"Ethan, as you know, your mother and I are planning to go for the long weekend. But I have to ask you one thing: Can we trust you not to have any kind of party when we're gone?"
"Dad, I just want you and Mom to have a good time. God knows, you both deserve it. You have nothing to worry about."
"Thanks, Ethan. You're a good kid."
Little do they know, plans are already in motion for a party that Saturday night. Actually, even without any planning by their angelic Ethan, the party was going to happen anyway. It is a well known fact that as soon as parents go away, the houses themselves send out high-frequency ESP waves. These waves - aided by the Internet - broadcast the existence of a parentless house to all the teenagers in the vicinity. And indeed, that Saturday the house was not disappointed.
Once teenagers reach the end of their senior year and the summer nights grow warmer, parties start happening, often on a nightly basis. And with the majority of such parties, there is not just drinking, there is a lot of drinking.
How can kids be irresponsible, lie so easily and betray their parents' trust? Let's ask them.
"Don't you care about your parents? Don't you feel badly that you are abusing their faith in you?"
"You want me to be honest?"
"Yes, of course."
"I love my parents and all, but this doesn't have anything to do with that. It's just a party. It's the summer of my senior year. This is what we look forward to since forever. Soon everybody is going to be going off into their own lives. This is it. These are the best days of my life. You want us not to have parties? Besides, if my parents really cared so much, they wouldn't have gone off and left me alone at the house."
Being able to trust one's teenaged kids is wonderful, but don't count on it - at least when you go away. If you really don't want to have a party at your house in your absence, don't leave them alone.
"But that's not right," Ethan's mother might say. "A parent should be able to trust their teenaged child."
True, but like I said, if you sincerely don't want a party at your house, don't go away.
"Don't listen to him, Dad. He doesn't know what he's talking about. Mr. Know-it-all-psychologist. He probably didn't go to any parties in his adolescence."
And what if the party is not at your house? What if your kid is going out and you're pretty certain he or she is going to be at one of those summer parties - at another house with minimal or no adult supervision, or at some clearing off in the woods that all the kids know about and is the frequent site of such parties. What can you do?
Other than keeping your kid permanently locked in their room, you are stuck with the same options as most parents of teenagers when it comes to potentially risky situations. You try to stay on top of your child's activities as best as you can. Be specific as possible in asking them where they're going. And if they say "I can't tell you because it changes during the evening," have them check in with you. (But be prepared for: "I tried but my cell phone went dead again.")
You can call other parents if you are uncertain whether they're actually going to be home. Keeping track of your teen is good. It does constrict - to some degree - their freedom to get into trouble. But you cannot hide from the reality that kids who want to will find parties, and there will be activity at those parties with which you will not be comfortable.
There are real limits to your control of their potentially risky behaviour. But let me suggest a statement that can make a difference with one specific very risky behaviour.
Tell your teen: "Remember, if you are somewhere and the only way that you can get home is in a car where the driver has been drinking - whether it's you or another kid - call us and we will come get you. We will ask no questions, and you will not get in trouble with us."
I strongly recommend that last part. Kids might not call their parents when they are in that situation, but it does make them pause and think. They hear, "Drinking and driving is a seriously bad mix." And it does influence them. It does make a difference.
But the parties are going to happen. You do not want to be too naive about what teenagers say they do and what they actually do.
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books.
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