Coping with Teenage Parties and Sleepovers
Teenage parties and sleepovers may not be in the same league as worries about drug-taking or unprotected sex, but they are often a big concern for parents.
Should you allow them? What should the ‘rules of engagement’ be for attending or holding them?
These and many other questions all need to be resolved by the parents of teenagers.
This page takes a common sense approach providing advice about how to approach these questions, and others, and negotiate a way that works for the whole family.
Part of Growing Up?
Wanting to socialise with others is part of being human.
From an early stage in their lives, your children have probably attended and hosted parties and playdates with their friends. It is not unreasonable for them to expect this to continue once they reach their teenage years.
It is also not unreasonable for them to expect to be given more freedom and independence, with less adult supervision. See our page on Increasing Independence for more.
The problem lies in what you think that they may do at a teenage party or sleepover.
If you are like most other parents, excessive drinking, damaging property, unprotected sex and gatecrashers are probably high on your list of concerns.
But there is something more to consider.
Your child is growing up. Sooner or later, they are going to be on their own with their peers. If you never allow them to attend or host a party or sleepover, this may not be until they leave home or go to university. But, sooner or later, it will happen.
You cannot stop it. It is part of growing up.
So might it not be better to give them the responsibility earlier rather than later, at a point when adult supervision is more acceptable?
A party in someone’s house, even if their parents are away, is still governed by more rules, and probably safer, than sitting out in the park drinking cheap alcohol.
Perhaps the most important point is to negotiate a compromise that feels comfortable for both you and your child, recognising that they are growing up, but that you still have responsibility for them.
Children and the Law
One of the difficulties with teenage parties is that the legal situation for various activities is different at different ages and in different countries.
The age of consent for sexual activity, for example, varies around the world from about 14 to 18, with further variation for abuse of a position of trust, and acts involving two minors.
In the UK, for example, all sexual activity involving children under 16 is illegal.
You have a legal responsibility for children under 16 while they are in your house. You may, therefore, wish to use the law to ban, for example, any mixed sleepovers involving anyone under 16, in case anything happens.
On alcohol, however, the question is trickier.
In the UK:
- It is illegal to sell alcohol to anyone under 18, or for anyone under 18 to buy alcohol;
- It is also illegal to buy alcohol on behalf of someone under 18;
- It is NOT illegal for young people aged from 5 to 18 to drink alcohol at home or on private premises; but
- Government advice is that young people aged under 15 should not drink at all.
There is more about this in our page on Teenagers and Alcohol.
In the US:
- The minimum legal drinking age is 21;
- 45 states have some exemptions to this law, under certain circumstances, and some of these include being on private non-alcohol selling premises with parental consent;
- Five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, New Hampshire, and West Virginia) have NO exemptions to this law.
In the UK, therefore, you could use the law to justify a no-alcohol party for young people under 18, and could very reasonably say no alcohol for under 15s. You may, however, feel that it is safer for older teenagers to experiment under your supervision than elsewhere or on their own, and decide that you will provide a limited amount of alcohol.
In the US, this would be much trickier, and in many states, teenage parties would have to be alcohol-free. In other states, you might be able to permit some alcohol, provided all the parents had consented.
If in doubt, leave it out!
If you are in any doubt about the legal position in your location (for example, because you have just moved there, or you think the law may have changed recently), then the simple answer is just don’t permit it.
That way, you will not be caught out.
Your teenagers may not be happy, but they will have to respect your decision or incur the consequences.
Hosting Teenage Parties
Just because you are prepared to give your teenager and their peers the responsibility of having a party does not mean that you relinquish all control.
Instead, it is important to set out rules very clearly, and also the consequences of not abiding by them.
For a party in your house, these might include:
- For a sleepover, that boys and girls should be sleeping in separate bedrooms;
- That nobody is allowed to smoke in the house;
- At what time the music (and partying) has to stop;
- That there are rules on alcohol consumption (which may be age-dependent);
- That certain rooms are out of bounds (for example, upstairs rooms); and
- That your teenager must help you to clear up the next day, and pay for any damage themselves.
Make sure that all your teenager’s friends are also aware of the rules, and of the penalties for not keeping to them. That way, they too are responsible, and not just your child.
Safety in Numbers?
Your child may well tell you that everyone else’s parents allow them to smoke/sleep in the same room as members of the opposite sex/drink all night.
You may or may not believe them, and you may not care what anyone else does.
You certainly should not give in to pestering and bullying of this nature.
There is, however, a simple way to check. You can always speak to several sets of your child’s friends’ parents and see what rules they set. The chances are that they will be similar to yours. If they are not, you might want to rethink: are yours particularly lax, or particularly draconian, and should you reconsider?
Ultimately, however, it is up to you. This is your child, and only you can say where you feel comfortable drawing the boundaries.
Decide whether you plan to be present, perhaps in a separate room, or if you are going to go out and return later. The first time your child is hosting a party, it may be best to be present, but this is up to you to decide.
Attending Teenage Parties
There are some elementary precautions that you can take when your child is going to attend a party at someone else’s house.
- Always have a landline number for the house, so that you can call if you are concerned (with a mobile number, they could be elsewhere, and you would not know);
- For younger teenagers, you might have a word with the host’s parents beforehand, and check who will be supervising and what rules will apply. These are, of course, in addition to any that your child has to follow routinely (such as being home by a certain time);
- Agree when you are going to collect your child and/or an arrangement for a taxi. With mobile phones, it is tempting for them to say that they will phone you when they are ready, but you may not wish to be disturbed at 2am. Instead, it is best to agree a time.
- Make clear that your child can always phone and ask to be collected early if they are worried about anything. Some parents have a ‘no questions asked’ policy; others prefer to know what is happening.
A Common Sense Approach
It is tempting to think that the best course is simply to ban all parties and sleepovers. But this does not allow your teenager to develop the sense of responsibility that comes from being given responsibility. It also does not allow them to socialise, an important part of growing up.
Instead, you need to find and negotiate an approach to parties that works for both you and your teenager, and probably that changes over time. After all, a 13-year-old child is very different from the same person five years later. The law often recognises that, and your approach needs to do the same.