If you're one of those parents whose teen has been going to parties each and every weekend and you haven't been policing the situation properly, to be honest, there's very little you can do. It's not only extremely difficult to change your approach 'midstream', it's also unfair and I can guarantee that your son or daughter will let you know that. In the words of my mother, "You've made your bed, now you've got to lie in it!" You can't all of a sudden insist on calling parents hosting a party or tell your child that they can't sleepover at someone's house if you've never done that sort of thing before. You can try, but you'll have problems and life won't be easy at your house ... Of course, if they've done something wrong and you're punishing them, that's a different matter, but suddenly changing your rules around parties is just not going to work. The only time that you possibly have a chance to change the way you do things is when they're making the transition from Year 10 to Year 11 - the move into upper secondary and those looming final exams. This is about the only time you can try a 'reboot'!
As they begin their final years, it is possible to renegotiate rules (or at least your approach to the rules) if you come at it in the right way. Of course you want them to have time to socialize and relax with their friends but partying every weekend, particularly if alcohol is involved, is not going to be helpful if they want to achieve their very best. Having a discussion about your expectations, the rules around parties and gatherings and the final years of high school can be really useful at this time.
But the parents that have the most to gain from getting it right now are those parents of Year 9s (sometimes Year 8s if the child is more socially developed or even Year 10s if they're a little less mature). I've talked about the Year 9 cohort many times, particularly around parenting and parties, but this is a great time to remind any parents going through this stage about some of the key issues they are about to face. This is the year that you start to hear about the party culture building (with a small but influential group starting to drink, some to excess) with some Year 9 girls being asked out by boys a couple of years older than them and subsequently finding themselves invited to Year 10 and 11 events. It's also when you begin to see students bringing cannabis to school and then being either suspended, 'moved on' or expelled. Year 9 certainly appears to be a very difficult time for many families, with parents often confused as to why this is happening.
This is the year they usually turn 14 and enter the time of their life often referred to as 'middle adolescence' - the time when the search for identity becomes a central concern. They start to pull away from their parents and their peer group becomes far more important. They're maturing and growing up, many are physically changing and are beginning to look much older, particularly the girls, and parents find themselves in a really difficult place. On the one hand they want to give their child the opportunity to create their own identity and establish where they fit in the world and start to make more decisions for themselves, but on the other, they want to keep them as safe as possible during this potentially very dangerous time and that involves maintaining rules and boundaries.
This is where these parents get into trouble - they can see that their child is growing up and believe that they need to let them start to make their own decisions and trust them 'to do the right thing'. Year 9 is the year of the 'sleepover', as well as the 'party' or 'gathering', and instead of making the call to parents hosting these events and dropping their teen off at the home and then picking them up, they begin to get increasing pressure (from their child but also friends and family members as well) to loosen the rules a little and let their child fly a little more. They've got to be trusted at some point but really, is Year 9 the time to do it, particularly when it comes to sleepovers and parties? Far from it - this is the time when if you see their wings sprouting, you should be getting a great big pair of garden shears and clipping them off as quickly as possible!
So to all you parents who are just about to begin that rollercoaster year, whatever age your teen may be (depending on their maturity level) - but I'll say it again, it's usually those dastardly Year 9s - here are just a few tips around the issue of sleepovers and parties:
- Don't be bullied into making a decision about whether they can attend or not. Gather the information you need to make an informed decision and if they tell you they need an answer now - the answer is 'no'. Take your time and get it right. If both parents are on the scene, make it clear right from the very start that both of you make decisions around sleepovers and parties. Adolescents are extremely clever at setting up one parent against the other and it is vital that they understand that there is a 'united front' on this issue. Make it clear to them by telling them – "Don’t come to me, don't go to them – come to us!"
- Know where your child is and who they're with – at this age, they're likely to start lying to you about where they're planning on going. If you want to let it slide, that's up to you, but I can guarantee you'll never forgive yourself if something terrible happens. To make absolutely sure, always take them to where they're going and pick them up. Don't leave it up to someone else to do if you can possibly help it!
- Always call the parents who are hosting the sleepover, party or gathering. Speak to them and find out some basic information about supervision and whether alcohol will be provided or tolerated. Your teen is not going to like this and they'll most probably tell you that you're ruining their life - but that's your job! If they tell you that they hate you - respond with "But I love you ..."
- Create rules and consequences around sleepovers and parties and stick to them. The beginning of the school year is a great time to have a family discussion about the rules you have in this area. The consequences of breaking those rules should also be clearly laid out and agreed to by your child. They can't say they're unfair later if they've agreed to them. Most importantly, if you don't follow-through should a rule be broken, you may as well throw in the towel straight away - the first time you buckle and let something slip, you will lose your credibility and your rules will become totally ineffective.
- If kids don't like the rules, then they're most probably perfect. But remember, reward good behaviour and modify the rules as they get older to make sure they're age appropriate.
- If things start to get out of control, get help. Too often parents leave it too long to seek help should things be going wrong in this area. If your teen is climbing out of the window on a Saturday night and not coming home, that is not normal behaviour. You can always start with the school counsellor, or even your GP, but make sure you talk to someone and get professional advice if things start to get too difficult!
And remember, it's not all about saying 'no' to everything. If you want a warm and positive relationship with your teen always look for opportunities to allow your child to do something. If it looks safe and you feel comfortable - say 'yes'! Wrapping them up in cotton wool and saying 'no' all the time is not healthy. But when you have made the decision that you're not going to give your permission, say 'no', make it clear why you're saying it and don't back down!