Saturday, 5 September 2015

5 questions you should be asking when you call parents hosting a teenage party

My last blog entry got quite a reaction! The email I received from a mother who had been lied to by a parent hosting a teenage party about what would be happening at the event resonated with many others who had had similar experiences and I'll be sharing some of those over the coming months ... some are truly shocking. The mother said that she followed my advice and always asked the same questions when she rang a parent and had written them down to make sure she went through them all during the call. During the week I have been asked by a few people what questions I believed should be asked and how best to respond when you get an answer that you find confronting ...

I've covered this in a previous posting but I thought I would look at this issue again and update my thoughts, taking into consideration some of the emails I received during the week about what some parents were experiencing when they made the call.

You can pretty well guarantee that your child will not want you to contact the parents holding the party they have been invited to but always remember the golden rule - 'if your child says you can't do something, that means you must!' Even though making the call is the ultimate embarrassment as far as your teenager is concerned, 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 that call and run the risk of your son or daughter not liking you very much. I continue to be staggered as to how many parents don't call - relying totally on their child telling them where they're going, who will be there and what will be going on. Of course, contacting a parent you don't know and asking them questions about a party they are holding is not necessarily going to be an easy task, but that's what parenting is all about – a whole pile of not very easy tasks!

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 are going 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?

The 5 questions (some of these are two-part questions so I've cheated a little bit!) I believe need to be asked are around supervision, alcohol, security and start and finish times. Of course, you've got to adjust these 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?
Some of these are quite broad and may need to be tailored dependent on the age of your child and what type of response you get from the parent you are calling but I hope you get the general idea. To those of you who read my original posting you may notice that I have added specific questions on security and start and finish times - that is because these are areas that many parents have told me have caused them issues, particularly for parents of Year 9s! Yes, Year 9s! Parents are being told by their child that parties start much earlier than they really are, being dropped off at a house that is in fact hosting a 'pre-party', usually with no adults present, and here very young people have 'pre-drinks' before wandering off to the real party some time later. You need to know - from the parent hosting, not from your teen - what time the party is starting and when it is finishing.

When it comes to security, many seem to have been really let down by other parents who did very little checking of partygoers, seemingly turning a blind-eye to sometimes very young people (once again, usually Year 9s) sneaking alcohol into an event, or simply hadn't been prepared for unwanted guests. As a result, the night became a very frightening experience for their teen, with numbers getting out of control or the police being called. 

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?

It is important to remember that every family is different and that not every parent is going to have the same views as you on the issue of teenagers and alcohol. If they do have a different viewpoint, this phone call is definitely not the time for you to give them a lecture on what you believe is the right way to bring up a child. Thank them for their time, wish them luck for the evening and get off the phone. Getting into a dispute about the right way to hold a teenage party is not necessary. You are highly unlikely to change their opinion on the subject and the whole experience will only leave you angry and frustrated. Putting the phone down and walking away is the best thing to do. Then thank your lucky stars that you did the right thing and have now prevented your child from getting into what you perceive as a high risk situation. As a parent you can only do what you think is right for your child. How other parents raise their children is their business and it really is not your place to become involved in their parenting decisions.

Be a parent when it comes to parties, particularly for the first couple of years, and particularly in Year 9. This really does seem to be the year where parents are discovering the hard way that they should have done the checking but didn't because they really didn't think they needed to ... for heavens sake they're 14 years old, I can certainly understand why you would think you wouldn't need to ask these questions at this time but it appears you must! Take an interest in where they are going and who they will be with and do a little bit of parenting when it comes to finding out what type of party it will be. Make your decision on whether they should attend or not based on good information and involve your child in that decision. Let them know why you made the decision that you did.

Most importantly, when they go to the party 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. And possibly most importantly ... drop them off and then pick them up! I understand that this is a huge commitment but at 14 and 15 particularly, letting them stay at a friend's house after a party or gathering is simply asking for trouble. Of course, if you have a good relationship with your teen's friend's parents and trust them with your son or daughter implicitly and you know for a fact that is where they're going to be - go for it - I get it, it'll make your life so much easier not to pick them up every weekend! But knowing what I know and based on what I see and hear when I talk to young people around the country, I don't know how any parent of a 14, 15 or 16 year-old can sleep on a Saturday night without actually seeing their son or daughter safe and sound in front of them after they have attended a teenage party or gathering ...

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