Teen parties can become parent nightmares. I’m not talking about get-togethers of a few friends for pizza and a DVD or some girlfriends sleeping over. I’m talking about big capital letter PARTIES! where a whole lot of kids want to cut loose, joke around, flirt, get a little wild, and have fun. Many of us did it.
I’ve been in more than one conversation with fellow parents about events of our youth that we definitely didn’t want our parents to know about then — and don’t want our kids to know about now. If we’re lucky, we can look back with fondness to youthful adventures that were a bit risky but ultimately harmless. But what if our kids aren’t so lucky? Looking back, we are painfully aware that some of the kids we knew got into serious trouble and some “parties” ended tragically with a car wrapped around a tree or a kid lapsing into a coma from an overdose. Those memories are terrifying.
Now your teens let you know there is a party going on Saturday night and the shoe is on the other foot: You’re the parent with the worries. They’re the kids who want to have fun. On the one hand, we want our teens to be popular enough to be invited and to enjoy their youth. On the other hand is the string of worries: What if there is drinking? What if there are drugs? What if the party gets out of hand? Who are these kids my kid is hanging with? Can I count on the other parents to keep things within reasonable bounds? Does my kid really have the confidence she or he needs to resist the social pressure to do things that are unwise at best? Ideas about how to confine them to their rooms until they are 20 begin to run through your head.
Then you have the brilliant idea of offering to have the party at your house. At least, you think, you’ll have more control. Another list of anxieties soon follows. What if there is drinking? What if there are drugs? What if the party gets out of hand? Who are these kids . . .
There’s no way out of the anxiety. Whether the party is somewhere else or in your own back yard, the issues are the same. How do we give our kids the confidence that comes with managing the social world and yet keep them safe? How do we let them have fun and at the same time accept our own responsibility for what goes on under our roof and under our noses?
I should say up front that my own four kids were quite vocal about not liking the rules my husband and I came up with — at least at the time. Fast forward 10 years and they generally think we were pretty smart. I won’t claim a high IQ. I can’t even claim original thinking. Many of these ideas came from other parents as we stumbled through our kids’ teen years together. But our kids did get to go to and give parties and we didn’t lose anybody. See what you think.
Ground Rules for Parties at Your House
For parties at your house:
- Set ground rules ahead of time with your own teens. What needs to happen at the party for it to be cool or, in this generation’s parlance, “ill”? What needs not to happen for you to be willing to host the event? Kids need to understand that it may be their party but, as the adults involved, what happens there is your responsibility. Have a frank discussion about what your teens’ peers think is okay behavior at a party and whether you can be comfortable with it. Are you okay with dirty dancing? Are what we used to call PDAs (public displays of affection) the norm? Where is the line where you will feel compelled to tell kids to cut it out? Do they expect you to look the other way if they bring in alcohol? If you really can’t have a meeting of the minds, it’s better not to have the party.
- Be willing to be the heavy in the interest of safety. Let your kids know that they are free to “blame” you for rules (like forbidding alcohol) when they talk to their friends. The first objective is to keep everyone safe. As kids mature, they’ll take more responsibility for it. (When they’re 40, they may even thank you for it.)
- Think carefully about when to hold the party. Daytime parties tend to be calmer. Consider a late afternoon through early evening barbecue or a party organized around a weekend sports event if you want to avoid the implied intimacy of nighttime events. If you do decide to have an evening party, set a clear end time. Parties that go on into the wee hours are hard to monitor. Let’s face it, it’s hard for parents to stay up as late as the kids. You can’t be on top of things if you’re nodding off. Better to end at midnight and clear out your house.
Ground Rules for Parties at Your House Continued…
- Inform your neighbors well ahead of time. Let them know what’s happening, how many kids you think will be there, what you are doing to keep things in hand, and when it will be over. Most neighbors will be supportive of an occasional party if they know there is an adult in charge. They were teenagers once too.
- One friend of mine agreed to a party for 30 kids after graduation. That number swelled to 300 by the time the police were called. Word of a good party spreads quickly through the teen underground. If you don’t want to be mobbed, ask your kids to come up with a guest list and make sure your teen and friends understand that this is a closed event. Then work with your teen to figure out how you will deal with party crashers. Will your teen ask them to leave or do they want you to step in?
- Supervision isn’t optional. Work with your teens to figure out ways for you to supervise but not be intrusive. This isn’t your party. You probably shouldn’t join in the dancing or plunk yourself in the middle of a conversation. But you can man the grill, come through with soft drinks now and then, or announce a phone call.
- Parties take work and you shouldn’t be the one doing it. It’s the kids’ party, after all. Kids take ownership of an event when they do the work to make it happen. By all means, offer friendly help if you like, but let the kids take the lead in buying and preparing the food, setting up the space, figuring out parking, etc.
- Inactivity breeds boredom. Boredom breeds trouble. Talk with your teens about activities that would not be beneath the dignity of their friends. They could rent a karaoke machine or get everyone to pitch in to make pizzas. They might set up a volleyball net and provide Frisbees. Perhaps they could teach their friends Texas hold ‘em or get someone to teach dance moves.
Teen dignity may require them to groan when offered any of these options. But if your teen enlists a few friends to get an activity going, most will join in at least for awhile and most will get into the spirit of the thing. Younger teens are often relieved to have something to do besides make awkward conversation.
When I was a rookie at parenting teens, I got a phone call from another parent. He announced that his kid was giving a party and wanted me to know that a) there really was an authorized party, b) that he and his partner would be visibly present throughout and c) if alcohol or drugs appeared, the bearer would be immediately told to leave. When I expressed my appreciation and astonishment at the call, that experienced dad told me: “I don’t want to be worried about my kids at a party so I figured other parents wouldn’t want to be worried about theirs.” That struck me as generous and wise. When the time came for our kids to give a party, we followed suit. Although some parents thought my call was unnecessary or even weird, most were as appreciative as I had been.
When your kids announce they’re going to a party elsewhere:
- Call the parents. Your kids may have a fit but do it anyway. Ask the parents what they expect and whether they will provide supervision. Ask about their policy regarding alcohol and drugs. Parents who are doing their best to be responsible will only feel supported. Parents who are less eager to take responsibility for what goes on at their house will get the important message that other parents want adults to be in charge. If their ideas about what is appropriate for kids differ markedly from yours, simply thank them for talking with you and say goodbye. You didn’t make the call to argue with another parent about parenting. You made the call to get information.
- Have a frank discussion with your teens about what you expect of them. If you didn’t like what you heard from the parents of the host, talk about whether there are ways for him or her still to go and stay safe. Consider together whether it is just better to pass on this party.
It’s important you acknowledge that you can’t really control what your kids do when they’re out of sight. Mutual respect and the willingness of both sides to listen and to give a little are the essential ingredients for setting ground rules that will be followed. Be clear that you want them to have a good time but you also want to be able to relax while they are out in the world.
- Set up a “no questions asked” pick-up possibility. Your kids can’t control what happens at a party. If things get out of hand, they need a way out. If they don’t drive, they need to be able to call you for a ride or an excuse to leave. If they do drive but have had too much to drink to get home safely, it’s better that they call you for a ride than get into that car drunk. Whatever the inconvenience, be glad they had the sense to make the call. Save the big talk for the morning when they’ll be in better shape to listen.
Parties are a swamp of peer pressure and anxieties for the kids and a major source of worry for parents. Yet parties really are fun. Relaxing, talking, and generally socializing are an important part of what makes life good. Our job is to be the voice of safety while the kids learn how to have their fun and be responsible too.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2007). Teen Parties, Parent Responsibilities. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 5, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/teen-parties-parent-responsibilities/000791
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Jan 2013
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.