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There's a party! Can I go?

This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: a survival guide for parents of teenagers series.

The thought of teen parties may strike fear in the hearts of some parents. But with planning and forethought, teen parties can be a safe and fun alternative to unsupervised activities.

Parties at your home

When home is an inviting place to a teen’s friends, parents can get to know their teen’s friends and monitor their teen’s activities. Home can be a place to hang out, eat pizza, and watch movies. It can also be a place for a full-blown party. Here are suggestions if your teen throws a party.

  • Have your teen write down a list of who is invited. Encourage a party with a limited number of guests. Large parties can get out of hand.
  • Help your teen think through the invitations. Make it clear who is invited to prevent an out-of-control open house.
  • Timing is important. Inviting people too far ahead of time might draw uninvited guests. Too short a time doesn’t give parents time to plan ahead.
  • Settle on a time the party will end and communicate it in invitations. Open-ended invitations can let a party go later than you want.
  • Set rules for handling gate crashers. Too many uninvited guests can ruin a party. Some teens can be trusted to monitor gatecrashers on their own or with the help of friends. Other teens might need a parent to help them keep numbers under control.
  • Help your teen figure out party activities. Is the entertainment a movie, dancing, or just hanging out? Make suggestions for refreshments.
  • Be clear that alcohol and other drugs are not allowed. Don’t let teens bring in beverages since smuggling can occur. To help, check keys, backpacks, or other bags at the door.
  • Tell your teen ahead of time that anyone caught with illegal substances will be asked to leave. Parents will need to be called.
  • Stress that once guests are there they must stay there. Teens coming and going are an invitation to trouble.
  • Be home during the party. Maintain a discreet presence so that teens know you are around, but don’t participate unless invited. You might circulate occasionally with refreshments.
  • If the party is a fairly large one, walk around outside your home every once in a while to discourage drinking.
  • Consider inviting another parent or two. They can they help with refreshments, and they might know guests you don’t.
  • Check your state and/or community to see what laws apply to providing alcohol or to a place where people under 21 consume alcohol. If there is underage drinking, you could be sued for damages that occur.

The key to successful teen home parties is to work with your teen ahead of time so there are no surprises. Talk with other parents about how they handle parties, and do the things that will keep a party safe for your teen and their friends.

Parties away from home

Your teen will also get invited to parties away from your home. If you have a good relationship with your teen, it will be easier to talk with him or her about parties. Plan how they will get there and back, ask who will be there, what they will do, and the hours of the party. Sometimes teens leave out details, so do some checking.

Call the parents of the party-givers, even if your teen objects. Author Kate Kelly offers a clever way to do this:

Call, but call with an offer – “How nice of you to have the kids over Friday night. Could I drop off some soda ahead of time, or is there anything else I can do to help you out?” If the party was a surprise for the parents, you’ve just blown the whistle in the nicest of ways. If the call goes well, you’ve also made a new contact.

Create a network of parent contacts. Getting to know the families of your teen’s friends will come in handy. Here are some other tips:

  • Stress that if plans change, your teen must let you know. Teens thrive on being spontaneous, so encourage communication by cell phone or other means.
  • Rehearse what your teen can do if he wants to leave a party for any reason. Encourage him to call for a ride if he really needs one, no matter where he is or what time it is.
  • Remind your teen never to ride with anyone who has been drinking or using drugs.
  • Stay up until your teen comes home or tell her to wake you when she comes home. Wise parents always give their teen a good night hug. Consider it a loving “checkup.”
  • Be suspicious if your teen frequently asks to sleep elsewhere after a party. This could be a sign that alcohol or drugs are available at the party.
  • After a party, debrief with your teen. Talk about who was there, what they did, what was fun, and what wasn’t.

When you are away

We’ve all seen TV shows and movies about what happens when teens give a party while parents are away. Parents need to carefully consider whether to leave teens home alone. Here are some things to think about:

  • Ask a close relative or neighbor to keep an eye on things. Let your teen know that person will be checking.
  • Ask if your teen can stay with family, or with the family of a friend while you are gone.
  • Reconsider plans. Leaving might not be worth the risk if there is potential for an impromptu party.

Staying close to teens by being interested in their activities and friends will help keep communication lines open. When you work continuously on building trust, you will find it easier to set limits around parties at home and elsewhere. And teens will be more willing to share details about their activities.

Related resources

Parenting to Prevent Childhood Alcohol AbuseNational Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — Learn how to have parental influence on your teens through conscious and unconscious efforts, as well as when and how to talk with children about alcohol.

Colleen Gengler, Extension educator in family resiliency

Revised 2011; reviewed 2017 by Jodi Dworkin, Extension specialist and associate professor in family social science

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