In yesterday’s post, I told the story of coming home to catch a party that was already a bit out of control (parents’ definition) and might have gotten totally out of control (even by kids’ definition) if I hadn’t broken it up — and I highlighted the problem parents face — that virtually all teens do these things, so it’s something all parents need to deal with.
Parties when parents aren’t home are nothing new. It’s just that these days things are different in several ways.
First, binge-drinking seems to be much more of a problem. Some blame the binge-drinking epidemic on the increase in the drinking age to 21, and some say if you are old enough to serve your country as a soldier then you are old enough to drink alcohol.
My intention is not to go down the road of that debate; just to state that things are not great in the world of teens and drinking and that there are laws in place, teens have to abide by them, and we have to do what we can to uphold those laws, and most importantly, laws or not, we have to keep our teens safe. (One good piece of news is that kids these days are much more aware of the unacceptability of drinking and driving — thank goodness, and thanks to parents for doing their part to make sure their kids know to NEVER drive while impaired.)
The second difference these days is social media and cell phones. My kids’ teen years came just as high school kids began to live their lives on-line. In the old days, unless it was known well in advance that someone’s parents were away, it was harder to have a party get out of control within the course of a single night since the word couldn’t get around fast enough.
Since the onset of the era of cell phones, texting, Facebook, and the like, a party can get out of control in a matter of minutes, with the host teen having no ability to stop things once they get out of hand. In those situations, parents will be lucky if they come home and don’t find broken lamps and valuables, stained furniture and carpets (from food, drinks, and vomit), their bed used, and other mayhem. Even worse, you have to hope that no one gets hurt at your house and/or that the police don’t have to come to break up the party and charge the teens — and you — with a crime.
In part one of this series, I told of how we began setting our house alarm when we went out at night to make sure that our house wasn’t being used for teen parties. (The alarm assured that if our son, Jeremy, was going out for the night, he was going to stay out for the evening and not come home to have a party in the vacant house. Or, if he was going to be home, when we were to be out, he was to stay home alone for the evening.)
Towards the end of Jeremy’s sophomore year in high school, we found ourselves in a situation where we needed to go away as a family, but without Jeremy. The occasion was a weekend away to celebrate my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. Jeremy was on the high school lacrosse team at that time and they had a game that weekend. We have always respected the responsibility that a player has to his/her team, so we arranged for Jeremy to stay with a friend who was also on the team. We set the house alarm and told Jeremy he was not allowed in the house while we were gone.
When we got home from the weekend, we noticed a few things which seemed out of place. Not in the house, but in the backyard. For example, while we’re not obsessive about our patio furniture, we noticed that it was not the way we left it. Later, I spotted a portable fire pit in our side yard. And then I found tiki torches being stored in the garage. We asked Jeremy if he had held a party in our backyard while we were away. “Yes, I did,” he answered. “You said I wasn’t allowed in the house. You didn’t say I wasn’t allowed in the backyard.”
We didn’t know how many kids were at the backyard party, or exactly what went on. What we did know was that we would make sure in the future that not only the house, but also the yard was off-limits, and that we would police that — literally, asking the police to drive by to make sure nothing was going on.
The police idea wasn’t mine. A friend suggested it. He told me that the police love to be given a heads-up when you are away. Like me, they’re not looking to make busts. They want to prevent problems before they happen. We also would notify our neighbors if we were going to be away. That’s something we had done in the past, asking them to be on the lookout for burglars: “Watch out for suspicious people around our house. We’re going away this week.” Now it became, “Watch out for teens around our house. We’re going away this weekend, but leaving our teenager at a friend’s house.”
We told our kids the neighbors and the police would be on the lookout, and that if their friends put pressure on them to have a party, to tell their friends, “Sorry, no go. My parents told the police to drive by and our neighbors to be on the lookout.”
Another thing we did to avoid problems was to go out less frequently. Before our kids were teens, we had tried to go out every Saturday night as a “date night” — a chance to be grown-ups, to see friends, to get away from the house for a few hours. Life has a good way of timing things perfectly. We needed those date nights when the kids were super young. We still wanted them when the kids were teens, but didn’t “need” them as much.
By staying home, we could allow the kids to have friends over on those evenings or, if they were going out, we were able to have a quiet evening at home, something we couldn’t do when the kids were younger. And we knew, as I say repeatedly in my book, that Life is Long, meaning we don’t have to rush to fit in everything today. In this case, what it means is that we’ll have many years to go out on Saturday nights once our kids are out of the house and that we can go out less frequently during this incredibly brief period in our lives when it’s our responsibility to keep our teens and their friends safe.
Tomorrow I continue this series of posts with what we did to be sure we weren’t facilitating our kids’ ability to get their hands on alcohol.
I’m always interested in comments on my posts. I’m especially hopeful that readers will share suggestions on this post’s extremely important subject.
Please join the conversation. Share your comments and ideas…