Teens and Party Boundaries

Checks and balances to help parents navigate the murky waters of unchaperoned events and independence.

Party planning was a piece of cake when your kids were little. Your biggest decision was whether to hit the kindergym or climbing wall. But navigating the teen party world is much more complicated. When you suggest a parent- supervised “chips and pop” gathering, your teen rolls her eyes. While she begs for a sophisticated, “parent free” soirée, you fear cases of beer snuck into your basement and house-trashing party crashers.

But it is possible to be a cool parent while keeping checks and balances on your teen’s party life, beginning with getting to know her friends. Try something as simple as, “Nice nose ring – did that hurt?” (Your kid’s friends are much more likely to respect you and your property when you show interest in them.) Read on for more tips from Toronto parent educator Beverley Cathcart-Ross and parents who have been in the teen trenches.

Dare to be different
With kids this age, it’s best to plan a party that avoids too much hanging out time. A cool itinerary will help sell your teen – and her friends – on your parent-approved, adult-supervised plans. Just follow her interests. Your young movie mogul might enjoy a cinema night with friends while you hide in the back row. They’ll tolerate your presence, since you’re their cheery, low-pro chauffeur. The Allins of Guelph, Ont., celebrated their daughter Jerushia’s 15th birthday by driving her and five friends to a Toronto mega mall for “big city” shopping and lunch. (They picked up lunch and covered transportation; the girls came with their own shopping money.) A sports fan might like an afternoon at the batting cages.

Soul-search and take a stand
“A lot of parents of teens lack confidence to follow through on values they feel strongly about,” says Cathcart-Ross. Instead, be clear about where you stand. For example, try, “I can’t control if you and your friends decide to experiment with alcohol, but it won’t be served in our home – you’re underage.” Be aware that you’re modeling values for your child. If they see you serving alcohol to minors, they may disregard other laws.

Be loving, not liable
Connie Tannen of Edmonton (who asked that her name be changed) sometimes lets 16-year-olds that she knows well drink at her home. For safety, she insists that they tell their parents that they will be drinking, and agree to stay over or go home in a taxi. “Better to let [teens] off the leash, but stay close enough to let them make good decisions and steer them away from the lethal ones,” she says. Serving alcohol to underage teens may seem like a lesser evil, especially to rural parents who know kids hold bush parties when they have nowhere else to go. Ask yourself, though, if it’s really possible to ensure that no kids will get behind the wheel after they leave your place, or wind up with alcohol poisoning or in some other unsafe situation. Remember that you can be held liable.

Get friendly with the folks
Get to know your kids’ friends’ parents at school functions, or call them up and introduce yourself. When Julia Rosien’s teenaged son was invited to a sleepover where the rest of the guests would be girls, she phoned the parents and arranged for her son to stay for the afternoon and evening only. “There are some things that are non-negotiable,” says the Kitchener, Ont., mom.

Don’t let it get unruly
If the party will be at your house, discuss ground rules you and your teen can both live with. “Pre-planning is vital,” says Cathcart-Ross. For example, if your teen begs for an adult-free party, compromise by agreeing to stay upstairs. Negotiate exact party start and end times. Ask if she needs a reminder call on her cell phone 15 minutes before the party’s over. And explain that you’ll come downstairs if kids linger past closing time. For tips on planning safe parties, check out safegrad.com.

Realize stuff happens
Sometimes, despite your best plans, parties get crashed or out of control. “It’s going to happen no matter how diligent you are,” says Cathcart-Ross. So what’s a parent to do? As long as there’s nothing life-threatening going on, help your teenagers take responsibility and look for solutions. As she says, “They made a choice, and we have faith that they will handle the outcome.”

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