by Donna Nahlik, Chestnut Health Systems
(Teenage Son)..."Mom...Trevor is having a party this weekend...can I go?
(Mom)..."I don't think I know Trevor. How do you know him?"
(Teenage Son)..."He's in my Math class and he and James are really good friends."
(Mom)..."Are his parents going to be home?"
(Teenage Son)..."I think so...Yeah...I'm sure they are. Anyway...you should trust me. I'm a good kid."
So...does any of that sound familiar? The older our kids get, the better the chances they are spending quite a bit of time with kids that we do not know. Hourly class changes in middle and high school means your teen could interact with 100-150 other kids throughout the course of each day. Then you add in all of the activities they are involved in, and pretty soon your child has a lot of new friends.
As our teens spend more time with friends, a great deal of that time is spent away from our homes. While it is a positive and natural developmental step for them to make new friends and involve themselves in school activities, it can be worrisome for parents when their pre-teen or teen starts to spend time in (what amounts to be) strangers' homes. Parents report typical concerns about things like safety, supervision, and the availability of drugs and alcohol when their children are "hanging out" at a friend's house.
These concerns are not only normal...they are also the sign of a smart parent. Parents are right to be concerned about the environment in which their teens are spending time. Rules and circumstances are different in every household, and it is your right and responsibility as a parent to make sure that your child is surrounded by people who are aware of your family's values and who share your approach to parenting. For instance, you have the right to know if there will be adequate supervision at a party involving both boys and girls. You have the right to assure that no alcohol will be allowed at a party your high school student will be attending.
For whatever reason, many parents do not feel comfortable asking those questions. are certainly an option, but they are not the best way of handling the situation.
While we absolutely do not want to offend anyone when contacting another parent, the direct and honest approach is really the best way to handle the situation. home, make a phone call to the other parent just to introduce yourself.
The conversation could start something like this:
"Hi, this is Mary Smith and my son Thomas has gotten to be really good friends with your son Ryan. I understand that Thomas has been invited over this Friday, and I just wanted to make sure that you were aware of their plans."
"I know that Sarah and Emily are planning to hang out at your house on Friday evening. I appreciate you inviting my daughter. Will you or your husband be home during that time?"
"Hi, this is Mary Smith, and my son Tom is coming to your house for Anne's party on Saturday night. I just wanted to make sure that the party will be supervised. I hear that the party is alcohol-free and I just wanted to thank you for that. My family has strong beliefs about no alcohol use by teens and I am glad to know that the kids will be safe at your house."
"Hi, my daughter tells me that she and your daughter have gotten to be really good friends. I just wanted to introduce myself so that we can get to know each other a bit. I hear really nice things about your daughter and I wanted to let you know that they are welcome to hang out at our house this weekend if that works for you."
Once you begin the conversation, it is generally easy to get a feel for how the other parent handles certain situations. If they tell you that they are not planning to be home during a party their teen is hosting, for example, you will have to make the decision about whether or not your child will be allowed to attend. You will not know that until you ask, though.
I would also advise asking the parents about their plans for making sure that no alcohol or other drugs will be allowed at the party. Let them know about your family's "no-use" policy regarding drugs and alcohol, and ask for their help in keeping your child safe. Again, their response will let you know how to handle the situation with your own teen.
As long as you are respectful and polite, most parents will be happy that you called. In fact, they will probably be relieved because that means their child will be safe at your house as well.
Ultimately, your pre-teen or teenager is responsible for their own behavior. It is not the job of the other parent to ensure that your child makes good decisions when they out with friends. It is just nice knowing that there are other people out to provide support, knowing that we will be doing the same thing for them. Parenting is hard, and we can use all the help we can get.
The hardest part about making these kinds of calls is just picking up the phone. Remember who it is we are doing this for.
They're our kids...and they're worth it!