Question 1: What Expectations Should I Put in Place?
Even though you can’t control what your teenager does when they are away from you (don’t you wish they came with a remote control?), there should be some clear guidelines of how you expect them to behave. Holding teens to high expectations importantly brings out the best in them.
It’s so important that you don’t just grab a bunch of regulations that don’t resonate with you. Your expectations should represent your family values and be things you can confidently own. Don’t compare your expectations to those of other families – expect them to be different.
My biggest expectations are that my children:
- Take care of their own safety
- Take care of the safety of others
- Exercise their own judgement and know why they are doing things. Avoid making any decisions based on peer pressure.
- Never, ever hesitate to call home
Question 2: How will I know if they are making wise choices?
You may not. Young people are going to make their own choices once you are out sight, don’t think any differently. Parents may not always like that judgement, but I hope we can walk beside them, so they can learn from their mistakes. Discussions about the ‘why’ behind expectations are so important. The more that young people internalize the ‘why’, the more likely they are to own your family values.
In saying that, if they are under 18 (or more realistically in high school) and you are concerned about their safety, be the parent and protect them as needed. Sometimes ‘no’ is the hardest but most important word to say. When we do this in a ‘soft and close’ way we open the door for discussions about family values that will strengthen them for the future. They may not like it, but they often understand it.
Question 3: How do I handle alcohol?
Research is suggesting that there is a great amount of confusion among parents as to how best moderate their child’s drinking, and that this is a difficult area to navigate. Parents need to assume that each party (host venue or home), will have different rules when it comes to alcohol consumption. Honest and open discussions about safety are always the best way forward.
I prefer teenagers to not drink alcohol at all, but this is seldom their reality. Please agree on an amount of alcohol your young person should drink and supply it for them rather than have them get it from older friends. Also remember that alcohol dramatically increases the risk of unprotected sexual activity, injuries, violence and high-risk behavior, so if they are drinking these are discussions that need to be had.
I suggest a zero-drug tolerance policy, which again is hard to monitor. I hope this sends a message to my own children that parties with drugs are unsafe, and important to avoid.
Question 4: What if they get into trouble?
If your young person telephones you because he or she is in trouble, praise them and get them home. No questions asked (especially not right in that moment). That might mean words like, “I am so glad you contacted me.” I have always put a ‘Taxi’ or ‘Uber’ app on my teens’ phones, so if they ever need transport quickly, they have access to it.
Parties can change very quickly, and it’s important that our teenagers are armed to safeguard themselves. I also think a list of emergency numbers are important for young people to know they have quick access to. Discussions about when to call an ambulance or the police are important to have, even though we all hope the need never arises.
Question 5: How do I know if a party is safe?
These are the questions you need to ask the party host before you say ‘yes’ to a party. These are also questions that I want our young people to be able to answer, to assess a party’s safety for themselves.
- Which of your close friends will be attending?
- How many teenagers will be attending? Will you know all or some of them?
- How much adult supervision will be supplied?
- Will there be alcohol? If so who is supplying it and how much?
- Do you have a plan if things get out of hand?
- Can I give you my phone number in case you need to contact me?
Question 6: What do I need to consider as the party host?
If you are the one holding the party, here are four brief tips from my local police that you can research in more depth before the big day!
- Plan ahead and have security
- Manage the alcohol (or better still, have a non-alcoholic event)
- Think about how you would handle an explosive, upset or drunk teenager
- Don’t confront gate crashers – call the police
- Have a strict no-drugs policy
RECOMMENDED READING: You can find more on this topic in my book ‘Parenting Teenage Girls in the Age of a New Normal‘