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Q: We have a 14-year-old son who, like other 14-year-olds, likes to attend parties. Our family rule is that we must speak to the parents of the host to ensure that they will be home during the party. We also offer snacks or soda, etc. My son, of course, doesn't like this. I have found that even some parents are a little put off when I call. I thought I was doing the correct thing in checking, but now I am beginning to wonder. It seems that the other parents are not doing this. Am I being over protective? Thank you.
A: From my own parenting and counseling of teens, it's all too common for teens to party at houses where no parent is present. In fact, it almost goes without saying that kids believe the only cool parties are the ones that kids are throwing without their parent's being home and without their parent's knowledge.
Drinking, drugging, and sexual activity can take place at absent-parent parties whereas they would have great difficulty occurring at your snack and soda parties. My guess is that as your son ages he will be inclined, as will his peers, to attend such unsupervised parties. It's only natural to be tempted by peer pressure.
Your dilemma is whether or not to explicitly or implicitly sanction behavior that does not conform to your value system. There is also a concern for physical safety here. I suspect your son will give you an angry response if you place party check up calls. I'm sure he will feel humiliated and embarrassed.
I don't think you should surrender your value system to please your son. I think you need to express your understanding of his wanting not to report in to you and he needs to hear your legitimate concerns in this regard. Dialogue is needed, not preaching or threatening. You certainly can ask him if he knows whether the party host's parents will be present (or if they know their house is being used for a party) and leave it at that. Whether you can live with the knowledge that you know kids are partying at another parent's house without their knowledge is a question only you can answer.
Can you come to an acceptance, albeit an uneasy one, that you will trust your son to "do the right thing" at unsupervised parties or are you unable to even entertain his presence at such events? I'm asking you more questions as opposed to giving you "the right answers" on this thorny topic to stimulate a productive parental discussion and family debate, where everyone's opinions are valued. Trust, values, guilt, safety-- all these are present in this decision-making. Good luck. Let me know what you decide.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.