What questions do you need answered to make an 'informed decision' about whether your child should go to a party or gathering?

I've discussed this issue so many times, stressing the importance of finding out as much as you can about an event your child gets invited to but I continue to meet parents who really struggle in this area. Some parents are convinced by their child that no-one else makes a phone call and that if they did they would 'shame them forever', while others blindly trust their teen and simply accept the information their children provide. Others come up with other excuses that I find particularly bizarre ... During the week I met a father who felt that doing too much checking about what was going to go down at a teen party was not only "insulting" to the host parents but was also "limiting the development of independence" of his 14-year-old daughter! I understand that getting information about a party or gathering is not easy and trying to obtain it certainly won't make you popular but it is important and if you get this process right nice and early, when they start being invited to events, you're not going to have nearly as many problems when they get older. As I always say, lay the foundations when they're young and it'll be so much easier for you in the later years.

What I don't get is that some parents today are so obsessed about what does or doesn't happen when their child is at school (hopefully a relatively safe environment), responding to every single text message they receive through the day complaining about a teacher picking on them or the like, but when it comes to ensuring their teen's safety at a party by making a simple phone call beforehand, very few seem want to make the effort ... Parents expect so much from the school in terms of keeping their child safe (as they should) but not all seem to live up to the same standards themselves ....

For example, when your child's school makes the decision to take students on an excursion, the number of hoops those teachers have to jump through to ensure each and everyone of those young people is as safe as possible is quite unbelievable. How are they going to get there? What will the student-adult ratio be? What transport company is going to be used to get them there and do they have the correct accreditation? The list goes on and on and you know what, as parents, you wouldn't expect anything less ... the school has a responsibility to keep your child safe while they are in its care and it doesn't matter whether they're going to a museum or wildlife park, it takes a lot of effort to ensure safety.

So why then do we not see more parents putting the same level of effort into finding out even a little more about the party or gathering their child is wanting to attend on a Saturday night? Let's quickly do a comparison - a school excursion for a class of Year 10s to a museum in the middle of the day and a 15-year-old birthday party held on a Saturday night for 80-100 of their closest friends - I think it's pretty obvious which one is likely to be the most risky!

So what information should you be after and where do you get it from? When it comes to what parents need to know about a party to ensure their child's safety the list could go on forever, but essentially (regardless of your child's age) I would recommend the following four bits of information be gathered:
  • 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?
I have tested these questions with over 300 teens and asked them whether they would have a problem with their parents asking them to others who are hosting a party they were invited to ... Not surprisingly, most would rather not have any questions being asked, in fact, most of them would rather you never speak to any other adult ever! But when pushed for an answer, the vast majority of the teens said that they had few, if any, problems with three of these - the fourth, however, almost all of them hated. The one they had a real issue was the third - "Will the parents be there and will they be actively supervising the party?" When asked why they didn't like this question, the answer was the same every time - this one involved their parents actually 'digging' a little and asking for more than just a one word answer ...

Based on the answers to these questions, parents should be able to establish whether or not they think the event is safe for their child to attend or not. As I said, this information should be collected regardless of the child's age - it doesn't matter if they're 6 or 16, if they're invited to anyone's home for a party doesn't every parent want to know the answers to these?

So where do you get this information from?

When they're younger so much of this is gathered through casual conversations at the school gate or provided on an official invitation that your child was given but as they get older it all gets far more difficult to access. Parents are less likely to drop their kids off at school and for this reason (along with many others) there tends to be less interaction with other Mums and Dads than there once was. Invites are now posted on social media and of course, teens start to become more secretive about the events they attend because they're doing things they know they most probably shouldn't!

As they get older and they ask you if they can attend a party it is at this point that you ask them your standard questions about the events to which they are invited. Hopefully you have made your expectations about the information you need clear over time (and from an early age) and fingers crossed they will provide this without any problems but you need to remember that around Year 9 and 10 you're going to start seeing their willingness to do this start to taper off. It is at this time that you must make sure you access other sources.

Without a doubt the most important source of information is the parent who is putting on the party. Now there is no way that your teen will want you to make contact and if you've never done this before and you start doing it when they are 15-years-old you'll have a huge fight on your hands, but in my experience, if your child knows at the age of 10 that you call the house beforehand and you continue to do it over time - it's just what you do - you're not going to have anywhere near as much of an issue in the later years. It should be noted that these calls don't always go well (particularly if you start asking questions about alcohol) and can end up leaving some parents feeling very frustrated but as far as the safety of your child is concerned, they're vital!

Talk to other parents as well and find out what they know about the party. What time are you dropping off your child? Where are you dropping them off? Do you know the parents who are putting it on? Does their information match what you've been told by your son or daughter? This source of information is particularly important if you have concerns about the event, e.g., you called the house and you didn't feel entirely comfortable with the response you got from the parent but you haven't got any real concrete reason not to allow your teen to attend. Another option is to take a look at social media and see what has been posted about the party - if you're doing your due diligence and monitoring your child's online activity to some extent (hopefully with their knowledge and consent - I'm certainly not advocating spying on your children - be honest about what you're doing) this should not be too difficult to access and can prove very useful.

In addition, when they hit that wonderful age of around 14-15 and start to attend parties where alcohol may be used prior to arriving, smuggled in or even permitted, that's when you've got to start asking questions in that area ... I believe the best question to ask a parent hosting a party or gathering is as follows:
  • How are you planning to handle the alcohol issue?
This is non-confrontational and passes no judgment - it is simply asking whether the host parents have even considered the issue (and you can bet there will be many who have not!). If you want to probe a little more you could ask others but in my experience these are not always met with the most positive responses ...
  • Will alcohol be permitted or tolerated?
  • Will an effort be made to stop alcohol being taken into the party?
  • Will there be security?
Now at this point I can imagine there would be some people who would be reading this and saying 'but at some point don't I have to trust my teen when it comes to parties?' Absolutely! As I say over and over again, with any rule around teens and parties, they need to be fair and age-appropriate. When they're younger and not likely to be doing anything particularly risky, that's the time when these rules should be 'airtight' - call the parents holding the party every time, take your child to the door and meet the parents, pick them up on time and no excuses, if they're late or they break any of the rules, there are consequences. In most cases, when they're young and not likely to engage in high-risk behaviour they usually have no problems with rules - in fact, at the age of 12-13 and they have rules around parties they get pretty excited as it makes them feel more adult. As they get older they're going to want these rules relaxed and that can happen gradually over time as they demonstrate good behaviour and build and maintain your trust.

It will be impossible for you to know everything about a party that your child attends, regardless of how much effort you put into it. It is also important that parents don't risk jeopardising the positive relationship they have with their teen by obsessing in this area. In their final year of high school when they're not far short of 18, calling parents hosting parties to find out about each and every event your teen is invited to is going to be a recipe for disaster. Of course, if there is one party you are particularly worried about, for whatever reason, do your parental duty and call the hosts and, if need be, try your best to prevent them from going but at that age if you push too hard you run the risk of embarrassing your child and damaging your relationship. They are teenagers and they will make mistakes and poor decisions and, as hard as it may be, you have to let them stumble and fall occasionally. That said, you don't do this when they're 14 or 15, it's simply too dangerous and they don't have the life experience should something go wrong ... It's at this age when you do your very best to find out all you can about where they'll be on Saturday night, who they're going to be with and what they're planning on doing!

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