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To Party or Not to Party?

Andrea Ramsay Speers - Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Teenagers have all sorts of great ideas.  These may involve camping unsupervised with a group of friends, going to an unsupervised party at a friend's house while the parents are away (or, worse, throwing an unsupervised party at your house while you are away), or taking a summer job tree planting in northern Ontario.  While these ideas may be great as far as your child is concerned, you may have some serious reservations yourself.

So what do you do?

Any parent who has immediately replied, "No, you can't" has probably heard the "But everyone else is going!" response.  Which can lead you to wonder: is it true?  Is everyone else going?  Am I being unreasonable?  Or have all of the other parents lost their minds?

While saying "No way" may -- and I stress the word may -- avoid the problem for the time being, it does present its own challenges.  First of all, you run the risk of your teen just going out and doing it anyway.  If you've answered no because of a concern about safety or other risks, this can present a real problem.  Maybe your teen really isn't prepared to handle the situation, but now she's going and doing it anyway, without any support or education from you on how to handle the stickier situations.  You also run the risk of your kids just not telling you about these events, and lying to you about them when they do come up.  Inevitably these situations will arise again, and we can't just keep avoiding them forever.  And at the very least, if you say no outright, you're going to have one miserable teenager on your hands for the next little while.  Not a great atmosphere for fostering communication and relationship building.

If you have concerns about risks, don't just decide for your kids that they're not able to handle them; talk with your kids about your concerns.  Lay them out on the table.  Let your teen explain to you how she'll handle these concerns, and really listen.  Maybe she's better prepared than you think she is.  Maybe she's not -- but this would be a great opportunity to teach problem solving skills and how to handle uncomfortable or dangerous situations when she's away from you and your guidance.  Or perhaps it’s simply an opportunity for her to present her case in an organized and mature way.  Get her input too, and work together to find a solution you can both live with.  This doesn't undermine your authority as a parent -- trust me, it makes your kids respect you more when they believe that you'll be reasonable and thoughtfully consider their point of view. 

You may decide that you are still too uncomfortable with the situation to let your teen go ahead with her plans.  If you listen attentively, negotiate and work to find solutions together, even if you can't agree, she will respect you more if she feels that you have respected her, too.  Which will hopefully encourage her to see you as reasonable and willing to discuss whatever's on her mind, as well as eliminate her moping and sulking around the house.  Well, I can’t make any promises about that last part.

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Andrea Ramsay Speers • Psychotherapist & Parent Coach • Oakville Family Institute • 175 Glenashton Dr., Oakville ON • Tel.: 905-491-6949

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