Saturday, 22 April 2017

A simple 'how-to-guide' when deciding on whether your teen should attend a party, gathering or sleepover

Every parent wants their child to have friends and to 'fit in' with their peer group. Many Mums and Dads are terrified that their child may be socially excluded in some way, particularly if they themselves experienced some kind of rejection when they were young. With increasing awareness and concern around mental health issues, particularly around adolescence, this fear has only intensified in recent years and most parents would do almost anything to ensure their child is socially accepted and has a good group of friends.

That is where deciding whether or not your child should be able to attend a party, gathering or even a sleepover can become extremely difficult. On the one hand, you are thrilled that your son or daughter has been invited to an event and wants to go (i.e., they have a friend and are keen to interact with a social group), but at the same time you have questions such as will this be a safe place for them to go and how much do you really know about the people who are hosting? You desperately want your child to fit-in and have a fun time with their friends but you don't want them exposed to potential risks or dangers. At the same time, you are also juggling issues around maintaining an open and positive relationship with your teen - saying 'no' to them all the time can certainly jeopardise that, particularly if they do not understand the reasons behind your decision.
Let me start by saying that I believe strongly that if your child wants to attend a social gathering on a Saturday night (and there are many young people who don't, including an awful lot who have done it once or twice and discovered pretty quickly that it's not their thing!), in most cases, it is usually better to allow them to go than not. Parties and gatherings are where teens learn to socialise in a different way than they do at school and, as such, are an important part of growing up. Still, just blindly saying 'yes' to a teen when they ask if can they go to an event is not the way to go.
So, with that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to make a decision on whether your child should attend a party gathering or sleepover.
Firstly, and most importantly, don't be bullied into a decision – you don't have to give an answer straight away, no matter what they say. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision and if they tell you they need an answer now - the answer is 'no'. Take your time and get it right. If both parents are on the scene, make it clear right from the very start that both of you make decisions around sleepovers and parties. Adolescents are extremely clever at setting up one parent against the other and it is vital that they understand that there is a 'united front' on this issue. Make it clear to them by telling them – "Don’t come to me, don't go to them – come to us!"

To make an informed decision you need good quality information. Every parent needs to decide for themselves what that should be and when they have worked that out, sit down with their child and let them know what that is ... It then needs to be made clear that without that information they won't be going. This is going to be a difficult process if you suddenly start doing this when they are 15-years-old, but get the ball rolling when they are in primary school and it just becomes part of 'what you do' and you won't have the drama later. I believe the following four questions need to be answered to ensure that an informed decision can be made:
  • whose party is it and do you know them and/or their parents?
  • where will the party be held?
  • will the parents be there and will they be actively supervising the party?
  • what time does it start and what time does it finish?
Of all the questions here the final one is most probably the most important, mainly because it helps you sort out whether your teen is asking about attending an actual party or a 'pre-party'. This relatively new phenomenon is catching many parents off-guard, particularly those new to the whole teenage party scene. Your teen asks you whether they can be dropped off at Jane's house at 7.30pm and that's where you think they will be for the night. If you haven't done your due-diligence and actually called Jane's parents to find out what is actually going on, they may not even be there at 7.30pm. This is actually a 'pre-party' where a small group of teens will assemble, often pre-load with alcohol (as already said, there are often no parents present, while at other times, some actually 'supervise' this drinking!) and then in a couple of hours the group will move onto the actual party that they were planning to attend all along, with you being none the wiser! Finding out starting and finishing times of an event can help avoid being left in the dark in this area.

So if you need this range of information, where do you go to find it? There are a number of places you can go but unfortunately, in my experience, many parents are simply not willing to put the effort in when it comes to this area …
  • first of all, if you're a complete idiot, you'll rely on the old favourite and simply ask your child! This, of course, is not the most reliable source and your teen is more than likely to avoid telling you anything they know would prevent them from going ... That said, you need to always ask them first - what do they know about the event and what will be happening? You can pretty well guarantee that they don't know much and you will be lucky if you get very much valuable information from this discussion. I had a wonderful chat with a young lady this week who took great joy in telling me about the wonderful relationship she had with her mother - "I tell her everything and she trusts me completely," she told me. She had just been sharing a story about a drunken friend that she had tried to carry up some stairs at a party and so I asked her what her Mum had thought about that. "Oh god, I didn't tell her about that! If she knew that my friend had got that drunk she would start worrying about us ..." Obviously, even in the most 'trusting' relationships, choices are made around what needs to be shared and what doesn't!
  • most importantly, go to the source – contact the parents hosting the party. This is the best place to go but you're going to get resistance from your teen and the conversation with the parents is not always easy, particularly when it comes to the alcohol issue. As much as some parents have told me that when they have made the call they have been met with a positive response - e.g., "I'm so pleased to hear from you, I haven't had anyone else call and find out what's going on!" - there are others who have had extremely unpleasant experiences. Some claim that they have even been verbally abused by host parents, accused of 'overparenting', with many being asked the question "Why are you calling? Don't you trust your child?" This is always going to be a tough job but is without a doubt the best way to get the information you need
  • talk to other parents – this is the one that most parents are least likely to use, but it really is one of the best. If your child has been invited to an event that you are concerned about, talk to their friends' parents to find out how they feel about it. Do they know the parents who are hosting? What has their child told them about the event and does it match up with what your teen has said? If, at any stage during your child's schooling, you can find other parents who you believe have similar values to you in this area, staple them to your side and stick with them for as long as you possibly can! These people can become useful allies throughout the teen years and are also an invaluable source of information ...
  • look at social media – has anything been posted online about the event? This is a tough one and I need to make it clear that I do not advocate spying on your child ... When they are in their early to mid teens and are on social media, most cybersafety experts will tell you that a condition of them being on these platforms is that you will be following them in some way. I do not claim to be an expert in this area but if you're going to be doing this I believe it should be done in an honest and upfront way - creating a false identity and 'stalking' your child or finding out their passwords and then secretly accessing their accounts only cause much greater problems later should you actually discover something inappropriate (i.e., how do you tell them that you found out about it?) ... Be upfront and tell them that you need to have access. Should they have concerns (and they will), discuss these and try to reach a compromise. As far as parties, gatherings and sleepovers are concerned - social media can provide valuable information about upcoming events and can certainly help you to make a decision about whether you teen should attend or not
As I said earlier, I believe that it is usually best to let your child attend these social events whenever possible. Of course, there will be times when the information you have collected clearly shows that the event is too risky and you have to say 'no' - you simply have no choice! For some parents it will be the availability of alcohol that will be the deciding factor in whether they allow their teen to attend or not. I certainly believe that if your 14 or 15-year-old is invited to an event and you discover that alcohol will be permitted or tolerated by the parents hosting, that is an extremely good reason to not allow your child to attend. So many of the parties held on a Saturday night around the country are not small - we're often talking about events with 60-80 young people attending. Trying to keep that number of teens safe when alcohol is added to the mix is almost impossible - that is going to potentially be a dangerous event ...

When it comes to 16-year-olds I think this is where trust starts to come in ... If you keep saying 'no' to your child when it comes to attending social events purely because alcohol may be there, you're going to be at risk of them pulling away, that all-important connection can be broken and you could lose them. Once you have done your homework and found out about the event they want to attend and you have concerns, these need to be expressed. Tell them that you don't feel comfortable but that you trust them to do the 'right thing' and that they are allowed to go but there are caveats, i.e., different rules apply to this party than for others. These may include limiting the amount of time they are there or agreeing to be picked-up from the party in a different way than normal. If your trust is broken (i.e., they break your rules), there will be consequences. Over time, reward good behaviour and 'free the reins' a little - they are growing up and becoming young adults.

As I've said many times before, you can't trust an adolescent - they're going to tell lies and let you down - that's what they do! Like everything else during the teen years, however, when it comes to parties, gatherings and sleepovers you have to start trusting them at some point ... you just have to make sure it's not 'blind trust' - do that and it's just plain stupid and potentially unbelievably dangerous!

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