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Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Pre-parties, alcohol and security: Is it any wonder that parents are reluctant to host teen parties?

Last week I wrote about pre-parties and how it appeared that more and more young people were attending these events at the beginning of a night out, their parents often unaware that alcohol was not only consumed there, but sometimes even provided by the parents hosting. I had a number of responses, some saying that this certainly wasn't a new phenomenon and had been around for some time. Others wrote to tell me about the pre-parties that they had held at their home that certainly did not involve any alcohol. The interesting thing about almost all the comments I received was that no parent was particularly happy with the whole 'pre-party' thing but there was great pressure from their teens to either attend them or host them ...

The most interesting response I received however was from Naomi Oakley, a name that would be familiar to many who live in Melbourne. Naomi is the Managing Director of U Nome Security, a private security firm that specialises in looking after underage and young adult parties. In the last 18 months she has worked personally on around 700 such events and she is passionate about improving the safety at teen parties. Naomi and I have spoken a number of times about the changes we have seen in recent times around teens and partying and she featured heavily in a news article in the Sunday Herald Sun a couple of weeks ago warning parents against 'pre-loading' their underage children with alcohol before they head out to party.

Naomi and her staff regularly have to deal with underage young people arriving at parties hopelessly drunk after consuming too much alcohol beforehand, often at pre-parties hosted by parents. She is quoted in the article as saying "Sometimes when they rock up, they're gone. The usual comment from the parents is that it's peer group pressure and they bow to whatever the kids want." I asked her to provide an example of a teen party where things just didn't work out as planned ...

"I was working a supposed 'dry' 16th birthday when one teenager arrived already drunk and on medication. He had to be physically restrained by my security team to ensure that he didn't run away and go out onto the road.  Duty of care means that you can't just turn them away because then they're in harm’s way.  Once we identify that they are alcohol or drug-affected, whether they're invited or not, we still need to ensure that they are safe.  We managed to get on to his parents via the host but he was going downhill fast.  We had to call 000 for assistance and when the police and paramedics arrived they also had to use physical force to control the young man to prevent him from hurting himself or others around him.  His parents turned up to an extremely confronting situation, finding their teenage son being bundled into an ambulance and transported to hospital.
At the same party we had another young teenage girl locate the host's liquor cabinet and 'borrow' a bottle of vodka.  The young girl was passed out on the lawn and also needed medical assistance via a paramedic only 45 minutes after the first incident.
We had adequate parent support (one was a doctor) that night but it was hectic. On top of this the party venue was poorly lit and we had gatecrashers trying to get in from all angles."

When you read a story like this you really wonder why any parent would host a teenage party ... That said, it's important to acknowledge that there are many parties and gatherings held every weekend right across the country that run smoothly and have no problems at all, but that only happens when parents put a great deal of effort into their organisation and lay down some very clear rules and boundaries, particularly where alcohol is concerned. It's really sad that it has got to the stage where parents need to engage companies like Naomi's for a teenage party but that is now the reality. If you don't have adequate crowd control in place and don't know have explicit plans in place about what to do with teens who do decide to arrive drunk at your doorstep, it's going to be you and your family who are going to have to deal with the issue on the run and that could be potentially dangerous for all concerned!

Naomi believes that parents have to be heavily involved in the planning stages of a party. Her company offers a free safety assessment of the party venue and before she takes on any booking the parents must complete a 20-point checklist. The parents also need to agree that the party be registered at the local police station just in case there are any problems on the night.

As parties are getting bigger and bigger (I've heard of 16th birthday parties with over 200 invitees and a 15th birthday party in Melbourne for a young man last year that was for 300 'plus one'!), Naomi's job gets more difficult. When you add increasing numbers of pre-parties being held every weekend and growing numbers of preloaded teens turning up to the events it becomes highly problematic! Of course kids need to go to parties and there are going to have to be parents who agree to hosting these events but there also need to be boundaries set around acceptable behaviour. It all comes down to that one little word that some parents seem reluctant to use where their children are concerned - 'no'! Do you really need to have 100 invitees, plus one? No! Do you have to tolerate teen drinking in your home? No! They're not going to like it much but that's what parenting is all about!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

'Designated Paul Dillons': The ultimate compliment from a teenager!

If I ever wondered whether the young people I talk to are listening and actually use the information I present, an email I recently received from a young woman clearly shows that some certainly are. What she shared with me about a strategy that she and her friends (now at university) use to keep safe when they party I believe is the ultimate compliment from a teenager.

Here is an edited version of her email (which I did ask her permission to use):

My friends and I first heard you speak at our school in Adelaide in 2009 when we were in Year 10. Our whole year level loved your talk and over the next couple of years your presentations became the highlight of our year - we would all look so forward to hearing what you were going to say next. We weren't really party girls when we saw you in Year 10 but by Year 11 we were going out almost every weekend and it was then that we created what we called the 'Designated Paul Dillon'. This was the person who's job it was for the night to look after everyone else and make sure everybody was safe. They were not allowed to drink and it was their job to do the 'chair test', make sure no-one fed drunk people bread and give the right amount of water to drunk people. You cannot know how many times we were at a party over the final years of high school when someone got sick and everyone looked at each other and would say "What would Paul Dillon do?"

My friends and I are all at uni now and we still make sure we have a 'Designated Paul Dillon' when we go out partying or clubbing - we most probably need one now more than in the past. Your influence is pretty big in Adelaide - over the last couple of years at uni there have been a number of times when we would be at a party and there would people we don't know there and when someone got sick you would hear either "We had this guy come to our school, get a chair and we'll give them the 'chair test'!" or "Paul Dillon said that we need to ..."  

All of us want to say 'thank you' and keep doing what you do. We've all been the 'Designated Paul Dillon' at one time or another over the years and I'm sure we've all saved a life at least once.

If you're confused as to what the 'chair test' actually is, you can go to one of my posts on my blog for young people - 'The Real Deal on Drugs' and see what I tell young people to do if they have to look after a drunk friend when I present at schools and how to know when they have to call an ambulance.

When I get emails like this the only person I ever show them to is my mother! I don't show them to her to brag or to say 'look how amazing people think I am', it's just that I'm so overwhelmed by the fact that someone would actually take the time to 'put pen to paper' and say such lovely things, I need to show them to someone else and say simply 'can you believe this?'

There are a couple of wonderful things about what this young woman has written ... Firstly, she and her friends took the information I provided to them in my presentation and were able to find a way to use it in a practical way that worked for them (it could be my ego speaking here but I love the concept of a 'Designated Paul Dillon'!). It's all well and good giving quality information to young people but can they use it in their day-to-day lives and do they want to? Secondly, the information has been useful over time and she and her friends have been able to adapt it to suit their needs now that they are adults and no longer at school. This is certainly not the first time I have heard of students using the information I presented and finding it even more useful years later when they left school, particularly in the university context, but it is exciting to hear of an actual safety strategy named after me that has been adapted for uni life!

I really do believe that in the health and well-being area (and particularly in alcohol and other drugs) if you provide young people with information that they want to know, not what we believe they need to know, you make it as practical as possible (something they can actually use), they will embrace it, adapt it to their own needs and then use it ... that's the way we keep our kids as safe as possible!

Friday, 18 September 2015

Preloading at pre-parties: What are some parents thinking?

Sometimes I write these blog entries and I just feel really old! When I talk to young people in schools about the parties they go to, I sometimes wonder whether I just had a very sheltered up-bringing and it's me that's a bit strange! I then talk to parents and it becomes clear to me that parenting around teenage parties and gatherings has indeed changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Although there has always been teenage drinking at parties, very rarely, if ever, was it supported by parents. If teens did drink, they had to access the alcohol themselves and then find somewhere to drink it, preferably where their parents wouldn't find out about it. That has certainly changed and some of the parental behaviour that we are seeing today around the provision of alcohol is just plain bizarre!

One of the most strangest practices is the whole 'pre-party' phenomenon. Now before anyone says that this is not new and that teens went to friend's house before a party and then travelled there together in their day - that is not what I'm talking about. As much as your teen may want you to believe that they're simply 'gathering' at a friend's house, from what I hear that is not always the case. In reality these events are often about drinking alcohol and particularly about 'preloading'. The Urban Dictionary defines a pre-party as follows: "Before going out to a club or concert where you know the alcohol is going to be expensive, you meet up at someone's house to have a few drinks, usually in a short period of time, so that you arrive at the event properly buzzed, or even somewhat tanked." Although this definition refers to partygoers 18 years or over, the fact of the matter is that pre-parties are now the norm for many 14 and 15 year olds and most frighteningly, some of them are run with parents actually providing the alcohol for the young people attending!

Recently I was speaking to a couple of Year 11 girls about 'pre's' and I commented that these events didn't exist when I was younger. What made them different to the actual party they would be attending afterwards? Their answer was enlightening to say the least ...
  • A 'pre' is essentially where you have your first couple of drinks before you get to the actual party. How much you drink really depends on the type of party you were going to afterwards, i.e., if there was a strict 'no alcohol' policy then you would drink far more (but not so much that you were obviously drunk because you would not be allowed in if that was the case)
  • There are two types of pre-parties - those where parents allowed (and sometimes provided) alcohol and those where parents were unaware of the drinking that took place. Some pre-parties are also held at houses where the young people know the parents will not be present. They are finished relatively early, well before parents came home from a dinner party or a night at the movies and if the partygoers are careful (they are usually very small), Mum and Dad will be none the wiser
  • A key element of a 'pre' is that there is next to no supervision. The girls made it clear that many of the actual parties they now went to were very well supervised, some even having professional security, but at pre-parties they were very much left to their own devices
  • This was much more likely to be the place where they played drinking games and the like to increase intoxication quickly. They said it didn't 'look good' for girls to play 'shots' or 'skolling' games at a large party - doing it around their close group of friends was far more socially acceptable 
The vast majority of the young people that I speak to make it clear that pre-parties are really all about the alcohol and preloading before they get to the major event for the night. As I have already said, what is truly frightening is that some parents actually provide the alcohol for this preloading! Now if you wish to let your child drink alcohol in your own home that is absolutely your business - what you do with your own child is completely up to you. But if you decide to let them drink, make sure you keep them with you until the alcohol has worn off - sending them off to someone else's home even slightly intoxicated is shameful! Putting on a party and looking after a group of teenagers at that event is a huge responsibility, but when young people arrive affected by alcohol, the chance of something going wrong is greatly increased and makes the job so much more difficult. When that alcohol has been provided by their own parent it is grossly unfair to the family hosting the party and is simply unacceptable!

Those parents who host pre-parties at their home and provide a 'couple of drinks' before they leave are even more inappropriate because more often than not, the parents of others attending aren't even aware that this is happening. What I don't get is the whole rationale behind 'preloading', particularly from a parent's perspective. I understand that from an economic standpoint drinking before you go may save you some money (particularly of you are clubbing, where alcohol can be incredibly expensive), but irrespective of that you are giving your son or daughter (and it doesn't matter whether they're 14 or 23 years old) alcohol and then sending them out of your house intoxicated to some degree - how does that make any sense? You only have to come with me to a school and meet a 15 year-old boy who has been slashed by a broken bottle or a Year 11 girl who has been sexually assaulted at a party to realize that when a teen goes to a party or gathering they really do need to have their wits about them. Having a couple of drinks beforehand makes absolutely no sense at all!

Pre-parties are increasingly becoming the norm across the country, with younger and younger teens attending such events. Parents already have their hands full trying to keep on top of what is happening at the teenage parties and gatherings that are held every weekend - pre-parties make the whole monitoring thing far more difficult. That said, it is important that parents do their best to find out as much as they possibly can about these events - it's not going to be easy and your child won't like you doing the checking but it'll be worth it if it keeps your child even just a bit safer on a Saturday night!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

What is it about Year 9s (and their parents) that can make them a difficult group to deal with?

I've talked a couple of times about the pressure I get from some schools (and particularly parents) to talk to Year 9s. The discussion usually goes along the lines of 'we've got some real issues with our Year 9 cohort ... there's some real partying going on in that group ... parents are finding it really difficult to deal with the pressure around the type of parties that are being put on'. At the same time, as I have said before, I have never ever heard of so many young people in this age group being caught bringing cannabis to school and then being either suspended, 'moved on' or expelled. Year 9 certainly appears to be a very difficult time for many families, with parents often confused as to why this is happening.

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. Just going through some of the emails I have received from parents over the years (and some of these go back quite a long way!), you can see some of the problems that can be faced:

  • "He went up to bed one night the 14 year-old son who had never caused me or his father any problems and woke up the next morning a completely different person. He now wears nothing but black, is desperate for a piercing and tattoo and refuses to see any of the friends he has had since primary school."
  • "She is boy-crazy and her life seems to revolve around the next party she is going to. Saying 'no' results in huge fights. She keeps telling us that we need to trust her and that she doesn't drink alcohol but she wants to go to parties with 16 and 17 year-old boys. We just don't feel comfortable with that."
  • "I'm pretty sure he's smoking cannabis now. His friendship group has completely changed and he wants to do nothing but hang around at the local skate park. We've talked to his old friends and they have even told us that they're worried."
  • "Help! Where did my child go?"
In his book You and Your Adolescent, Laurence Steinberg says that 14-18 is "a time for distinguishing oneself from the crowd". Some of the things he says that parents should expect at this time in their child's life are as follows:
  • changing interests, plans and friends - they may choose to stop wanting to play the violin after years of lessons and awards, or simply drift away from the best friend they started school with for no apparent reason w
  • obsessing about appearances - although we tend to think about extreme change here and how they dress (e.g., becoming a 'goth', or the like) or wear their hair, it could be as simple as adopting new mannerisms or vocabulary
Parents can get really stuck here - on the one hand it is vital that young people at this age are given the opportunity to create their own identity and establish where they fit in the world and become fully-functioning adults, but on the other it is also important to maintain rules and boundaries to keep them as safe as possible during this potentially very dangerous time of their life.

I believe that this is where 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'. This is the year of the 'sleepover', as well as the 'party' or 'gathering', and instead of making the call to parents hosting these events 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. They've got to be trusted 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!

That said, Steinberg says one of the biggest mistakes parents make at this time is overcontrol. So how do you maintain rules and boundaries in an attempt to protect your teen but not run the risk of overcontrolling? Basically you pick your battles ... there are issues around their personal safety and then there's finding their own identity. You may be devastated that they've dumped their best friend that you have always liked and you may not like that they wander around the house in a black hoodie with their face constantly covered but trying to take control over who their friends are and what they choose to wear is only going to make you frustrated and push them further away. Of course there are family rules and values that need to be considered but if your 14 year-old daughter wants to get a yellow streak through her hair or wear a really ugly top with a safety pin through it, it most probably isn't the end of the world!

If your teen wants to 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. Fight with them about everything, however, 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., 'what do you look like?') slide once in a while you'll find yourself having a much easier time. And remember, always look for opportunities to allow your child to do something - it shouldn't be about wrapping them up in barbed wire and saying 'no' all the time. When you do say 'no', make it clear why and don't back down.

The most interesting thing that I am observing at the moment is that those parents who do allow their Year 9 child (and even younger sometimes) go to parties and turn a blind-eye to drinking alcohol are also those who are actually controlling in a completely different way, i.e., not allowing (or at the very least, enabling) their teen to solve their personal problems themselves. These are the parents who call the school if their son or daughter is punished in some way and demand that the punishment is lifted, get involved in every single dispute and argument that their child has with their friends, blindly side with their child against the school and teachers regardless of the situation and simply never allow their teen to deal with the everyday issues that we must all face if we are to become well-rounded fully functioning adults. It really is an interesting phenomenon (and an extremely difficult one for schools and teachers, particularly as far as discipline is concerned) and one I can't see disappearing for sometime yet ...

Saturday, 5 September 2015

5 questions you should be asking when you call parents hosting a teenage party

My last blog entry got quite a reaction! The email I received from a mother who had been lied to by a parent hosting a teenage party about what would be happening at the event resonated with many others who had had similar experiences and I'll be sharing some of those over the coming months ... some are truly shocking. The mother said that she followed my advice and always asked the same questions when she rang a parent and had written them down to make sure she went through them all during the call. During the week I have been asked by a few people what questions I believed should be asked and how best to respond when you get an answer that you find confronting ...

I've covered this in a previous posting but I thought I would look at this issue again and update my thoughts, taking into consideration some of the emails I received during the week about what some parents were experiencing when they made the call.

You can pretty well guarantee that your child will not want you to contact the parents holding the party they have been invited to but always remember the golden rule - 'if your child says you can't do something, that means you must!' Even though making the call is the ultimate embarrassment as far as your teenager is concerned, if you want to make an informed decision when it comes to your child attending a party or not, you are going to have to bite the bullet and make that call and run the risk of your son or daughter not liking you very much. I continue to be staggered as to how many parents don't call - relying totally on their child telling them where they're going, who will be there and what will be going on. Of course, contacting a parent you don't know and asking them questions about a party they are holding is not necessarily going to be an easy task, but that's what parenting is all about – a whole pile of not very easy tasks!

When you contact a parent to ask them about their party make sure you plan what you are going to say beforehand. Write down the questions you are going to ask and make sure they are asked in a way that is not confrontational and accusatory. Some of the ways you could approach the subject when you make the call could include the following:
  • My son has just started going to parties and I'm still trying to negotiate my way through setting some ground rules. I'm just calling to find out how you’re dealing with the alcohol issue.
  • Thank you so much for inviting my daughter to the party. We have some basic rules around parties and alcohol that we have developed and we just want to find out some information about what will be happening on the night.
  • I know it can be very difficult to host a party and I really do appreciate that you are offering your home to the young people. We're considering holding an event in the future, can you let me know what you're doing about adult supervision and alcohol use?

The 5 questions (some of these are two-part questions so I've cheated a little bit!) I believe need to be asked are around supervision, alcohol, security and start and finish times. Of course, you've got to adjust these to match your own values and expectations but here are my thoughts:
  • Will there be adult supervision? Does this mean actual supervision or will there just be adults in the house?
  • Who will those adults be?
  • What will you be doing about alcohol?
  • What type of security are you planning?
  • What time is the party starting and finishing?
Some of these are quite broad and may need to be tailored dependent on the age of your child and what type of response you get from the parent you are calling but I hope you get the general idea. To those of you who read my original posting you may notice that I have added specific questions on security and start and finish times - that is because these are areas that many parents have told me have caused them issues, particularly for parents of Year 9s! Yes, Year 9s! Parents are being told by their child that parties start much earlier than they really are, being dropped off at a house that is in fact hosting a 'pre-party', usually with no adults present, and here very young people have 'pre-drinks' before wandering off to the real party some time later. You need to know - from the parent hosting, not from your teen - what time the party is starting and when it is finishing.

When it comes to security, many seem to have been really let down by other parents who did very little checking of partygoers, seemingly turning a blind-eye to sometimes very young people (once again, usually Year 9s) sneaking alcohol into an event, or simply hadn't been prepared for unwanted guests. As a result, the night became a very frightening experience for their teen, with numbers getting out of control or the police being called. 

There are a whole range of other questions that you could ask and if you have an existing relationship with the hosts I would strongly advise that you ask them, if only to ensure that they have thought all possible scenarios through. However, if you do not know the parents they could take offence that a complete stranger has even considered asking them such questions. These include things such as:
  • What have you got planned to deal with uninvited guests?
  • Have you registered your party with the local police?
  • What will you do if you discover underage drinking?
  • Have you got plans in case things get out of control?

It is important to remember that every family is different and that not every parent is going to have the same views as you on the issue of teenagers and alcohol. If they do have a different viewpoint, this phone call is definitely not the time for you to give them a lecture on what you believe is the right way to bring up a child. Thank them for their time, wish them luck for the evening and get off the phone. Getting into a dispute about the right way to hold a teenage party is not necessary. You are highly unlikely to change their opinion on the subject and the whole experience will only leave you angry and frustrated. Putting the phone down and walking away is the best thing to do. Then thank your lucky stars that you did the right thing and have now prevented your child from getting into what you perceive as a high risk situation. As a parent you can only do what you think is right for your child. How other parents raise their children is their business and it really is not your place to become involved in their parenting decisions.

Be a parent when it comes to parties, particularly for the first couple of years, and particularly in Year 9. This really does seem to be the year where parents are discovering the hard way that they should have done the checking but didn't because they really didn't think they needed to ... for heavens sake they're 14 years old, I can certainly understand why you would think you wouldn't need to ask these questions at this time but it appears you must! Take an interest in where they are going and who they will be with and do a little bit of parenting when it comes to finding out what type of party it will be. Make your decision on whether they should attend or not based on good information and involve your child in that decision. Let them know why you made the decision that you did.

Most importantly, when they go to the party continue to be a parent. Make sure you are available to them should they need you. Your child should feel comfortable calling you in any situation, at any time. And possibly most importantly ... drop them off and then pick them up! I understand that this is a huge commitment but at 14 and 15 particularly, letting them stay at a friend's house after a party or gathering is simply asking for trouble. Of course, if you have a good relationship with your teen's friend's parents and trust them with your son or daughter implicitly and you know for a fact that is where they're going to be - go for it - I get it, it'll make your life so much easier not to pick them up every weekend! But knowing what I know and based on what I see and hear when I talk to young people around the country, I don't know how any parent of a 14, 15 or 16 year-old can sleep on a Saturday night without actually seeing their son or daughter safe and sound in front of them after they have attended a teenage party or gathering ...

About Me

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Paul Dillon has been working in the area of drug education for the past 25 years. Through his own business, Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA) he has been contracted by many organisations to give regular updates on current drug trends. He has also worked with many school communities to ensure that they have access to good quality information and best practice drug education. His book 'Teenagers, Alcohol and Drugs' was released nationally in February 2009. With a broad knowledge of a range of content areas, Paul regularly appears in the media and is regarded as a key social commentator, with interviews on television programs such as Sunrise, TODAY and The Project.