Saturday, 14 February 2015

What does 'supervising a teenage party' really mean?

Deciding whether or not to allow your teen to attend a teenage party is something that almost every parent will have to deal with at some time or another. I believe that you should never let your child go anywhere unless you have done your homework and found out as much as you can about where it is that they want to go. If it's a party or gathering, some of the most important questions you should be asking are around supervision. Apart from finding out about whether alcohol will be available or tolerated when you call the parents putting on the event, questions should include "Will you be there for the evening?" and "Will you be supervising?" You would think that when you asked these questions of other parents and got a "Yes" in response that your child would actually be supervised in some way - well, surprise, surprise - that's not always the case!

I had a wonderful email from a mum this week who told me about her experience around supervision at a teenage party - I thought I would share an edited version with you ....

I always call people whose home she is going to stay at, call before parties, drop-off and pick-up etc and I am constantly alarmed at how many parents don't do that. However I just want to tell you about a recent party she went to. This was a girl I didnt know well and I had never met the parents. I said she could go providing I spoke with the parents first. I called and spoke with the mother - she sounded very nice, told me that her and her husband would be home, that it was a small gathering of just a few kids from school, there'd be no alcohol and she was glad I'd called as her daughter told her that she was the only one that ever did that. Okay, good - I felt a bit better about her going. My husband and I dropped her off and went in to meet the parents as they were sitting out on the front verandah of the house. When we picked her up later that night from the party I asked how it was. She told us there was someone there with a bottle of vodka, some others smoking dope and a bunch of uninvited guests came in over the back fence!! I asked where the parents were when this was going on. They, apparently were sitting on the front verandah making sure there were no gatecrashers!

What was particularly wonderful about this story was the girl's response to her mother's concerns about what had happened ...

"Don't worry, mum" my daughter said, "Me and my friends sat in the sober circle. And we made sure we only drank soft drink from bottles that hadn't been opened yet." I was grateful that she managed the situation well but I was so pissed off the parents didn't supervise!

Holding a party for teenagers, whether it be at your home or somewhere you have hired for the evening, is a huge responsibility. Although the thought of it may be terrifying, it is important to remember that holding a party can also be a great opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship with your child, get to know their friends and become more involved in their life. At the same time, you are providing an environment for a group of young people to get together and have a good time. Things can go terribly wrong, even when alcohol or other drugs are not involved. As such, if you decide to put on a party for your teen you need to think carefully about all the possible risks and put things into place to make sure that the party is as safe as possible – for the people coming to the party, your neighbours and of course, you and your family. Most importantly, you have to supervise!

Let's make it really simple here - supervision is not:
  • simply being at home - you and your partner in the lounge room and the teens out the back
  • having a couple of adult friends over to assist with potential gatecrashers - and while they're there, well you all may as well have a couple of drinks in the kitchen
  • asking your older children to make sure they're at home to mingle with the partygoers - they're closer to the kids' ages and they'll have a better idea of what to look for and will be able to respond more appropriately than some 'fuddy-duddy' parents
  • hiring a security company to deal with alcohol and gatecrasher issues - that way, you're covered and you can go out and have dinner and a few drinks and no problems
  • partying with the teens - your son or daughter is your best friend and why miss out on a good time?
Now I know that some of these seem a little extreme (who would honestly hire a security firm and then go out leaving over 100 Year 10s partying in their home? It happens, believe you me!), but I have emails from parents describing all of these types of parties, plus so many more, many of which do not bear thinking about!
 
When you consider supervision at a teenage party try to think of it a little like playground duty at a school. Sounds very formal but hear me out ... There is no way that a school can let a group of young people, even teenagers, come together and not supervise them in some way. Teachers need to be on the look-out for problems and issues but at the same time not interfere with the important socialising that is taking place. Playground duty is not about teachers meddling in the students' appropriate interactions with each other - no teacher should want to be a teen's best friend. You certainly should never see a teacher sit down with teens and start gossiping about who is dating who, but it can be a time where teachers are able to have different type of conversations than they do in the classroom and build up positive and appropriate relationships as they're walking around the school yard, at the same always being on the look-out for trouble. Teenage parties offer the same opportunities to parents hosting these events.
 
So what is supervision?
  • being there, right in the thick of it - this doesn't mean you plonk yourself in the middle of a group of teens and just stand there! Think of yourself like a teacher on playground duty - walk around, smile and be on the look-out for problems. Find reasons for being there - carry food around, make sure they have a drink (non-alcoholic of course!) ... Always consider your teen here as well - do this in an oppressive way and he or she will be mortified and rightly so. It can be a very fine line between 'being there' and 'lurking' - try not to cross it!
  • move around - teens aren't stupid, if they want to break the rules they're highly likely to find a place where they are going to be able to do so without being caught. Most probably the biggest mistake parents make in this area is to position themselves in one place, justifying their decision by stating that the kids will know where to find them if something goes wrong. Sitting in the kitchen or the lounge room while the kids are in another area of the house is not supervising - get off your bum and find all those nooks and crannies around the house that you remember from your teenage years!
  • make sure you have help that you can trust who have the same values as you - if you are going to enlist helpers, make sure you know they will support your rules. I've been contacted by a number of parents over the years who were devastated when friends they asked to supervise secretly provided alcohol to teens to try to be cool, or simply turned a blind eye to drinking. Having like-minded helpers will make your life much easier
  • try to be at the front door when the guest arrive - meet the teens and their parents - one of the keys to good supervision is knowing who exactly is coming into your house. Watching them enter (meeting their parents if they turn up), monitoring what they bring in with them and saying a few words of welcome is going to be helpful later if something goes amiss. They now know who you are (if they didn't before) and you have a better idea of who they are
  • talk to the partygoers - the best way to know what is going on at the party is to talk to as many teens as possible. This should not be intrusive and don't try to be cool - kids can see through that in seconds! Be yourself - ask them how they're going, if they're having a good time and the like. Not only does this help you to get to know your child's friends a little better but it also helps you gauge how the party is going and identify signs of intoxication nice and early ...
As I always say, there is no handbook on how to be the perfect parent, you can only do the best you can do at the time. The same is true when it comes to holding an incident-free teenage party. Without doubt the best thing you can do to reduce risk is to make the event alcohol-free. Regardless of whether there is alcohol or not, however, adequate supervision is vital. Always remember that even if you ask questions around supervision when you call parents who are hosting a party - their definition of supervision may be very different to yours! 

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