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Why do parents lie to other parents? How can you keep your teen safe when this happens?

You’d expect that when you contact a parent hosting a party and ask specific questions about what will and won’t be happening at that event that you’d get an honest answer. As I’m often told, this just simply isn’t always the case. I’ve raised this issue a number of times before but I continue to hear from parents who allowed their teen to go to a party based on information they received from the host parents, only to find out later that what they’d been told was completely untrue. As far as alcohol is concerned, if young people want to get it into a party they’re usually going to find a way, no matter what parents try to do. So if you’ve been told that the hosts are not going to allow alcohol at an event and then find out that one or more of the invitees got drunk, it’s important to remember that parents can only do their best. That said, if you’ve been told that there will be bag searches or active supervision at a party, that’s exactly what should happen. There’s simply no excuse for hosts of a teen party telling an outright lie to parents of invitees.

A number of years ago I received an email from a distressed mother (let’s call her Jane) who simply wanted someone to tell her that what she was feeling was valid and absolutely warranted. The message has been edited down but the gist of the story is as she sent it through …

“I have a 15-year-old daughter who is wonderful. She’s now regularly asked to attend parties and gatherings and having heard you speak a number of times at parent nights I allow her to go as long as I contact the host parents and make sure that I feel she is going to be safe … Up to a month ago I have never had any problems – my daughter certainly doesn’t like me calling but she knows that is the only way she is going to go so she is willing to put up with it. She was recently invited to a 16th birthday party at a friend’s house (a friend I’d never really heard her mention before) and I did my regular ‘Mum thing’ and asked for a phone number to call. When I finally got a number (the day before the party) I made the call and asked my questions. Will you be at the party? Will there be alcohol available? What time does it start and finish? All the usual stuff to which I got all the right answers, although thinking back on it, the mother did sound very stand-offish and didn’t thank me for calling, which I nearly always get when I make contact.
I dropped my daughter off, watched her go inside the house and then drove off feeling pretty confident that I’d done all the right things. Two hours later I had a phone call from her. She was in quite a state and wanted to be picked up (with a number of her friends) because the party had gotten completely out of control. I raced over and collected them, a number of them in tears, and found out that although I’d asked specifically if the parents were going to be home and monitoring the party, they weren’t. Instead they’d left the party in the hands of their 19-year-old son who’d invited a whole pile of his friends over. Alcohol was flowing (even though, once again, I’d asked if alcohol was going to be available) and the police had been called. My daughter and her friends were terrified.
A couple of days later, after I’d calmed down, I called the mother who I had spoken to before the party to let her know how upset I was that she’d lied to me. She told me to “loosen up” and that there was no harm done and that she was the one who should be angry as it was her house that was trashed! She then hung up on me. Although the school was supportive when I called them they said there was nothing they could do – what happens on a Saturday night is not their issue. And even though my daughter’s friends’ parents were as angry as I was when I dropped them off on the night, they’ve told me just to let it go. I even contacted the local police and asked if there was anything they could do and although they didn’t say it in so many words, once again, I was made to feel as though I was over-reacting and that this type of thing was ‘normal’.
Is this normal and am I over-reacting? Is it truly okay for a parent to lie to me when I call to find out what a party will be like? I want my daughter to have fun and party with her friends but at 15 I need to know she is safe and my trust in people has now been well and truly destroyed. What do you think?”

Jane was not over-reacting – if this had happened to me I would’ve been furious! As I said to her in my response, thank goodness she had a daughter who felt confident enough to make the phone call to ask to be picked up. Who would ever think it was appropriate to leave a 19-year-old young man to look after a girl’s 16th birthday party? So many things could have gone wrong – there’s issues around an ability to supervise appropriately, alcohol supply and all the risks associated with that and then of course the possibility of sexual assault.

Making that call to host parents in an attempt to find out what will be happening at a party can be extremely difficult. Your teen doesn’t want you to do it (“You’ll shame me forever!”), it’s never easy to ‘cold call’ someone you don’t know and ask them questions that may seem to them as though you’re questioning their parenting practices and, let’s be honest, do you really have the time and energy in your busy life? It boils down to safety though – if you want to do your best to make sure your child is as safe as possible – you need to make the call! If you’re going to ‘bite the bullet’ and do this, I believe you should never ask anymore than three questions (you don’t want to turn it into the Spanish Inquisition!), plan and write them down and ensure you let your teen know what you are going to ask (there should be no surprises for them!). My suggestions for questions are as follows:

  • What time does it start and what time does it finish?
  • Will you be there and will you be actively supervising?
  • How will you be handling the alcohol issue?

Jane did just that and she was lied to … that’s appalling behaviour on the other mother’s part! It’s sad but I continue to hear stories like this one from around the country where parents try to do the right thing and make the call and then get lied to … Why would a parent lie to another about a party they are hosting? Is it that they simply want to appease the person on the other end of the phone and truly believe that nothing bad is going to happen and the parent calling will never find out about the lie? If they thought that what they were doing was right, why wouldn’t they just tell the truth, justify their decisions and then allow a parent to choose whether to allow their child to attend or not? Or do they so desperately want to be their child’s friend that they’re willing to lie to others to ensure that as many people turn up as possible and damn the consequences? I’d love to know the psychology behind such behaviour because once you know the reason why they do it, maybe we could address it more effectively.

As already said, the only reason you are trying to access this information is to ensure you can make an informed decision about your child’s safety. The good news is that as appalling as some parents’ behaviour can be, many of our teens (like Jane’s daughter) are able to identify when things are not right and respond appropriately, i.e., ‘this is not a ‘safe space’, I need to call my Mum and get out of here’. As always, it comes down to the type of relationship you have with your child. Is it open and honest and do you have the type of ‘connection’ that ensures they feel comfortable enough to make that call when faced with this type of situation?

I totally get Jane’s frustration – she was angry because even though she did everything she could, her daughter was put into a situation that was potentially dangerous and she can’t find anyone to take responsibility for that. She trusted another mother to tell her the truth and then she was lied to – that’s hard to deal with. Sadly for her daughter, it most probably took a very long time before she was able to trust another parent again. The most important thing a parent can do in this type of situation is be thankful that nothing terrible happened – as I said to Jane, no-one was hurt. Grab that fact and hold it very close – so many things could have gone wrong but didn’t.

Unfortunately, parents such as the one that Jane encountered are often ‘serial offenders’ they do this kind of thing again and again. This is shameful behaviour – they’re not only putting their own children at risk but other people’s as well.

Published: March 2018

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