Teens and Parties
By: JoAnn Kukulus, MS, MFTI
When our children were young, we parents had a hand in just about everything they did. We took on the responsibility of organizing and structuring their time in such a way that we knew what they were doing each minute of each day. If we couldn’t actually oversee the implementation of the children’s schedules ourselves, then we arranged for someone else to do it. We knew who their friends were, where the friends lived, and very likely, the parents; we knew what our children liked to eat and what they did in their free time; we spent as much time with them as we were able.
Most of that changed when our children reached adolescence. Seemingly overnight our children became independent people who make their own decisions, have their own opinions, no longer tell us everything, and spend as little time in our presence as possible. Our adolescent offspring now hold us at arms’ length while they draw in their peers, who have suddenly become the most important people on the planet. And once our adolescents can actually drive themselves around, we lose much of the input and involvement we once had, and enjoyed. Increasingly, they are out of our sight and we aren’t at all certain we know what they’re doing.
At this time in our teens’ lives it is so important to maintain the same parental authority we had when they were younger. We must remain focused in our goal to continue parenting them, neither looking away to avoid knowing absolutely what they are up to, nor desperately trying to be their ‘friend’ by condoning/encouraging/allowing them to engage in risky and unsafe behavior. In other words, we have a very fine line to tread that enables us to be informed, keep them safe, and allow our children to develop into the healthy, independent young adults we and they want them to become.
When our adolescents blithely inform us that they are “going out” or “going to a party” and that they’ll “be home later,” let these words not strike fear in our hearts for their safety, but rather let’s be armed with clear expectations for the choices we want our teens to make. And of course, we are available to support them when they need it.
In general, communication and honesty have incredible impact on how our teens behave. When we talk regularly to our teens about drugs and alcohol, and let them know we expect them not to use these substances, they are less likely to use them. Networking with our teens’ friends’ parents is another way to reduce or prevent underage substance use; call parents at whose home there will be a party to determine that the parents both will be in attendance and will not be allowing drugs and alcohol. If other parents are not willing to hold the same substance-free expectation that we hold, we must be firm in not allowing our teens to attend such a party.
Some parents may mistakenly believe that if they provide their home as a “safe” place for teens to use drugs and alcohol, their teens will come to no harm; parents cannot keep impaired teens safe. Alcohol and other drugs impair judgment and affect teens differently than adults: teens are much more likely to engage in sexual activity, be involved in a violent incident, or experience injury after using drugs or alcohol. Parents are legally responsible for anything that happens to a minor who has used drugs or alcohol in their home.
If our teens want to host a party we parents must be involved in establishing the ground rules: have a plan that includes non-drug-or-alcohol group activities; keep the party small, allowing one adult for 10 – 15 teens, and be sure to have at least one adult present at all times; guests attend by invitation only–no open party situations; hard and fast rules include 1. no tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs 2. guests may not leave and then return 3. the lights stay on at all times 4. certain rooms of the house are off-limits; provide plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages; make your presence known, but don’t hover–parents should be able to see what’s going on without being in the way.
When our teens go out to parties or other events/activities there are also many ways we can be involved. Parents should be in the habit of knowing where our teens are going and how long they will be there; have your teen give you the address of the event, and if the location changes your teen must notify you. Call parents who are hosting a party to make sure they will be home the entire time your teen is there; this also lets other parents know that we expect them to behave responsibly. We need to be having ongoing conversations with our teens about how they will handle situations where alcohol or other drugs are available. Parents need to be aware of how our teens will get to and from a party or other event; we can make it easy for our teens to leave the scene by letting them know they can call us at any time for a ride home. Parents should be awake to greet their teens when they get home, to check in with them and hear about their evening. Any plans to spend the night at a friend’s house must be made prior to going out, and must be verified with the friend’s parents.
Our teens may complain that we don’t trust them when we introduce and enforce these safety precautions, and we can assure them that lack of trust is not the issue. Parents know that when alcohol and other drugs are present, the risk of harm to impaired teens is too great. The greatest gift we are giving our teens is our concern for their well-being.