Saturday, 19 November 2016

Ensuring your child knows how to call an ambulance and that they have your support should they need to call: Not just a school's responsibility

If you've ever had to call 000, for whatever reason, I'm sure, like me, you found it quite a traumatic experience. You're not only trying to deal with an emergency situation, you also find yourself talking to an insanely calm voice on the other end of the line that keeps asking you questions when all you really want is the police, an ambulance or the fire brigade to show up as fast as humanly possible ... Don't get me wrong - emergency operators are amazing people who have to deal with life threatening situations every minute of every day, talking people through incredibly tough times, but boy it's not easy being the one who makes the call!

That is why I am constantly amazed at how many young people (and sometimes very young children) manage to do it so effectively. I believe one of the most important conversations any parent can have with their child (from a very early age and then regularly when they are in their teens) is ensuring that they know how to call an ambulance, what will happen when they do (i.e., what will they be asked and what information do they need?) and that they have your 100 per cent support should they ever need to make that lifesaving call.

Back in 2013 I wrote a blog entry after I received an email from a young woman who found herself in a situation where she had to make a 000 call, albeit after much resistance - some of you may remember the piece (which I have edited down below):

Last weekend one of my good friends ... decided to drink around 3 quarters of a bottle of vodka, eventually around the end of the night I was called over to come and look after him as he had thrown up ... he was foaming at the mouth and not responding to our attempts to keep him conscious. We had tried to reach his mother on his phone, however, his phone was locked and we could not get in, I told my friend that if his mother did not show up soon to call the ambulance. We had to call the ambulance eventually and I was very proud of my friend to have the courage to do it as many people, including parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that we didn’t need to be so dramatic. When we were on the phone to 000 we turned my friend (the boy who had been foaming at the mouth) onto his side into the recovery position and waited for the ambulance to arrive. The doctors and nurses eventually told us that he had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 and that he was lucky to have friends like us that were brave enough to call because if he had gone home by himself he would have either, choked on his own vomit, or gotten alcohol poisoning.
As I said at the time - isn't it wonderful that the young woman had the 'guts and gumption' to make that judgement call and ring for an ambulance ... but really, how appalling is it that "many people, including the parents at the party, were saying that he would be fine and that ... (she) ... didn't need to be so dramatic"? The young man was foaming at the mouth, barely conscious and the parents at the party said to this young woman that she was being dramatic because she wanted to call an ambulance - what were they thinking?

As I always say to students during my presentations, 'follow your heart, if the situation doesn't feel right, it probably isn't! If you want to call for help, call!' It may sound corny and, yes, sometimes the 'follow your heart' line gets a laugh from some in the audience, but it's a powerful message and one I hope gets through to young people.

But it's all well and good me providing these messages and I hope that they do make a difference, and of course, if they're reinforced by the school and classroom teacher that's even better - but nothing (and I repeat, nothing!) is more effective than having a parent let their child know their own views about calling 000 and that they have their total support should they ever need to make that all important call that could save someone's life ... One simple conversation at the appropriate time could make all the difference.
Now I know some parents will say that this is the school's responsibility and that doesn't this get taught in health education classes? I'm pretty sure that this comes from the belief that they feel they don't know enough about it and teachers are better equipped to provide information about 000 and how to call an ambulance. Well, to be quite honest, if you don't know anything about this area it's most probably time to find out (I have written a DARTA fact sheet called 'Calling 000 for a medical emergency' - take a quick look at it if you feel you should know more) - you never know when you may need to call for help yourself!
Here's some simple advice on how to best deal with the topic and some of the key points to cover:
  • Download the 'Emergency +' app from the App Store and acquaint yourself with its key features. This is a fantastic tool that everyone who owns a smartphone should have - when opened it provides all the key emergency numbers (you don't even have to dial them - just push them on the screen) and most importantly, it activates your GPS and provides not only your latitude and longitude but also your street address (so useful for young people who find themselves in an emergency situation and have to provide an address - I can assure you that almost all teens never know where they are on a Saturday night!)
  • If your child has a smartphone, sit down as a family and ensure that everyone (and I mean everyone - all adults included) puts the app onto their phone - this provides a great opportunity to talk about 000 and its services and when everyone does it, it helps to emphasise the importance of the service. If they don't own a smartphone, make sure they see all family members are loading it onto their phone.
  • If they have a mobile - make sure 000 is listed in their address book under 'Emergency'. Once again, talk about 000 and its services.
  • Ensure that they know that 000 can be accessed even if the phone does not have any credit or the phone is locked, i.e., you can pick up anyone's mobile and call 000 even if it locked. Show them that when the keypad is locked the option for 'emergency call' is always there.
  • Talk through what will happen when they call regarding a medical emergency (read through the DARTA fact sheet for full details) but the most important points include who they will be talking to (an emergency operator and then the ambulance operator - many teens are completely unaware that they will be talking to two people) and what information they will be asked for (location, mobile number and what is the problem).
  • Make sure they know that it is not them (or you) that pays for an ambulance if they make the call - it is the person being transported! A real barrier to teens calling for help for a friend is that they are frightened there will received a bill for the ambulance.
  • If you have ambulance cover, make sure they know that - I am absolutely gobsmacked that parents don't tell their kids this. They need to know that if they have to be transported, for whatever reason, you have medical insurance. If you live in Queensland or Tasmania they should be told that their ambulance costs are covered - once again, I am so surprised that more teens don't know this in those states.
  • Most importantly, ensure that they know that they have your complete support should they ever have to call an ambulance. I would suggest the following - "If you need an ambulance, you call one straight away. I totally support you. Then you call me - straight afterwards". Making that call can be traumatic - many young people will need their parents' support after they have done it, particularly if they went out on their own and had to fight others to do so ...
Our kids are truly incredible - they constantly amaze me with the things they are able to do and the decisions they make. Of course, some are going to do stupid things and make mistakes, but on the whole I believe the vast majority really want and try to do the right thing for the most part. Calling an ambulance due to a medical emergency, particularly if it relates to someone they care about, is one of the most traumatic things an adult can do, let alone a teenager. It is vital that parents have a conversation with their child about this topic as early as they can and then keep reinforcing the message of support as often as possible - believe me, it never gets old!

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Who do teens believe is the 'weakest link'? Which of their parents is more likely to say 'yes'?

At my parent sessions, when I talk about how easily teens are able to identify the 'weakest link', as far parenting is concerned, there are usually one of two responses from the couples in the room. Either one of them turns and stares accusingly, whilst the other tries as hard as they can to keep looking forward hoping it will all end quickly, or you simply see a room full of grown men and women swinging around to each other pointing fingers furiously! Not surprisingly, most parents are well aware who the 'weakest link' is in their family, i.e., the one that their child is more likely to go to in an attempt to get what they want, particularly in relation to alcohol and parties ... but what do young people think about this phenomenon and how are they most likely to use it to their advantage?

Once again, I'm going to be using the results of the questionnaire that I conducted through the year to look at this fascinating area. Of the more than 500 Year 10s and 11s who completed the brief survey, did they think it was their Mum or their Dad who was more likely to 'cave-in' and was their a gender preference, i.e., were daughters more likely to go to their Dads to get what they wanted? Once again, I don't think there are any real surprises when you look at the findings but it really is interesting to read some of the comments from these young people around this issue and, once again, see how cleverly they can manipulate their parents when it comes to getting what they want ...

The questions that were asked were as follows:

"Who is more likely to say "yes" if you asked them if you could go to a party - Mum or Dad?"
"Who is more likely to say "yes" if you ask for permission to drink alcohol at a party or gathering - Mum or Dad?"

Of the more than 300 responses (the questionnaire changed over time and so this question was not always included), it's official - sorry Mums, you are the weakest link! It must be said though that that it was pretty close and there were some interesting age and gender differences! Mums came out on top for both questions, although it was much closer as far as the provision of alcohol was concerned, with Dads increasingly being seen as the 'easy touch' as far as the Year 11 young men were concerned. So here is a brief summary of what the young people reported:
  • The majority (68%) of Year 10 and 11 students (male and female) believed that their Mum was more likely to say "yes" when asked if they could go to a party. There was no difference across the year groups but slightly higher numbers of young females were more likely to report that their mother would say "yes" than their male counterparts
  • Just over half (55%) of Year 10 and 11 students reported that Mum was more likely to say "yes" if they asked if they could drink alcohol at a party. There was a big gender difference as they got older, however, with 68% of Year 11 boys and only 48% of Year 11 girls more likely to ask Dad, with the numbers being much closer for the Year 10s
Few students provided a written comment for this question but here are a selection of some of their responses that provide some insight on why they chose the parent they did:
  • "Mum trusts me more than my Dad and she also knows more of my friends so I know she'll say yes when I ask about a party" (Year 10 female)
  • "Mum can't say no to me about anything" (Year 10 female)
  • "Dad always lets me do what I want in the end" (Year 11 female)
  • "I know that my Dad was drinking and going to parties at my age and so I always ask him. Mum will say no but my Dad can always make her change her mind" (Year 11 male)
  • "I don't ask either of them. I know both will say no" (Year 11 female)
When you looked at just those teens who reported that they did not drink alcohol, however, something really interesting popped up. I only provided two responses for the student to choose from for each of the question - Mum or Dad. For the question about parties some of those who completed the survey decided to tick both boxes (even though that wasn't an option), indicating that they felt that either of their parents could be approached in this area. Only a couple responded in a similar way for the question around alcohol (i.e., marking both boxes), however, of those young people who reported that they did not drink, almost one quarter of them indicated that neither of them would give permission. Does this mean that if your child knows that you won't give permission for them to drink alcohol then they are more inclined to make a healthier choice? That's certainly what the literature says and it seems to be the case here but this survey is certainly not scientific and you can't draw too many conclusions from it - but I think it's really interesting ...

I also think it's fascinating that as they get older young men are more likely to ask their fathers for alcohol. Could it be, as the young man commented above, that their sons are more likely to approach them from the 'hypocrisy' angle (an old favourite with teens) and try the line "I'm just doing what you did" and hope for a positive response? Or is it that they're simply trying it from a 'mateship' perspective, i.e., "Come on Dad, that's just what we young Aussie guys do!"

So how do you solve the 'weakest link' issue? Teens are experts at identifying which parent is more likely to give them what they want, isolate or 'silo' them, set one up against the other (e.g., "But Dad said I could if you said it was alright") and then bombard them until they get the answer they were after. It's never going to be easy but I suggest the following strategy to parents to prevent being set-up in this way around alcohol and parties:
  • Most importantly, there must be a 'united front' - you and your partner must be on the same page on this issue. This can be particularly difficult for split families but if you agree on nothing else, try to come to a compromise on this ... and decide on where you stand before you have any discussion with your teen. No matter what the family situation you're never going to get both parents completely on the same page in this area but do your best to meet each other halfway and always remember, it's about keeping your child safe, not being their best friend!
  • Sit down with your teen and tell them that you don't make any decision in this area and your partner doesn't make any decision - any decision made around alcohol and parties will be made by both of you. It must be made clear that coming to one of you and asking for something is not going to work - both of you, in consultation with your child, have to be involved in the decision-making process, no matter how urgent the request is ...
  • This is not going to work unless a specific time is designated each week or couple of days to allow your teen to ask both of you for permission and discuss their requests. If you tell them they have to ask both of you, it is imperative that you give them a time when they are able to do this - if you can't find this time don't even attempt this as you're simply not being fair and you'll just get a lot of resentment and anger
Whoever the weakest link in your family is (and if it's you, you know who you are!), they need support from their partner. I've looked everywhere for scientific research in this area and have been unsuccessful (if you know of any, please let me know). As already said, a united front in the area of alcohol and parties is crucial during the teen years and having one parent who simply can't say 'no', for whatever reason, is going to be problematic. Clearly stating that any decision in this area is never going to be made by one of you, no matter what the circumstances may be and then following through with this to the best of your ability will ensure that you and your partner make good, well thought through decisions about your teen's safety.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Can I? Can I? Can I? When do teens believe the best time is to try to wear you down and get the answer they want?

As I wrote about in a recent post, I have been collecting information throughout the year on a range of issues around parties and gatherings and alcohol from young people via a short questionnaire I ask them to fill out after the talks I present at schools. I now have over 500 completed surveys from Year 10 and 11 students across all three systems - public, Independent and Catholic - and over the next couple of months leading up to the Christmas holidays I thought I would share some of the results with readers of my blog - some of them are really fascinating ...

It needs to be made clear that this is not a rigorous piece of scientific research and I can't submit any of my 'findings' to a journal for publication, but the results provide a rough snapshot of what is happening across the country in this area. As much as I wanted to know about their drinking behaviour, that can be a dangerous area to get into (particularly around 'duty of care') so I tried to focus more on how the students are being parented in this area (or at least how they perceive they are being parented). The questionnaire has changed over the year - I've removed some questions and added others as issues have popped up - but no question has less than a sample size of 200 students having answered it, so that's pretty reasonable and gives me something to work with. It's important to remember that all the information provided is 'self-report' and there is no way of knowing what they are telling me about what is happening in their lives in this area is the truth, but in my experience I believe most teens are fairly honest when completing this type of survey.

There's an episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa want to go to the amusement park, Krustyworld and when Marge says 'no', you then see the two children beating their mother down in the next 4 or 5 scenes in a range of situations by asking "Can we go?", "Can we go?" "Can we go?", until finally she just gives up and says 'yes'! Many of you would have found yourself in a similar situation over the years and it's with that in mind that I included the following question in the survey:

"When do you think is the best time to ask your parents for permission to go to a party or gathering that you think they may not want you to go to?"

This followed another that asked whether or not they had actually ever been refused permission to attend a party they had been invited to and if they had, why were they told permission was not given? I'll report on the findings of that question later ... but for now, when do teens believe the best time is to ask their parents for something and get their desired outcome? I don't think the answers were particularly surprising but they certainly show you how smart our teens can be and how well they know their parents! Here is an example of one Year 11 female's response that pretty well summarises what the survey found ...

"The only time I ever ask my Mum whether I can go out on the weekend is when she is on the phone, particularly if she is talking to one of her best friends. I wait until she has been speaking for a while and then tell her that I need an urgent answer and then she usually says 'yes' to whatever I ask her. It's really easy ..."

Yes, the number one response to when do teens believe the best time to ask for something and get the response they wanted was when their parents were on the phone! As I said, no real surprises there. Most didn't give more detail than simply - 'on the phone' - but those that did seemed to know their parents incredibly well, identifying particular people that their parents spoke to as being important, and, of course, work-related phone calls being particularly useful when wanting to get the desired outcome, particularly where their fathers were concerned.

  • "When Dad is on a business call I can usually get what I want pretty quickly. He just says 'yes' and sends me away" (Year 10 male)
  • "If I know Mum is on a call to her sister I will always ask because I know the call goes forever and she'll say 'yes' to anything" (Year 10 female)

The two other times that appeared to be popular were while the parent was shopping (variations on the theme like bringing the shopping in from the car or unpacking the groceries were also reported) or when they were watching a television program they regularly watched (this seemed to be a particular favourite with the young men who completed the survey and was almost always used with their mothers - I'm not quite sure what that was about!). Here are some of the responses provided by students in these areas - I think the final one is priceless:

  • "When Mum is food shopping is the best. She doesn't always let me go but this is the best time as she seems to be distracted and doesn't always hear everything I say" (Year 10 female)
  • "When I help Mum with bringing in the shopping from the car I can ask her almost anything and she will let me do it. Sometimes she asks me about the party but other times I just get what I want" (Year 10 male)
  • "When one of Mum's TV shows is on and she doesn't want to be disturbed is the best time. She will tell me to be quiet when I ask her, I tell her it's urgent and then she usually says 'yes'" (Year 11 female)
  • "When Mum is watching 'Bold and the Beautiful' I can ask her for anything" (Year 10 male)

Teens certainly work out very quickly the best time to approach their parents to ensure they get the things they want. As you can see by their responses - they choose a time when you're distracted and more likely to say 'yes' just to get rid of them!

No parent should be making decisions about what their child is or isn't allowed to do on Saturday night 'on the run'. Saying 'yes' to something when you're distracted and being 'bullied' into something because it's supposedly urgent and they need an immediate response is not the best way to go and if something was to go wrong I can guarantee you would never forgive yourself.

This is why it is so important that you try to allocate a set period every week for your teen to sit down with you and your partner, together, so that they can discuss with you what they are doing in their life, what they may want to do on the weekend and anything else that is important. In a 'time-poor' world this can be extremely difficult for families to do but it is vital that you provide an opportunity for your teen to ask you for permission to attend parties, go places over the weekend, invite friends over and the like. Many parents I speak to say that the best time for them is the dinner table - to try to ensure that at least once a week the whole family sits down, no TV and no other electronic devices, and actually talks about the week that has been and the week and weekend to come. This way if they ask you for something and you don't feel comfortable about saying 'yes', you have the opportunity to talk it through, let them tell you why you shouldn't be worried and then a thoughtful, considered response can be given. Of course, it's never that easy and some teens do little more than grunt when you ask them anything about their life ... but being cornered by a teen while you're on the phone and then simply saying 'yes' to them just to get them off your back is not the way to go!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

One of those teen parties where everything goes right: One Mum's story she was desperate to share

I'm getting a little tired of talking about teenage parties and gatherings where things go wrong and I end up criticising parental behaviour that not only adversely affects their own child but other peoples' children as well. There are so many parties put on every weekend that go well - no dramas, no problems - just a bunch of wonderful young people getting together and having a great time and it's about time that I did my bit to acknowledge and celebrate these events.

I received an email from a Mum named Carol a few weeks ago who desperately wanted to share her experience with organising and hosting a teen party for her daughter's 15th birthday, not because it all went horribly wrong but because it went so well! It's taken a couple of weeks to get this written as we've spoken on the phone a couple of times since I received her message in an effort to try to pin down a couple of key things that she thinks led to the success. Here is Carol's original email ...

I have been reading your blog for the past couple of years and have read with great interest all the advice you have provided for parents around teenage parties and alcohol. My daughter, Hannah, was only 13 when I started to read your articles and I was amazed to read about some of the parenting behaviour that you described, particularly around not meeting the parents when they dropped the sons or daughters off at sleepovers or parties. When you came to my daughter's school my husband and I attended the parent session that you ran and it was after listening to you then that we sat down and had a big talk about how we were going to deal with this issue.

Fast forward two years and we made the decision to hold a 15th birthday party at our home for Hannah. She is a very social young lady and was desperate for us to let her have her friends over and show them a good time. She has been to many parties this year but she knows our rules and we always call the host parents, take her there and pick her up (often ending up picking up a number of her friends at the same time). She doesn't like the rules but we have promised her that they will be adjusted over time and we will reward good behaviour (just like you keep saying) so the moment there are no real dramas. It was also made clear to Hannah that if we were to have a party at our home then it would be held under our rules. She would be involved in the making of the rules and if she felt that the rules would ruin the party or embarrass her in any way then she could pull the plug at any time.

I cannot even begin to tell you how proud I was of Hannah and her 30 wonderful friends that came to our house last Saturday night! There were absolutely no issues whatsoever. We had no young people turn up to our home intoxicated, in fact, over 20 of the teens were walked to the door by at least one of their parents. To the best of our knowledge there was no alcohol consumed during the whole event and the kids looked like they had a great time. There were no gatecrashers, no noise complaints from neighbours and there was absolutely no damage (there wasn't even a broken glass!). The party started at 7.30pm and finished at 11.00pm , with most of the kids being picked up by a parent, with many of them once again actually coming to the door, and those that weren't we knew exactly who did pick them up and where they were going.  

I need to make it clear that these aren't a bunch of 'goody two shoes' who never do anything wrong. One of the girls who attended had recently found herself in trouble at a party and ended up in hospital with alcohol poisoning. Alcohol is already a part of some of these teens' lives but last Saturday they had a great time without it. My husband and I are so proud of them we could just bust! If you would like to share this on your blog I would be so very happy. We were really worried about putting on the party because we had heard all the horror stories but I think our story shows that if you put the effort in (and we did work very hard to get this right) you certainly reap the rewards!

Our kids are great and it is incredibly important to remember that there are hundreds of teenage parties and gatherings held every weekend that go off without a hitch - no problems at all! But as Carol said, you have to work hard to get it right - a successful and safe teenage party doesn't just happen. With that in mind I made contact with her to find out from her what she thought were the most important things she did that led to the party being safe, alcohol-free and still be seen as a great night by her daughter and her friends ... We've gone backwards and forwards on this over the past fortnight but here are the 5 tips she believes were the key to her success (there are a couple here that I think are great original ideas and good on her and Dale, her husband, for being so innovative):

  • Make sure your child is involved in the making of the rules and the organisation of the party. This doesn't mean that they make the rules but Hannah had been to some parties and she had a good idea of what worked and what didn't. There were some things that were totally non-negotiable and she was told that at the beginning, but in every other area we were willing to listen. Having her help organise the party was great too as she could see how much work it took and, once again, she knew what worked and what didn't. She certainly felt an ownership of the party and a great deal of pride at the end of the night about how well it went and that was extremely valuable.
  • Have a strict limit on number invited, RSVP only and no 'plus-ones'. Our greatest battle with Hannah was on how many could be invited - she originally wanted 100! I didn't think she even knew that many people but it was all about 'plus ones', with her girlfriends wanting to bring another person, usually an older boy. This was a non-negotiable rule - 30 invitees was our limit and to be quite honest I don't know how any parent could deal with anymore than that. Formal invitations were handed to people - no information was to be delivered via social media - and I had to receive a formal RSVP back before putting them on the guest list.
  • RSVPs have to include a contact number for one or both of the parents on the night of the party. This proved to be difficult to get for a couple of the young people attending and we did have two boys who tried to provide fake numbers (we rang every contact number when we got the RSVP to check that we had what we wanted but did it under the guise of thanking the Mum or Dad who answered for letting their child come and to briefly introduce ourselves). In the end we got a genuine number for all 30 of them and that made us feel so much more secure should something have gone wrong and we needed to make contact quickly with a parent.
  • Invite parents to a 'drop in and say hello' event at the house when they drop their child off at the party. We had no idea how this would go and whether anyone would take us up on this but we had an amazing response, both on the night and in the week after. We've never seen anyone else do it but had often thought when we dropped Hannah off at a party that it would be nice to meet some of the other parents and maybe even offer to assist the hosts if they looked like they needed it. We included a brief invitation to 'Drop in and say hello to Dale and Carol' on the actual hard-copy formal invitation to the party and mentioned it again when we called to check the mobile number that had been provided. We set a room aside (away from where the kids were) and allocated 30 minutes at the beginning of the party where we would 'meet and greet' any parent who wanted to come in and say hello ... We were really surprised how many took us up on the offer, most of them thanking us for giving them the opportunity to meet other parents. No-one stayed for longer than about 15 mins, although a couple of Mums did ask if we needed help with anything, offering to hang around if we did, but all were gone at the end of the 30 mins. 
  • Make it clear that no-one will be leaving the party without an adult picking them up. We were very conscious of the issue of unaccompanied teens leaving parties as we have picked up Hannah and watched many 14 and 15 year-olds wandering the streets at the end of the night, not a parent in sight. After the fights around how many were allowed to be invited, making it clear that no-one would be able to leave without an adult picking them up was our next greatest battle with our daughter. This was also the most difficult thing to organise - I don't think we got it perfectly right but we were pretty damn close! In the end, we left this with Hannah to organise, asking her to collect the names, together with a contact number, of the adults who would be collecting each of the 30 invitees. We went through this with her in the days before the party and if there were any names that didn't look right we checked on them with a phone call. That list was used at the end of the night to ensure that each of them was picked up by the adult who's name they provided. We did have a few parents who texted their child to pick them up and didn't come to the door, but in those cases we just rang the number we had to make sure it was really them and then sent them on their way. We also had two parents who used an Uber to pick up their child which really surprised us. In both cases, however, the parent rang us up as the car approached to let us know what was happening.    

Carol and Dale are amazing people! They went to great lengths to hold a wonderful party for their daughter but also make sure she and her friends were as safe as possible. I hope the parents of Hannah's friends appreciate their efforts.

It is important to acknowledge that Carol doesn't believe that she is going to be able to use all of these tips for future parties - as her daughter and her peers get older, she's going to have to relax some of the rules, trust them to do the right thing and allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. She certainly doesn't expect that many parents are going to be walking their 16 or 17 year-old down to her front door when she holds a party in a couple of years time, but for a 15th birthday party, this couple have done an incredible job and have every right to be proud of themselves, as well as their daughter and her friends. I really love a couple of the tips that Carol put together - i.e., ensuring the RSVP includes a contact number for one or both of the parents on the night of the party really provides the host parents with much greater peace of mind should anything go wrong and I think the 'drop in and say hello' event for parents is an inspired idea! If you've had similar successful events and want to share your experiences with others, please send your thoughts and ideas through to me - I'd love to hear them and pass them onto others ...

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Mixed sleepovers: What are parents thinking?

I'm not sure whether it's just the end of the year and I'm starting to get tired but I seem to be doing a fair bit of 'parent-bashing' at the moment ... I hope that regular readers of my blogs know that I think most of you guys are amazing! It's not easy being a parent - there are lots of challenges and, as I always say, there is no 'rule book' and so there's lots of 'trial and error' involved with the whole process. That said, over the past couple of months I have heard about some examples of parental behaviour, particularly around parties and gatherings, that just makes things so much more difficult for all you guys who are trying to do the right thing  ... case in point - mixed sleepovers!

In the past month I have been approached by parents at two different schools who have recently struggled with their teens over this issue and have no idea how to progress with the problem. Interestingly, both parents asked me to be extremely careful how I raised the topic as they were fearful that if I provided too much detail about their particular incident then they would be able to be identified and their children could suffer as a result. So with that in mind, I'm going to be fairly vague about details. In both cases, however, their teen was 15 years-old - one male and the other a Year 10 girl. The situations were very similar, both parents have fairly strict rules and boundaries around alcohol and almost always make sure they call the house where the party, gathering or whatever is being held and find out a little bit more about what will be happening. Recently their child had been asked to a 'gathering', with their teens making it very clear it was not a party - just a small group of close friends getting together on a Saturday night. They assured their parents there was to be no alcohol and, by the way, they also wanted to sleepover ... Although none of them felt really comfortable about the whole 'sleepover' thing, they agreed to it as long as they got some answers from the parents hosting the event to make sure that alcohol wasn't going to be part of the night. They called the hosts and asked the usual questions around supervision, alcohol, drop-off and pick-up time the next day and the like - received satisfactory answers and, as a result, agreed to let their children go ...

Both found out later (and in very different ways) that, in fact, this wasn't your typical 15 year-old sleepover. Yes, it was only a (comparatively) small group of teens attending but it was a mixed group - around 10-15 young men and young women in each of the cases - and in both there was little to no adult supervision, even though the parents had been assured that there would be when they had called and asked a specific question. Alcohol was snuck into one of the parties by some of those attending and the other had a range of alcoholic drinks provided by the hosts, completely contradicting what they had told parents over the phone when they had made enquiries. Boys and girls shared beds in some cases and were completely left to their own devices. What in heavens were the host parents thinking?

With hormones racing during this stage of adolescence, combined with alcohol and no supervision, it is a miracle that something terrible didn't happen (and most frighteningly it could have and we simply don't know about it) ... and all while their parents were at home believing that they were in a safe and secure environment!

With so many of these kind of issues, I always come back to what would have happened if schools and teachers acted in the same way? Can you imagine the outcry if a group of Year 10s went off to a school camp and the teachers just let a co-ed group of students go and sleep wherever they wanted? The number of hoops that teachers have to go through to organise a school camp or retreat is ridiculous, but rightly so - you want your kids to be safe. Ensuring the right numbers of male and female staff are present, that there is adequate supervision provided at all times and the facilities are safe and secure - the list goes on and on - and there's no alcohol added to the mix there! How a parent in their right mind could possibly think that holding a mixed sleepover for a group of 15 year-olds in their home is appropriate is beyond me! How do you control it and most importantly, why would you ever do it?

The thing that has made this so much more difficult for both of the families that I met is that they simply have no idea how to respond as far raising their concerns with the host parents. Both found out well after the sleepover was held (as I said in very different circumstances) and feel as though they would have had no problems confronting them immediately after the event but now too much time has gone past, i.e., "Nothing happened - what's your problem?" They're also extremely worried how their response will impact upon how their teen is viewed in their friendship group. If it all comes out and gets nasty, will their child be isolated or bullied for 'telling all'? One of the Mums also admitted that she was concerned about the effect this could have on her place in the parent group at the school. Apparently, the host mother of her daughter's party is extremely influential and powerful - although she wanted to be the 'whistle-blower', would it really be worth it in the long-term? Would it actually change anything?

What is the most frightening about this is that it now adds another layer to parental concern around teenage parties and gatherings. If a parent wants to make sure they do their 'due diligence' when it comes to checking up about what will be happening at the parties their child hopes to attend on a Saturday night, there are already so many questions that need to be asked. I think it's truly bizarre that if your 14-15 year-old child wants to stay over at a friend's house you now need to ask whether the host parents are planning a mixed sleepover or not! Unbelievable!