I received an email from a Mum named Carol a few weeks ago who desperately wanted to share her experience with organising and hosting a teen party for her daughter's 15th birthday, not because it all went horribly wrong but because it went so well! It's taken a couple of weeks to get this written as we've spoken on the phone a couple of times since I received her message in an effort to try to pin down a couple of key things that she thinks led to the success. Here is Carol's original email ...
I have been reading your blog for the past couple of years and have read with great interest all the advice you have provided for parents around teenage parties and alcohol. My daughter, Hannah, was only 13 when I started to read your articles and I was amazed to read about some of the parenting behaviour that you described, particularly around not meeting the parents when they dropped the sons or daughters off at sleepovers or parties. When you came to my daughter's school my husband and I attended the parent session that you ran and it was after listening to you then that we sat down and had a big talk about how we were going to deal with this issue.
Fast forward two years and we made the decision to hold a 15th birthday party at our home for Hannah. She is a very social young lady and was desperate for us to let her have her friends over and show them a good time. She has been to many parties this year but she knows our rules and we always call the host parents, take her there and pick her up (often ending up picking up a number of her friends at the same time). She doesn't like the rules but we have promised her that they will be adjusted over time and we will reward good behaviour (just like you keep saying) so the moment there are no real dramas. It was also made clear to Hannah that if we were to have a party at our home then it would be held under our rules. She would be involved in the making of the rules and if she felt that the rules would ruin the party or embarrass her in any way then she could pull the plug at any time.
I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I was of Hannah and her 30 wonderful friends that came to our house last Saturday night! There were absolutely no issues whatsoever. We had no young people turn up to our home intoxicated, in fact, over 20 of the teens were walked to the door by at least one of their parents. To the best of our knowledge there was no alcohol consumed during the whole event and the kids looked like they had a great time. There were no gatecrashers, no noise complaints from neighbours and there was absolutely no damage (there wasn't even a broken glass!). The party started at 7.30pm and finished at 11.00pm , with most of the kids being picked up by a parent, with many of them once again actually coming to the door, and those that weren't we knew exactly who did pick them up and where they were going.
I need to make it clear that these aren't a bunch of 'goody two shoes' who never do anything wrong. One of the girls who attended had recently found herself in trouble at a party and ended up in hospital with alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is already a part of some of these teens' lives but last Saturday they had a great time without it. My husband and I are so proud of them we could just bust! If you would like to share this on your blog I would be so very happy. We were really worried about putting on the party because we had heard all the horror stories but I think our story shows that if you put the effort in (and we did work very hard to get this right) you certainly reap the rewards!
Our kids are great and it is incredibly important to remember that there are hundreds of teenage parties and gatherings held every weekend that go off without a hitch - no problems at all! But as Carol said, you have to work hard to get it right - a successful and safe teenage party doesn't just happen. With that in mind I made contact with her to find out from her what she thought were the most important things she did that led to the party being safe, alcohol-free and still be seen as a great night by her daughter and her friends ... We've gone backwards and forwards on this over the past fortnight but here are the 5 tips she believes were the key to her success (there are a couple here that I think are great original ideas and good on her and Dale, her husband, for being so innovative):
- Make sure your child is involved in the making of the rules and the organisation of the party. This doesn't mean that they make the rules but Hannah had been to some parties and she had a good idea of what worked and what didn't. There were some things that were totally non-negotiable and she was told that at the beginning, but in every other area we were willing to listen. Having her help organise the party was great too as she could see how much work it took and, once again, she knew what worked and what didn't. She certainly felt an ownership of the party and a great deal of pride at the end of the night about how well it went and that was extremely valuable.
- Have a strict limit on number invited, RSVP only and no 'plus-ones'. Our greatest battle with Hannah was on how many could be invited - she originally wanted 100! I didn't think she even knew that many people but it was all about 'plus ones', with her girlfriends wanting to bring another person, usually an older boy. This was a non-negotiable rule - 30 invitees was our limit and to be quite honest I don't know how any parent could deal with anymore than that. Formal invitations were handed to people - no information was to be delivered via social media - and I had to receive a formal RSVP back before putting them on the guest list.
- RSVPs have to include a contact number for one or both of the parents on the night of the party. This proved to be difficult to get for a couple of the young people attending and we did have two boys who tried to provide fake numbers (we rang every contact number when we got the RSVP to check that we had what we wanted but did it under the guise of thanking the Mum or Dad who answered for letting their child come and to briefly introduce ourselves). In the end we got a genuine number for all 30 of them and that made us feel so much more secure should something have gone wrong and we needed to make contact quickly with a parent.
- Invite parents to a 'drop in and say hello' event at the house when they drop their child off at the party. We had no idea how this would go and whether anyone would take us up on this but we had an amazing response, both on the night and in the week after. We've never seen anyone else do it but had often thought when we dropped Hannah off at a party that it would be nice to meet some of the other parents and maybe even offer to assist the hosts if they looked like they needed it. We included a brief invitation to 'Drop in and say hello to Dale and Carol' on the actual hard-copy formal invitation to the party and mentioned it again when we called to check the mobile number that had been provided. We set a room aside (away from where the kids were) and allocated 30 minutes at the beginning of the party where we would 'meet and greet' any parent who wanted to come in and say hello ... We were really surprised how many took us up on the offer, most of them thanking us for giving them the opportunity to meet other parents. No-one stayed for longer than about 15 mins, although a couple of Mums did ask if we needed help with anything, offering to hang around if we did, but all were gone at the end of the 30 mins.
- Make it clear that no-one will be leaving the party without an adult picking them up. We were very conscious of the issue of unaccompanied teens leaving parties as we have picked up Hannah and watched many 14 and 15 year-olds wandering the streets at the end of the night, not a parent in sight. After the fights around how many were allowed to be invited, making it clear that no-one would be able to leave without an adult picking them up was our next greatest battle with our daughter. This was also the most difficult thing to organise - I don't think we got it perfectly right but we were pretty damn close! In the end, we left this with Hannah to organise, asking her to collect the names, together with a contact number, of the adults who would be collecting each of the 30 invitees. We went through this with her in the days before the party and if there were any names that didn't look right we checked on them with a phone call. That list was used at the end of the night to ensure that each of them was picked up by the adult who's name they provided. We did have a few parents who texted their child to pick them up and didn't come to the door, but in those cases we just rang the number we had to make sure it was really them and then sent them on their way. We also had two parents who used an Uber to pick up their child which really surprised us. In both cases, however, the parent rang us up as the car approached to let us know what was happening.
Carol and Dale are amazing people! They went to great lengths to hold a wonderful party for their daughter but also make sure she and her friends were as safe as possible. I hope the parents of Hannah's friends appreciate their efforts.
It is important to acknowledge that Carol doesn't believe that she is going to be able to use all of these tips for future parties - as her daughter and her peers get older, she's going to have to relax some of the rules, trust them to do the right thing and allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. She certainly doesn't expect that many parents are going to be walking their 16 or 17 year-old down to her front door when she holds a party in a couple of years time, but for a 15th birthday party, this couple have done an incredible job and have every right to be proud of themselves, as well as their daughter and her friends. I really love a couple of the tips that Carol put together - i.e., ensuring the RSVP includes a contact number for one or both of the parents on the night of the party really provides the host parents with much greater peace of mind should anything go wrong and I think the 'drop in and say hello' event for parents is an inspired idea! If you've had similar successful events and want to share your experiences with others, please send your thoughts and ideas through to me - I'd love to hear them and pass them onto others ...