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.