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Picking your teen up from a party by text: What position does that put the parents hosting the event in?

A few weeks ago I wrote about a very dear friend of mine who had contacted me about a party she had hosted for her 15 year-old daughter and her absolute shock that not one parent had contacted her beforehand to find out anything about the event. Adding insult to injury, she couldn’t believe that the girls attending were simply dropped off at the end of the driveway (no-one bothered to walk their daughter to the house and introduce themselves to her and her partner) and then picked up by text when the party finished. That blog entry got a huge reaction, with many readers writing to me that they had had a similar experience, totally gobsmacked that so many parents appeared to have absolutely no interest in who would be looking after their child on a Saturday night, where they would be going and what they were actually planning to do with them when they got there!

One part of the story really resonated with another friend of mine and he got in contact with me and asked me to share his experience around a party he held for his 15 year-old daughter, Bella.

I have known Travis (not his real name) and his wife (Michelle) for a long time – we used to party together many years ago and, after having a couple of beautiful daughters, he has been regularly attended my parent sessions for the past 10 years. Over that time we’ve often talked about the upcoming challenges that he may face bring up adolescent daughters but he was truly shocked after hosting his first teenage party. He’s an avid reader of my blogs and has collected a range of adolescent parenting books and so when it came to organising the event he did everything right. He certainly wasn’t surprised (although a little disappointed) that he had very few parents contact him or his wife directly to find out about the party, but as he said, he knew many of the Mums and Dads of his daughter’s friends and they knew him so he attributed this to the fact that there was an element of trust there, i.e., they knew that their child would be well looked after by Travis and his wife. But it was the end of the night that just blew him away and I’ll let you read what happened in his own words …

“All had gone so well. We had made it very clear to Bella that there would be no alcohol allowed, anyone who tried to smuggle alcohol in or appeared to be even slightly intoxicated would have their parents contacted and we would ask them to be picked up immediately (a condition of attending was providing us with a parent’s mobile number so that would be easy to enforce), and we had no problems at all. The girls seemed to have a great time. Then at 10.45pm, 15 minutes before the party was ending, everyone’s phone started to go off and the girls started to make a move for the front door. When we asked them where they were going, every girl, without exception, told us that their parent was outside to pick them up. We looked outside and there was indeed a fleet of cars outside, interestingly, none in the actual driveway (which was empty – what was that about?). When we asked the girls to tell their parents to come in and say hello you would have almost thought we had asked them to kill their grandmother … 

We live on a fairly dark street – there are street lamps but it’s not well-lit. We couldn’t see in the cars and we honestly had no idea who was in them. We could have possibly identified a couple of cars with parents we knew reasonably well but we couldn’t have been sure. Michelle and I had a quick chat and just felt like we couldn’t in all good conscience let this group of 35 girls spill out onto our street and get into cars with people we had no way of identifying. 

Michelle blocked the door and I then proceeded to walk each girl, or group of girls if they said they were to be picked up by one parent together, to the cars. I was extremely polite to the first couple of parents I met, introducing myself and saying to them that they should have come in and said hello and that we would have liked to meet out daughter’s friend’s parents, but some of them were so rude, almost grunting at me, that that stopped pretty quickly. Some of the parents I knew well were totally surprised when they saw me at their car window and when I asked them whether they really expected me to just send their daughter out onto the street without really knowing who was picking them up, you could see that this was something they simply had never thought about …

What was really scary though was that when I took 5 of the girls to the car picking them up, there were no parents there. One group of 3 girls wanted to get into a car with two young men in their early 20s (there were no P-plates so that’s how old I assumed they were). They told me that one of them was one of the girl’s brothers but when I called their parents (thank god I had collected mobiles), I found out that they were planning to go to another party and their families knew nothing about it. Absolutely terrifying! The other two girls admitted to me that were being picked up by older boyfriends as I was walking them out, both telling me that they had their parents’ permission. When I checked, once again, totally untrue!”

Travis is a great Dad and I can tell you he has been really traumatised by this event. As he said to me, he doesn’t want to even think about what could have happened if he had let those 5 girls go off to god knows where … If one of those girls had been sexually assaulted later that night or the car crammed with two young men and three 15 year-olds from the party had crashed and someone had been killed he would never have been able to live with himself. Since the party Travis has received quite a deal of flak from some of the parents of the girls who attended his daughter’s birthday claiming that ‘shaming’ them they way he did was inappropriate. His daughter has also been bullied as a result of his actions but, as he says, he couldn’t care less what they think about him and she’s a strong and resilient young woman and they’ve talked it through and she seems to totally get why he did what he did …

I get that it’s often late on a Saturday night when you have to pick your son or daughter up from a party or gathering. You could be in your pyjamas, you don’t look your best and you’re certainly in no mood to socialise, but picking up your teen from a party by text puts the hosting parents into a terribly difficult situation. They do have a ‘duty of care’ and looking out their window or front door and seeing a fleet of cars parked on the street and asking them to blindly accept that the people inside those vehicles are the people the teens about to leave the party say they are is simply not fair. It doesn’t take much to walk to a door or even to the front garden if you don’t want to get close (or you’re frightened you will ‘shame’ your teen), just so the hosting parents can see that it is an adult picking them up and that they will be safe. But just as importantly, wouldn’t it just be manners to say a face-to-face ‘thank you’ to the family for looking after your child for the night?

Am I for one minute suggesting that you walk to the door for every party that your teen attends during their teen years? Absolutely not! Of course it’s going to change when they get older but when they’re 14 or 15, if you’re sitting in your car and texting them to come outside – shame on you!

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