it in disbelief and said surely that isn’t a question that any parent in their right mind would ever even consider but sadly I’m hearing this more and more, right across the country. If it’s not an actual account with Uber or a taxi company, there are more and more parents who are quite happy handing over a wad of cash to their teen so that they can ‘safely’ catch a cab home after attending a party or gathering on a Saturday night. And if you think I’m just talking about 17 year-olds here, I’m not. Sadly we’re seeing Year 10s and even younger who are finding their own way home from these events.
If you don’t believe me, ask any taxi driver who works on a Saturday night how many very young teens they are increasingly being asked to pick-up from (as well as take to) parties. They will also tell you that many of them refuse the fares, particularly the pick-ups, because of the state some of these young people are in (most often the young women) and the fear that due to their age and their obvious vulnerability, if they do allow them in the vehicle they could be accused of inappropriate behaviour at a later date. Recently I was talking to one driver who had found himself faced with the dilemma of whether or not to pick-up two very young women from a teen party. Having teenage daughters himself he wanted to make sure the girls were as safe as possible but they were in such a state that they could have vomited in his cab, resulting in him not being able to work for the rest of the night, or he felt he could potentially run the risk of being accused of some impropriety.
So here is Parenting Party and Gathering Rule Number 2 – ‘You make the decision how they get home from the party and picking them up yourself is always the safest option’. This rule acknowledges that it is not always going to be possible (for whatever reason) for parents to get into their car and pick them up (the safest option). It provides parents that all important ‘out’ to hand over the responsibility to someone you trust with your child’s life, as well as accepting that as they get older other options for getting home are going to be put forward by your child and you will make the decision as to whether that is acceptable or not.
Now I totally get it that it’s a huge commitment ferrying your teen to and from a party or gathering every weekend but insisting on picking them up yourself is one of the only rules that I believe should be ‘non-negotiable’. As I always say, pick your battles! As much as there are a whole pile of other things that you’d like to happen, this is one where you shouldn’t make compromises – it’s just too important.
Picking them up provides you with so much information about what they’ve been doing, who they’ve been with and what the party was like and what actually went down. Without a doubt if you’re one of those parents who do make the effort to pick up their child you’ll be asked to ferry a number of teens home. This gives you the opportunity to talk to others who attended the event and potentially strengthen the relationship you have with not only your own child but his or her friends as well. Most importantly though, you get to ensure that they’re safe! There are so many things that can go wrong at a teenage party, but there are so many more that can happen on the way home, particularly if they or their friends have been drinking. I can’t believe that parents of teens go to bed on a Saturday night and actually manage to sleep with the only evidence that they have that their child is fine is a text message!
A few years ago I was commissioned by a school to roll-out a survey to students, teachers and parents that examined patterns of alcohol use across all three groups, as well as their attitudes and values around the issue. When the principal requested that a particular question be added to the survey for parents I told her that I didn’t believe we would get much of a response and if we did, it wouldn’t be very useful – I just didn’t think parents would be truthful when it came to that topic. The question was something along the lines of ‘If you didn’t pick-up your teen from a party on a Saturday night, what would be the reason?’ – the response was staggering. Well over three-quarters of the parents that completed the survey answered the question, with well over one third of them saying that the reason was that they had been drinking themselves!
Thankfully, not all parents put their own drinking before their kids’ safety. Last year I wrote a blog entry about a teacher I had met a number of years before who had written to me about parenting a 15 year-old girl and the ‘sacrifices’ he and his wife had realized they would have to make during the ‘party years’. This is an edited section of the email he sent me:
“We have always made ourselves available for sporting commitments, music practice and other activities, but when our daughter first started getting asked to parties we quickly realized that we were going to have to be ‘on-call’ 24 hours a day, particularly over the weekends … We did think about the whole designated driver thing, one of us being able to have one or two glasses of wine one week and then the other the next but in the end, we’re in this together and alcohol isn’t that important in our lives anyway. We also plan to be the parents who take her to parties and also pick her up (at least for the next couple of years) – we don’t want to rely on others to do our parenting.”
No-one is expecting a parent to pick-up their child from ever party they attend through their teen years – that would be nigh on impossible (and truly if you’re planning on doing that, you need to get a life!). But when they’re aged 14 or 15 every effort should be made to do it whenever possible and if you can’t (or you simply need a weekend off!), you need to make the decision on who is going to take on that huge responsibility. Don’t leave it to your child to tell you that ‘Mrs Jones is picking me up and taking me to Jane’s house’ … You need to be the parent – you tell them who will be picking them up!
Taxis and Uber can play a role when they hit the final year of high school (certainly no younger than that) and you believe they are able to handle the responsibility. Insisting on taking and picking up your 18 year-old to 18th birthday parties is not going to go down too well and will put great pressure on your relationship. Remember, rules need to be fair and age-appropriate … That said, offering to be their lift for the night should they need it once the regular drop-off and pick-up has slowed down or stopped altogether could be a really great way of you finding out a little more about what they and their friends are actually getting up to! Just remember though, there will come a time (particularly in that scary 18-21 year age group when levels of drinking escalate and illicit drug use is far more likely) when you will inevitably say ‘too much information’ …