She and I have spoken a number of times about the importance of parental monitoring and knowing where your child is, who they're with and when they'll be home. She and her partner have attended a number of my parent sessions and I have warned her about the change in parent behaviour she was likely to see when children hit those teen years and started to be invited to 'gatherings'. Recently she held a party for her daughter and saw for herself what I had been saying was true. Not one of the parents of the teens who were invited made an effort to contact her beforehand to find out anything about the event. Compounding her frustration (and disbelief) was that almost all of the young people who attended were simply dropped off at the end of the driveway (no-one came to the door to hand-over their 15 year-old daughter to the people who would be looking after their child for the evening) and then, to top it all off, at the end of the night the vast majority of the girls were picked up by way of text!
I've dealt with this topic many times before and I accept that contacting a parent you don't know and asking them questions about a party they are holding is not going to be an easy task, but that's what parenting is all about – a whole pile of not very easy tasks! I also understand that making that call is not going to make you popular with your child but parenting is not a popularity contest - you're not there to be liked, you're a parent! You can guarantee that your child will not want you to contact the parents holding the party they have been invited to, but remember one of the golden rules of parenting that I recently discussed - 'if your child says you can't do something, that means you must!' 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 the call ...
Over the years I have met a number of parents who have lost their children. Although I have been directly involved in far fewer deaths in recent years, a growing number of Mums and Dads have reached out to me due to issues around their daughters and sexual assaults that have taken place whilst intoxicated at parties. So many times when you talk to these people their grief is compounded by their belief that they didn't do more to find out about the party or gathering their child was attending.
So why don't parents make these calls? When I've asked parents this question, I pretty well always get the same answers:
- "I didn't want to embarrass my child"
- "She's a teenager, I had to start trusting her sometime"
- "Nobody else calls the house - I didn't want to be 'that' kind of parent"
- "I couldn't deal with the arguments - it was just too difficult to get the number to call from my child and I didn't want them to be left out"
- "I trust my child and his friends - they're good kids"
Essentially it boils down to four things - potential embarrassment (of child and possibly self), trust issues, how they will be perceived by other parents (and their children) and 'it was just too hard'. Now I'm sure that they all sound like great reasons at the time and if nothing goes wrong you can then pat yourself on the back and say you did all you needed to do. However, if the night goes 'pear-shaped' and a tragedy occurs I can guarantee you will never forgive yourself. Look at all of those 'reasons' for not making a call carefully and I'm pretty sure you'd agree that not one of them is important enough to justify compromising a child's health and safety.
So what do you say to the parents hosting the event and how do you start the conversation and not sound like one of those parents you always promised yourself you would never be? None of the information below is new (I have discussed this issue many times before) but it seems like a good time to remind parents once again.
Most importantly, 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 want 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?
As I wrote in an earlier blog entry, there are a minimum of 5 questions that I believe need to be asked by parents when it comes to teen parties and they have to do with supervision, alcohol, security and start and finish times. These can be adjusted 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?
In addition, 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?
Most importantly, when you've made the decision that they can go to the party and they actually attend, 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, feeling absolutely confident that you will be there. This needs to be conveyed to them whenever you take them anywhere, over and over again ... Now this may mean that you will have to sacrifice your 'fun' on a Saturday night. If they're at a party or even a sleepover (i.e., there are no plans for them to come home that evening), one or both of you are always going to have to remain sober to ensure that you can hop into your car to get them at a moment's notice. That may be really difficult for some people but that's what being a parent is all about!