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Party season is here again. Teenagers are happy to see the end of classrooms, exams and the school year – and they want to have fun.
Many parents dread the words: “Mom, may I have a party?” and dozens of fears swirl around their heads.
What will the teenagers do? Should we allow beer? What if drugs are smuggled in? Certainly we can’t agree to an open invitation party. And we cannot abandon our home to a group of unsupervised teens whose hormones are raging and whose judgement is clouded by drink. What about the noise? Loud music will disturb the neighbours. What should the curfew be? Midnight or later?
Parties have always been a part of teenage social life. However much parents may worry about what goes on at some parties, it is even worse if teenagers don’t get asked at all.
Most teens are trustworthy and realise their parents won’t relax until they return home. But even for them it is good to make some rules: it gives them ideas on what to expect and how to handle negative peer pressure.
Things can go wrong when teens:
* Abuse alcohol or use drugs.
* Get sexually involved.
* Adopt a defiant attitude.
* Slip outside the party venue and get into trouble.
* Come into contact with undesirable people.
Parties can cause adolescents to behave in uncharacteristically immature ways. Peers, the fun atmosphere and the lack of a strong adult presence can decrease a teen’s judgement and impulse control.
As a rule, some parents don’t allow their teens to go to parties because they don’t wish to expose them to the risk of alcohol, drugs and sex. If your teens have shown vulnerability in these areas, you may choose to restrict them from attending parties until they demonstrate more self-control and responsibility.
On the positive side, safe parties can be beneficial for teens – full of good times, fun, friendship and celebration. Adolescents can learn about relationships, especially in these days when TV, video games and computers seem to dominate the time of most teenagers.
If the party is going to be held in your home:
You will have control in planning – with your daughter’s input and assistance.
Experienced parents I spoke to have offered the following guidelines (to be modified to suit different circumstances):
1. No open-invitation parties. Written invitations should specify the beginning and end times of the party, the dress code and what people should bring.
2. Politely ask uninvited guests to leave. Be firm and confident but not aggressive. However, if at any time you feel things are getting out of control, warn that you will call the police, and do so if you have to.
3. Put a reasonable limit on numbers to fit in with the size of your house and the party budget.
4. Kids under the legal drinking age will quench their thirst by sipping soft drinks. For youngsters of legal drinking age you might want to allow some beer or wine, depending on your own judgement and your particular circumstances.
5. If young teenagers will be around, do not leave home. You need to make sure things run smoothly and do not get out of hand. Many parents prefer to keep themselves discreetly occupied filling up the dishes and getting clean glasses.
6. For older teens, consider moving to another part of the house.
7. Keep the music volume under control. Have a specific place for music and dancing. Also explain to your child that the music will have to be turned down after an agreed-on time. Set an end time for the party and supervise the departure of the guests to avoid a noisy congregation in the street.
8. Keep the youngsters within the property. Tell your neighbours in advance about the party.
9. Have a reasonable curfew, determined by the age of the kids.
10. Nobody should be allowed to drink and drive. Arrangements will be made for a designated driver or for kids to sleep over if necessary.
If the party is being held elsewhere:
You are likely to worry about not being able to monitor events and to intervene if things become unsafe.
Will your teens know how to get out if sex, alcohol or drugs become part of the party? Will they know how to have fun and stay safe?
Talk to your teens. Ask them: whose party are you going to? Where do they live? At what time does it finish? Who are you going with? Is there going to be alcohol? Will the parents be home?
Also, discreetly talk to the host parents.
Here are some questions that you may like to ask them:
1. Can I help you in any way?
2. Are the youngsters going to be aware of your presence in the background?
3. Are you going to allow drinking?
Once you have this information, you will be better informed. If you feel reassured, go on to remind your teen that being allowed to attend a party is a privilege, not a right.
Be clear about expectations and consequences: “I trust that you will behave in a responsible way.”
Have a back-up plan. Have an arrangement with your teens so they have a way to back out if they need to.
Be adamant about not riding in a car with a driver who has been using drugs or alcohol. Encourage them to call you, no matter how late in the evening, for a ride home.
Be awake when they return home and interact (even briefly). This provides them with accountability, and enables you to examine their behaviour for signs of substance abuse.
Overall, accept teen parties as an important part of your youngster’s life. With careful planning and some rules in place, it is less likely that things would turn out badly. Indeed, it can be fun for all, including parents.
Don’t be unduly anxious, but at the same time don’t be in denial about the seamy side of parties.
* Ramphal is an educational psychologist with special interests in career counselling and the learning and behaviour problems of children and adolescents. Visit www.ramphaledupsych.co.za