Teen parties — what are your rules for attending or hosting one?
As fall and the winter holidays approach, your teen or tween may receive invitations to a few parties. Parents may watch in discomfort as trampoline parties and best-friends sleepovers give way to mixed-gender festivities. Even though we know this is the natural progression of things, the first party invitations may also “invite” stress upon parents.
What ground rules do you set for a party your child will be attending? What about a party at your place?
Our parents sound off here.
Larry W. » Amherst, age 40
Married father of two girls, ages 11 and 9
Eagle eye hosting. Last October, my 11-year-old daughter hosted her first boy/girl Halloween party. This was one of several firsts for us, but most significantly having the responsibility of keeping an eye on other people’s children to be sure they weren’t somewhere making out in our house. This was our number one rule, which I frequently reminded our guests — much to the complete embarrassment of our daughter. I attended enough parties in junior high to remember the buzz the following Monday at school about who kissed who and who got to second base before curfew. While I understand this is an adolescent rite of passage, we were determined not to be the parents who watched TV in their bedroom while a party was going on in our house.
The party mainly took place on the first floor, with games in the basement. I called in some reinforcements and had some friends at the house as extra sets of eyes and to help to facilitate games — making sure there was an adult on both floors, not to hover over them, but to just be a presence in the room. Much to my pleasant surprise, it didn’t appear making out was on anyone’s radar. These kids were still whispering to friends in corners and throwing candy at the opposite sex.
I hear over and over again how this generation is growing up too quickly and they’re exposed to so much at younger and younger ages. I never considered that those awkward pre-teen feelings persist in spite of overexposure to technology and social media. I’m thankful they do.
Melissa R. » Windham, age 44
Stay-at-home married mom of three: 14-year-old, twin boys, 10-year-old girl
Know the parents. I’m coming at this one with the perspective of being right on the cusp of it. My twin boys are 14, so they have just started attending parties with other teens. And let’s face it — the real concern is mixed parties with other teens, although there’s plenty of trouble a group of boys can get into all by themselves.
So the main ground rule we have established at this point is that parents must be home, and that needs to be verified either by me or my husband getting in touch with them directly or physically getting out of the car when we drop them off to lay eyes on and speak to them. We also only allow them to attend parties where we at least know the parents by reputation.
We have established a “call us anytime, no questions asked” policy, and I really hope that we can stand by it. [I wouldn’t normally] recommend works of fiction in an advice column, but in this case the book “Night Road” by Kristin Hannah is so relevant that I’m making an exception. I read it three years ago and it has stayed with me as far as this issue goes. I firmly believe that it should be required reading for all parents who have children that are or are about to be eligible to drive.
At the end of the day, it sounds cliche but you really do have to cross your fingers and hope that you raised them right. It helps that my boys are athletes and our town has a zero-tolerance policy; if a kid on the team is even caught at a party with drinking or drugs, regardless of whether they are participating or not, they are automatically off the team. That’s a huge deterrent, as are the numerous apps out there that make it more likely than not that they will be caught. But teens are going to be teens. And we have to let them be, to some extent. So we do what we can, and pray at the end of the day that it’s enough.
Kathleen P. » Nashua, age 53
Single mom of a 13-year-old daughter
Transparency is key. For me, when my daughter is inevitably invited to a boy/girl party, I will be unapologetically gathering as much data as possible ahead of time. I will text and/or call the parent(s); I will hear firsthand that at least one adult will be home the entirety of the party; I will know exactly what the itinerary is for the event — who, what, where, and duration. I will confirm with the parent throwing the party the number of kids and the boy/girl ratio.
I don’t feel that I qualify as a “helicopter parent.” However, I have been constantly amazed over the years at how many parents have left their kids off in my driveway, never meeting or talking to me, or checking out my home. That won’t be happening with my kid.
If we had a mixed party at our house, the rule would be open doors everywhere, and respecting my house, our rules and each other.
And of course, we will always have the “call me anytime and I will come get you” rule, until I’m so old they take my driver’s license away.
Michelle M. » Nashua, age 55
Married, working mom of “five amazing young adults”
Hold on loosely. Oh, parties! Kids want them, parents fear them. I have had a variety of experiences with this topic and it boils down to some pretty simple concepts.
If your kid doesn’t have good grades, is in trouble a lot, is acting like an at-risk youth — DON’T leave town! There will be a party, your neighbors will be angry and everyone could be in trouble. I don’t suggest throwing parties or having a bunch of people over for at-risk kids. Explain this to your child: “I would love to give you and your friends space to hang out, but I have to be able to trust you first and currently I don’t.” That is a perfectly reasonable thing to say.
If you have a great kid who wants to have people over and it is happening frequently — give them some space! Make it OK to hang at your house. Watch for kids leaving for “a drive” or “to grab something” — that can mean they are leaving to smoke things they shouldn’t. Mostly, though, evaluate the guests. Are they basically good kids, too? Do they just need a place to be kids? Do you know or have you spoken to the parents of the kids that are around a lot? You should. Be sure everyone is on the same page and be sure your guests have permission to be at your home.
It is tempting to let a bunch of great kids that you have known for years “sneak” beer into your home, especially if you are providing them space. Don’t do it. Or be sure that every parent of every kid there knows what they are up to. I faced this primarily with young college kids, and mostly I looked the other way, so long as I had the car keys and I knew the kids and parents involved.
Allow innocent fun. It’s tempting to try to tame the teenager. I don’t recommend it. Let them have a food fight, or throw cake at the birthday girl. Give them access to a fire pit and some marshmallows.
Remember when you were young? You just wanted space to hang. Provide it and get to know your kid’s friends. You will know when and how to trust.
You are preparing your kids for college, right? Well there will be parties and drinking and friends and fun. Let them practice now. Help them temper their urges by encouraging them to attend and have gatherings AND get their work done at school and at home while keeping their grades up. Don’t always say no to Wednesday night, but make it clear that you expect that child to be up and ready on time for school with homework done. When they fail — and they will at least once — don’t feel sorry for the sleepy person. Make it clear this is the price of Wednesday night fun, so they have practice saying “no” before it’s a frat party every night.
Your amazing kid is going to do a few things that you can count on. He/she will try marijuana and might like it; he/she will drink; parties will happen and can get out of control. Your job is to teach your child when “no” is a good idea, that responsibilities are not to be neglected for a good time, and that without moderation, there is big trouble.
If you’d like to participate in a future Tween Us Parents roundtable, email firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of ParentingNH.