If you’re a parent of a child just about to begin Year 9 it’s incredibly important to prepare yourself for the upcoming 12 months when it comes to sleepovers, parties and gatherings. Getting things right now can prevent lots of problems in the year (and years) ahead.
The party culture begins to build in Year 9, sometimes very quickly. Although most young people at this age will choose not to drink, alcohol starts to become a part of their socializing experience, usually at pre-parties, with a small but influential group regularly drinking, some to excess. In addition, for those of you with daughters, the more mature Year 9 girls begin to get asked out by young men a couple of years older than them and, as a result, these very young women subsequently find themselves invited to Year 10, 11 and even Year 12 events where alcohol is far more likely to be available. When I visit schools I so often hear something along the lines of “We’ve got some real issues with our Year 9 cohort” and “There’s some real partying going on in that group.” It’s usually a small group who are involved but they’re loud, obvious and everyone knows who they are and they can make your life pretty miserable!
Parents often find themselves blindsided by this almost ‘seismic shift’ in social activity and are completely unprepared for the pressure that is applied by their child (as well as other parents) to allow them to attend events on a Saturday evening. With the beginning of the new school year just over a week away it’s the Year 9 parents, particularly those who have not yet started to experience the party issue, who have most probably got the most to gain from starting 2020 off right. You may not think it will happen to your child but it is important to take a little bit of time to clearly outline your expectations, as well as establish some rules and boundaries, when it comes to parties and alcohol.
I’ve discussed the Year 9 cohort many times but this is a great time to remind any parents going through this stage in their child’s development about some of the key issues they are about to face. This is the year they usually turn 14 and enter the time of their life often referred to as ‘middle adolescence’ – the time when the search for identity becomes a central concern. They start to pull away from their parents and their peer group becomes far more important. They’re maturing and growing up, many are physically changing and are beginning to look much older, particularly the girls, and parents find themselves in a really difficult place. On the one hand they want to give their child the opportunity to create their own identity and establish where they fit in the world and start to make more decisions for themselves, but on the other, they want to keep them as safe as possible during this potentially very dangerous time and that involves maintaining rules and boundaries.
This is where these parents get into trouble – they can see that their child is growing up and believe that they need to let them start to make their own decisions and trust them ‘to do the right thing’. Year 9 is the year of the ‘sleepover’ (as well as the party or gathering), and instead of making the call to host parents and dropping their teen off at the home and then picking them up, they begin to get increasing pressure (from their child but also friends and family members as well) to loosen the rules a little and let their child fly a little more. Of course, you have to trust your teen at some point but really is Year 9 the time to do it, particularly when it comes to sleepovers and parties? Far from it – this is the time when if you see their wings sprouting, you should be getting a great big pair of garden shears and clipping them off as quickly as possible!
So to all you Year 9 parents who are just about to begin that rollercoaster year, here are just a few tips around the issue of sleepovers and parties:
- Don’t be bullied into making decisions. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision and if they tell you they need to know now – the answer is ‘no’. Take your time and get it right. If both parents are on the scene, make it clear that both of you make decisions around sleepovers and parties. Teens are extremely clever at setting up one parent against the other and it is vital that you display a ‘united front’ here. Make it clear by telling them – “Don’t come to me, don’t go to them – come to us!”
- Know where your child is and who they’re with. No parent likes to hear this (and many refuse to believe it) but at this age they’re likely to start lying about where they’re planning on going. If you want to let it slide, that’s up to you, but you’ll never forgive yourself if something terrible happens. When they’re this age you should always take them to where they’re going and pick them up. Don’t leave it up to someone else to do if you can possibly help it
- Always call the host parents. Speak to them and find out some basic information about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated. Your teen is not going to like this and they’ll most probably tell you that you’re ruining their life – but that’s your job! If they tell you that they hate you – respond with “But I love you …”
- Create rules and consequences and stick to them. If you haven’t done this already, the beginning of Year 9 is a great time to have a family discussion about the rules you have around parties and alcohol. The consequences of breaking those rules should also be clearly laid out and agreed to by your child. They can’t say they’re unfair later if they’ve agreed to them. Most importantly, if you don’t follow-through should a rule be broken, you may as well throw in the towel now. The first time you buckle and let something slip, you will lose your credibility and your rules will become totally ineffective
- If they don’t like the rules, they’re most probably perfect. But remember, reward good behaviour and modify the rules as they get older to make sure they’re age appropriate
- If things start to get out of control, get help. Too often parents leave it too long to seek help should things be going wrong in this area. If your teen is climbing out of the window on a Saturday night and not coming home, that is not normal behaviour. You can always start with the school counsellor, or even your GP, but make sure you talk to someone and get professional advice if things start to get too difficult
With teens of this age, it’s also incredibly important to ‘choose your battles’. You and your partner need to identify what your ‘non-negotiables’ are (i.e., those things you won’t compromise on) and spell them out clearly to your teen. Fight with them about everything and your life will be very difficult. If you let the ones that really don’t matter (i.e., they have nothing to do with personal safety and more to do with your personal disappointment, e.g., “You’re not going out dressed like that!”) slide once in a while you’ll find yourself having a much easier time. Letting a Year 9 have a win occasionally can make family life so much more pleasant. If your 14-year-old wants to sleepover at someone’s house or go to a party and you don’t think that it will be safe, however, this is where you do stick to your guns and the rules and boundaries do come into play.
And remember, it’s not all about saying ‘no’ to everything. This is not about being strict and oppressive. If you want a warm and positive relationship with your teen, particularly in Year 9 as they enter that difficult period of middle adolescence, you need to always be on the lookout for opportunities to allow your child to do something. If it looks safe and you feel comfortable – say ‘yes’! Wrapping them up in cotton wool and saying ‘no’ all the time is not healthy. But when you have made the decision that you’re not going to give your permission, say ‘no’, make it clear why you’re saying it and don’t back down!