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4 questions you need answered to make a decision about whether teens attend a party or not

I’ve spoken and written about this many times before but recently I’ve met a number of parents who’ve had some horror experiences with teen parties and when you look closely at what happened, it all went wrong because they simply didn’t find out enough about the event before they let their child attend. Do just a little ‘digging’ before you say ‘yes’ to your teen and you can save yourself a great deal of heartache later. I know this isn’t easy and that your child won’t want you to ask questions and collect the relevant information but if you want to ensure your child’s safety on a Saturday night, you really don’t have any other choice.

Mandy’s 14-year-old daughter Elise desperately wanted to go to a friend’s 15th birthday party. Mandy trusted her daughter when she told her that it was only a small gathering and that she’d also be staying the night at the house with a couple of other girls once the party had ended. Instead of taking her to the party she dropped her daughter off at another one of her friend’s, as this was where they were apparently going to get ready as a group before being taken by another parent to the actual event. At around midnight Mandy received a phone call from the police. Elise had been found in the city, alone, drunk and unconscious. She was later to discover that there had been no birthday party. Elise and her friends had caught the train into the city where they’d met up with a group of older boys and had been drinking since early evening.

This story has been heavily disguised at the mother’s request, as she is so mortified by what happened and fears being identified. She now feels so stupid that she did absolutely no checking. She trusted her 14-year-old daughter and, as such, didn’t make one phone call, speak to any other adult or attempt to confirm anything she’d been told. Just one phone call to the mother supposedly hosting the birthday party would’ve resulted in her finding out that there wasn’t even going to be a party, but she didn’t even do that.

When your child’s school makes the decision to take students on an excursion, the number of hoops teachers have to jump through to ensure each and everyone of those young people is as safe as possible is quite unbelievable. How are they going to get there? What will the student-adult ratio be? What transport company is going to be used and do they have the correct accreditation? The list goes on and on and, as parents, you wouldn’t expect anything less – the school has a responsibility to keep your child safe while they’re in its care and it doesn’t matter whether they’re going to a museum or wildlife park, it takes a lot of effort to ensure safety. So why don’t we see more parents putting that same level of effort into finding out even a little more about the party or gathering their child is wanting to attend on a Saturday night? Let’s quickly do a comparison – a school excursion for a class of Year 10s to a museum in the middle of the day and a 15-year-old birthday party held on a Saturday night for 80-100 of their closest friends – I think it’s pretty obvious which one is likely to be the most risky!

As Mandy was to find out, you can’t simply rely on your child for this information. Put simply, they’ll only tell you what they want you know and will not hesitate to lie through their teeth to get what they want. I know there are some people who get very angry when I say this, but all teenagers lie – I certainly did, I guarantee you did and if you really want to believe that your child is the only adolescent in human history not to tell an untruth then go ahead and get prepared to be terribly hurt at some point in the future!

With that in mind, what information should you be after and if you can’t rely on your child to give it to you, where do you get it from? When it comes to ensuring your child’s safety the list could go on forever, but I’d recommend the four pieces of information be gathered:

  • Whose party is it and do you know them and/or their parents?
  • Where will the party be held?
  • Will the parents be there and will they be actively supervising the party?
  • What time does it start and what time does it finish?

Based on the answers to these questions, parents should be able to establish whether or not they think the event is safe for their child to attend or not. I’ve tested these questions with over 300 young people and almost all of them had no problem with three of them, however they all hated the other one. Which one did they have the issue with? The third one, the one that usually involves more than just a one-word answer – as I’m sure you’re aware, they’d much prefer you not to talk to anyone, let alone have a conversation with them!

So where do you get this information from? When your child asks you if they can attend a party, it’s at this point that you ask them your standard questions (whatever they are) about the event to which they’re invited. Hopefully you’ve made your expectations about the information you need clear over time (and from an early age) and fingers crossed they’ll provide this without any problems, but you need to remember that around Year 9 and 10 you’re going to start seeing their willingness to do this start to taper off. It’s at this time that you need to start accessing other sources.

Without a doubt the most important source of information is the host parent. Now there’s no way that your teen will want you to make contact and if you’ve never done this before and you start doing it when they’re 15-years-old you’ll have a huge fight on your hands. However, if your child knows at the age of 10 that you call the house beforehand and you continue to do it over time – it’s just what you do – you’re not going to have anywhere near as much of an issue in the later years. It should be noted that these calls don’t always go well (particularly if you start asking questions about alcohol) and can end up leaving some parents feeling frustrated, nevertheless, as far as the safety of your child is concerned, they’re vital.

Talk to other parents as well and find out what they know about the party. What time are you dropping off your child? Where are you dropping them off? Do you know the parents who are putting it on? Does their information match what you’ve been told by your child? This source of information can be particularly useful if you have concerns about the event, e.g., you called and didn’t feel entirely comfortable with the response you got from the parent but you haven’t got any real concrete reason not to allow your teen to attend. Another option is to take a look at social media and see what’s been posted about the party – if you’re doing your due diligence and monitoring your child’s online activity to some extent (hopefully with their knowledge and consent – I’m certainly not advocating spying on your children – be honest about what you’re doing) this shouldn’t be too difficult to access and can prove very useful.

I’d imagine there’d be some people reading this and saying ‘but at some point don’t I have to trust my teen when it comes to parties?’ Absolutely! As I say over and over again, with any rules around teens and parties they need to be fair and age appropriate. When they’re younger and not likely to be doing anything particularly risky, that’s the time when these rules should be ‘airtight’. Call the host parents every time, take your child to the door and meet the parents, pick them up on time and no excuses, if they’re late or they break any of the rules, there are consequences. When they’re young and less likely to take part in risky behaviour they have no problems with rules – in fact, at the age of 12-13 they’re likely to get pretty excited about having such rules as it makes them feel more adult. As they get older they’re going to want these rules relaxed and that should happen gradually over time as they demonstrate good behaviour and build and maintain your trust.

It’ll be impossible for you to know everything about a party that your child attends, regardless of how much effort you put into it. It’s also important that parents don’t risk jeopardizing the positive relationship they have with their teen by obsessing in this area. They’re adolescents and they’re likely to make mistakes and poor decisions and, as hard as it may be, you have to let them stumble and fall occasionally. That said, you don’t do this when they’re 14 or 15, it’s simply too dangerous and they don’t have the life experience should something go wrong. It’s at this age when you do your very best to find out all you can about where they’ll be on Saturday night, who they’re going to be with and what they’re planning on doing!

Published: September 2018

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