You can already guess the drawbacks of entertaining teenagers in your own home (fingerprints all over the walls, no food left in the refrigerator, and so on), but there are some definite advantages. To begin, if they're at your house, you know where they are. In addition, if they're at your house, you'll get to know them (a little, anyway). It's also nice to let your teenager know that you welcome his friends just as you welcome your own.
Another thought to keep in mind: in most communities (especially in rural or suburban areas) the kids don't have a lot of options; movies are expensive, and ice cream parlors or local restaurants often close early. If they're looking for a safe place to simply hang out, they need a home.
And actually “hanging out” at your place is preferable to an official party that carries with it higher expectations than simply letting kids sit around and watch a movie or listen to music.
“There's a Party Tonight!”
If you do step into the role of official “party-thrower” for a birthday celebration or post-prom bash, keep the following in mind:
- Ask your teen to draw up a guest list of a limited number of kids. In general, 20–30 kids is a manageable group. (Large parties are almost impossible to control.)
- Specify “no crashers.” Once teens can drive, party-crashing can and does occur; indicate that you'll be around throughout the party, and if too many kids appear, you'll have to close down.
- Agree ahead of time to the hours of the party. An end time gives you added control.
- If your teen needs a reminder, say that alcohol and drugs will not be tolerated. If kids bring in beer or any other substance, you can certainly ask them to leave.
- Specify that those who come to the party are to stay at the party; kids arriving, leaving, and returning are more likely to be bringing in illegal substances or are partaking elsewhere and then coming back—and you don't need that either.
- While you certainly don't want to monitor the party moment-to-moment, try to walk by once or twice during the evening (if only to bring in more food). If the party is in a basement rec room, keep some of the food upstairs. If the kids come up and realize parents are around, their behavior will probably remain more civilized.
- Invite another parent to keep you company. This also provides you with someone who knows some of the kids whom you don't know.
- If you have agreed to a large party, notify the neighbors, and tell the police. The police may be able to make suggestions regarding parking, and if they're keeping their eye out for you that night, it's all for the good.
- See Talking About Drugs and Alcohol for information about your legal responsibilities regarding teens and alcohol.
Parents tell horror stories that sound like something straight out of Risky Business: they were out for the evening, and their teenagers entertained without permission. The results were disastrous: the neighbors called the police, many of the kids got drunk, and the living room furniture will never look the same.
You don't want to be those parents, but you also don't want your teen to be at that party. That's why I'm going to give you some additional guidelines.
Every book you read says, “Call the parents to find out if anyone is going to be home.” I recommend that, too, but with full acknowledgment that it's difficult to call people you don't know to quiz them about their plans and still maintain a relationship with your teen. As alternatives, you might try the following: (Don't tell your teen that you plan to call. It will only make him mad.)
- Call, but call with an offer: “How nice of you to have the kids over Friday night. Could I drop off some soda ahead of time, or is there anything else I can do to help you out?” If the party was a “surprise” party for the parents, you've just blown the whistle in the nicest of ways. If the call goes well, you've also made a new contact.
- Network. Call people you know who may be able to tell you what the scene will be like, or who can call and find out the arrangements for the party.
- Discuss times and transportation with your teen. What are the hours of the party, and how is your teen getting there? Remind her that if she goes elsewhere—for any reason—she's to call you.
- Tell your teen that she can call you (or another adult whom you both trust) at any time—no questions asked—if she wants to leave the party.
- Remind your teen never to ride with someone who has been drinking. (Refer to Teen Driving: Keeping Your Teen Safe for additional guidelines.)
- Stay awake, or have your teen wake you, when he gets home. This is your opportunity to check on what condition he's in following a party.
- Be suspicious if your teen frequently sleeps elsewhere after a party. He may not want to run into you for some reason. (Get the hint?)