Your teen wants to party. This is good in one sense. It means your teenager is making friends and socially included. In just about every other sense, this is bad.
For the purpose of this blog, when I say “party” I’m referring to teenagers who want to go to a house where there are no parents, lots of loud music, alcohol, and maybe drugs. When your teen wants to participate in that, what do you do?
If you know ahead of time that your teenager intends to go to a party like this, your knee-jerk reaction is probably to completely forbid it. If you have a strong relationship with your teenager, this might work. They will listen to you and grudgingly accept the alternatives you offer. Don’t show anger that they wanted to go; offer to send them and a friend to the movies or something like that. Give them an excuse they can give their friends as to why they aren’t going. You don’t want them saying, “My mom won’t let me go” because then their friends will start to criticize you. You probably don’t care what their friends think of you, and I wouldn’t really either. It’s more an issue of it slowly altering what your own child thinks of you.
If you aren’t as close with your adolescent, forbidding them to party will just cause them to lie. They’ll tell you they’re going to Jeff’s house and then they’ll go to the party instead. You could call Jeff’s parents to make sure they’re where they say they’ll be. Some parents have to resort to checking on their teens in this way. However, that shows a mistrust of your teen, and isn’t great for your relationship with them. Try telling them, “I trust you to go where you say you’ll be. If you find yourself leaving Jeff’s for another situation, please let me know. I trust you are a good enough kid to make the right decisions, especially if you’re confronted with drugs or alcohol.” Let them know that you’ll continue to extend them this trust as long as they don’t break it. Whatever you do, do not convey that you are doing your teen a favor. Express that you genuinely trust your teenager, and you’d be surprised and hurt to find out they have broken your trust.
For those of you who know for certain that your teenager is partying and breaking the law (underage drinking and/or drug use), you have to set ENFORCEABLE limits. Enforceable is in all caps because many, many parents I work with set rules they can’t enforce. You can forbid your child who to date, but how can you know who they’re seeing at school? You can’t tell your child they are not allowed to attend a party. Unless you make them stay at home 100% of the time, how can you know what they’re doing outside the house? What you can do is tell them exactly what will occur if they’re caught. If you know they’re drinking and driving, you will call the police. If you know they’re high, you will stop giving them money for anything at all. If you know they spent the night at a house where parents weren’t home, you will no longer be able to trust them with a car because they’re showing irresponsibility. If they are picked up by the police when a party is broken up, you will be unavailable to pick them up from jail until the next day. You get the idea. Make sure 100% of the responsibility is placed on your teenager for their choices. Don’t say these things in anger, but matter-of-factly and with love. Tell your teen these are all natural consequences of their choices, and you’ll simply allow the consequences to unfold without rescuing them.
Eventually your partying teenager will get into trouble for their actions. If they’re unsafe and they’re calling for a ride home, that’s one thing. However, in circumstances where they’re in trouble with the law or other parents, do not rescue them. It’s better for them to get consequences from the world than from you. They learn more and you aren’t blamed. It’s a win-win.
I know parenting is very challenging sometimes. It’s hard to know where the line is for when to step-in and when not to. I’m generally a fan of staying in constant conversation with your teenager, but not rescuing.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT