Most moms and dads can remember when their kids were little, totally dependent on adults to plan every birthday-party detail. Well now you have a teenager. And she's begging you to let her throw a party for what seems like the entire school—and wants you to pay for it. Oh, but would you mind driving to another state on the big night? (As if.) Luckily, parent-sanctioned events don't have to be uncool. With the help of my Facebook friends (other moms and dads who shared their party experiences), my 14-year-old daughter, her friend and our two families planned—and survived—our first teen celebration. I'm proud to say the night was a safe, satisfying success. Here's what we learned.
- Establish ground rules. Agree to help with—and fund—the festivities only after coming to an agreement about what the night will entail. Make your expectations known, especially regarding number of guests and ending time. Let your teen know she must help set up and clean up. Be clear about your no-tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs, and decide how you will handle infractions.
- Decide on logistics. If you don't have a large home or backyard, consider renting a venue like a multipurpose room in a church or community center. Discuss whether "friends of friends" will be welcome if they did not receive invitations. Be aware that they might be more likely than other guests to make trouble (like sneaking in alcohol or drugs, or picking fights), especially if you do not know them or their families.
- Review the details. Whether your kids spread the word via Facebook, Evite or another online service, double-check the invitation for accuracy and appropriate language. (We learned this the hard way: After the kids sent an invitation written in vague teenspeak, we had to do it over.)
- Be specific. Include start and finish times on the invitation. Specify an end that's one hour earlier than your real limit to allow for dawdling. Indicate the presence of chaperones, provide your phone number and be clear about your friend-of-friends policy. Even with these precautions, expect many more kids to attend. In our case only 30 kids confirmed (RSVP-ing is so 2001), but nearly 80 showed up. But hey, that's dance party math for you.
- Create a contact list. When kids RSVP, ask for a parent's phone number. Compile a list of contact information in case of problems or emergencies. With luck, you won't need to use the list, but it can be an important resource in case trouble arises. (More on this later.)
- Recruit chaperones. Your teens will protest (and loudly!), but remind them that you are legally responsible for what happens at the party. Ask a few other parents to help out. It doesn't hurt to have an imposing "bouncer" dad on hand to send a clear, no-nonsense message. See if you can persuade some of your friends to join in the fun, then use the time to catch up.
- Meet the parents. Wherever possible, connect directly with parents as they drop off their kids, and try to add missing contact numbers to your list. Ask parents how kids will be getting home and jot that down as well.
- Let your kids DJ. Okay, so you may have to listen to Lady Gaga and Kanye West over and over. Even if some lyrics seem offensive, there are more important things to worry about. Consider compromising here.
- Feed the beasts. Keep it simple: pizza (wait to order until kids arrive so you have an accurate head count), chips, pretzels, soda (buy plenty—teens consume a lot), and maybe some cookies or other sweet treats. Avoid food that requires plates or utensils. Don't make our mistake of setting out wrapped candies or you'll end up with a floor full of sticky trash! If it's a birthday party, consider cupcakes instead of a cake for easy consumption. Remember to distribute large garbage cans throughout the space.
- Make the rounds. Under the guise of restocking snack bowls, chaperones can take turns peering into any dark corners and checking on kids huddled outside. Some canoodling is to be expected (and essential to a successful party, from your teen's perspective), but maintain a PG-13 rating. If you see something suspicious—and this goes for signs of intoxication as well—discreetly talk to the kids in question. If need be, ask them to leave (this is where your parent contact list will come in handy). Just be sure to keep your teen informed to avert an embarrassing argument in front of guests.
Wrap It Up
- Continue supervising when the party ends. Refer to the contact list if kids are not picked up as planned. If there are delays or changes, or someone says she's using public transportation to get home, phone her parents and speak with them directly. At our party one girl went AWOL with a handful of friends we didn't know well. They were bent on having an unauthorized adventure. We nabbed them, called the girl's parents and sent the group home in a taxi.
- Connect while cleaning. After everyone has left, chat with your teen about the highlights. Ask what went well or what could have been better. Now that you've witnessed the behavior of other kids, you can learn more about your teen's relationships. It's a chance to get a rare glimpse into her complicated social world.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.