From the Principal
Parenting, Risk-taking and Party Guidelines
Parenting, teenage risk-taking, and party guidelines continue to be an issue of concern for principals, parents and students. It is important to acknowledge from the outset that parties are an important social outlet for teenagers. Under the right circumstances, they should be encouraged. In the vast majority of cases, Carey families hold successful and enjoyable parties. However, a friendly and often-repeated warning should be kept in mind: large teenage parties can go horribly wrong. Where is the joy in a birthday party that is gate-crashed by strangers or where guests are physically assaulted, where alcohol misuse arises, illicit drugs are present, the house is damaged, neighbours are disturbed, and the police are required to intervene?
One common battlefield is the issue of teenage parties. While Carey is concerned about the welfare of staff and students at all times, its legal responsibility does not extend toprivate parties, including before and after parties around the school formal, and parties following official School club and society functions. Carey will not accept responsibility for private parties – this is a responsibility that parents cannot abdicate. However, when things go wrong, invariably the School extends its care to those who are affected. In speaking to parents regularly about this issue, we know they appreciate the following guidance from the School.
What are the two most important things you can say to your children?
- ‘I love you’
The word ‘no’ is important. As parents, we are not here to be our child’s best friend; we are here to love our children. Part of that love is to set and maintain clear boundaries.
Saying ‘no’ is not always easy, especially when it comes to parents negotiating expectations surrounding teenage parties.
Parenting has never been easy. Most of our parents did their best with the skills and resources they had, often under some challenging circumstances. With the wisdom of hindsight, and after experiencing the challenges of parenthood firsthand, most of us appreciate what our parents did for us.
Is parenting getting harder? I think so. We have the communications revolution to deal with; students make quicker and wider connections with others via the web, email, mobile phones, and text messaging. They are more materially wealthy than any previous generation, are probably more demanding, more willing to challenge authority, and want far greater freedom.
I firmly believe that compassion and understanding, rather than judgement and accusation, are the secrets to success in both education and parenting. Likewise, structure, routine and discipline are vital, even though at times the exchanges with a teenager can feel like a battlefield.
Firm but fair parenting
Most young people do the right thing most of the time, but your leadership as a parent is crucial. Do not be afraid to exercise good judgment, and do not be afraid of your child. He or she may appear to be physically large and mature, but this is not necessarily matched by emotional maturity and responsibility in behaviour. It is possible for the best young person to be carried away by peers and the euphoria of the moment.
Don’t believe the line that, ‘everyone who is 15 or 16 is allowed’ to do this or that, or go when or where they please. Don’t fall for the argument accompanied by a tantrum, or the sulking phrase: ‘Don’t you trust me?’
The most successful students are usually those who have been encouraged in the right ways, and display habits that have been provided by the strong leadership of good, consistent parenting and schooling.
Parenting and parties that go horribly wrong
The ultimate aim in parenting teenagers is for them to eventually be independently responsible. This cannot be achieved by over-management or by allowing teenagers to get into situations for which they are underprepared. Teenagers need practice thinking for themselves, but because of their inexperience, they also need guidelines.
At many parties, even when there has been no disaster, cigarettes and alcohol are often present. Inquiries often reveal some naivety on the part of our young students who seem to have little idea of the possible consequences of their behaviour. Sometimes the type and style of supervision, by otherwise sensible adults, is a contributing factor. Therefore, at this stage, I think it is appropriate that I reiterate some beliefs of mine and other Independent School Heads in relation to such matters:
- I believe that school students should not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol. Like voting, they are the rights of adults (those 18 and over). The laws of Victoria support this view and also make other drugs, such as marijuana or amphetamines, illegal.
- I believe students should be taught and have sensible approaches to alcohol modelled in the home. Not all teenagers drink alcohol, but many do. It is not uncommon, and quite acceptable, for teenagers aged 16 or 17 to have a glass of wine with their parents at dinner, or at a family occasion. Just remember though that recent research confirms that adolescent brains have not fully developed, so copious amounts of alcohol or any drugs are not recommended. Liberal quantities of alcohol and illegal drugs are often available at teenage parties and informal gatherings. There would be very few 16 year olds who have not attended a gathering and been directly exposed to such substances. Many say no, some do not.
- Not all teenagers tell the truth, nor do all adults. Sometimes assurances provided by teenagers to their parents – or by host parents to other parents – are inaccurate or untrue. There are many parents who think they know where their children are in the evenings, especially at weekends, but in reality have no idea because they either do not check up with the arrangements that have been made, or they feel there is no need to do so.
- Parties should be planned with your son or daughter well ahead of time. Good communication and ownership of the party by your son or daughter is important. There will be areas of agreement and others you will need to negotiate. It is important that you both understand and stick to the plan that you have devised together.
- Try and keep the party invitation list small. Smaller parties of around 20 guests are easier to supervise without feeling you are the police, which can undermine the trust between the parent and teenager.
- Consider the timing of the party. Parties during holidays are preferable, but it is not advisable to hold a party immediately before or after examination periods, before or after the School Formal, or to hold multiple parties for the same group of children within the span of a few weeks. Consider other activities apart from parties that provide opportunities for social interaction.
- To minimise the possibility of gate crashers, establish a guest list and issue individual written invitations. Information on the invitations should include the address and contact phone numbers for the host parents, start and finishing times, information about alcohol, and a request to RSVP via telephone. Avoid invitations that can be reprinted, and RSVPs being transmitted by social media or email. There should be a responsible adult at all points of entry to the party throughout the night, armed with the guest list.
- Check the guest list at the door as guests arrive. Never permit gate crashers, or others that you have not specifically invited entry into the party. The use of mobile phones, text messaging, and social networking sites have made the problem of gate crashing even worse. For any function, it is wise to have the assistance of other responsible adults and the services of a security firm for the purpose of supervision. Ask parents of other students attending to assist and offer to help when other parents are hosting a party. The adults should also move among the guests from time-to-time. As hosts, parents are responsible for the welfare and safety of other people’s sons and daughters; never leave young people in a house unsupervised.
- Make your ‘no illegal drugs’ position clear. You have a duty of care and may be liable if alcohol and drugs are served at your home. Work out how to manage the use of illicit drugs or excessive use of alcohol at your home in the days before the party. Your plans should include what is to be done in the event someone becomes sick or intoxicated.
- Define the party area. Ensure adequate lighting.
- Be careful about the moral and legal implications of selling alcohol, which includes the requirement to hold a liquor licence. It is an offence to sell alcohol to minors (young people under the age of 18 years), supply alcohol to minors in a public place, or serve alcohol to minors where they have paid an entrance fee. Minors cannot buy alcohol or drink alcohol in public places. It is now against Victorian law to serve alcohol to anyone under the age of 18 in a private home, unless their parents have given permission. Adults who break this law face a fine of over $7,000, the same amount a licensee would be fined for selling alcohol to a minor. If there is a doubt about whether permission has been given, the person who supplied the alcohol will need to prove they had permission. For more information about the Victorian Liquor laws, click here.
- When hosting a party for your child, it is problematic to allow BYO alcohol, as it is very difficult to control.
- Do not allow backpacks into the party. Set aside a secure cloakroom, supervised at all times by an adult, where bags are left during the party. Be vigilant about hip flasks. Never allow guests to leave the party and then return later. These guests may be using you and your function to disguise errant behaviour elsewhere.
- Negotiate rules about tobacco. It is illegal to supply cigarettes or tobacco to anyone under the age of 18. I encourage you to make the whole party smoke-free. If not, then ensure you have a number of designated smoke-free areas.
- There are many provisions under the criminal code relating to sexual offences and age restrictions. Parents must be mindful that when young people consume alcohol, their inhibitions decrease, and the likelihood of them engaging in sexual activity, with or without consent, might increase. As such, supervision of all areas of the premises is important.
- Advise neighbours and the local police of the date, time, and supervision arrangements, as well as the fact that there may be some loud music and general noise. Check the regulations regarding permitted noise levels in your area.
- Accidents can occur, damaging both people and property. Check that you have minimised the risks and that both your public liability and house and contents insurance is up-to-date. You have a duty of care to make sure that guests at your home are safe. Failure to fulfil this duty of care can result in legal action being instigated against you.
- Have back-up plans for ways to get your guests home safely. Check those who are driving are safe to do so. Prevent any person from driving who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and remember that probationary drivers are not permitted to have any alcohol in their system when they drive. Consider that some guests may have to sleep over if transport becomes a problem, or if the party finishes very late.
- Encourage appropriate forms of entertainment, including music and dancing. Boredom can lead to less desirable activities.
- Provide a safe and quiet place where young people can slow down away from the action of the party.
- Serve plenty of water, as well as soft drinks and finger foods that are popular with teenagers.
- Have a readily available list of emergency numbers and a first aid kit. Act immediately if someone gets violent, is injured, or is severely affected by drugs or alcohol. If someone is ill, do not delay in calling an ambulance. Many deaths have occurred because teenagers have delayed calling an ambulance because they were concerned about the legal, financial or disciplinary consequences of calling an ambulance, thus delaying urgently required medical attention. To encourage contact with the ambulance in such circumstances, remember that ambulance officers are not required by law to call the police to such drug or alcohol related incidents. Most children will also be covered by ambulance insurance.
- After the party, discuss what went well and what could have been done differently.
- Be sensitive about the strength of peer pressure and the desire of your son or daughter to be accepted and popular.
- Always check the supervision at the party. You should feel free to ask how the party will be run, what time it starts and finishes. Also ask if there will be alcohol and what plans are in place for dealing with situations such as gate crashers or intoxication.
- Deliver your daughter/son to the party or event yourself, and always collect her/him at an agreed time. Reserve the right to enter the venue yourself. You won’t be popular but parents are not there to be popular; it is your responsibility to provide parental love, leadership, and safe boundaries. Most young people will tell you that they are far more likely to drink or smoke if they think there is a chance they will not see their parents that evening. At the very least, always speak to your daughter/son when they get home.
- If you are not able to transport your daughter/son to and from the party, encourage your daughter/son to go out with trusted friends, and to leave the party together. Discuss what venues they intend to visit and which friend will be their buddy to keep them safe.
- Be sure that your daughter/son knows the strategies to avoid trouble and is knowledgeable about the risks of substances and situations. Encourage them not to be bullied or pressured into doing things against their will. You should always be immediately available by telephone if your daughter/son wishes to leave a difficult situation early. Encourage them to take a mobile phone and to call you if they need assistance. Provide them with cab vouchers for emergencies.
- Ask your daughter/son to let you know of any changes to their plans while they are out.
- Discuss with your daughter/son how the use of excessive alcohol, and the use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, ecstasy tablets and amphetamines, can affect people in social settings. Discuss the dangerous effects these substances can cause, both short-term and long -term. Practise what you preach in front of your children.
- Discuss with your daughter/son how some uninhibited venues – such as raves, some discos and clubs, and schoolies week – make it harder for young people to maintain self-control.
- If you make the decision that your daughter/son is permitted to drink alcohol:
- set a limit to their drinking in terms of types and quantity of alcohol and stick to it
- do not let them drive
- allow only trusted people to buy their drinks for them
- ask them to eat a full meal before leaving home
- space their drinks with non-alcoholic drinks and food, encouraging them to avoid shouts or top ups
- make sure they do not leave drinks unattended.
Further information can be obtained from the following:
Alcohol and other drug services in Victoria Treatment and Support
Victorian Liquor laws
Advice, information and support for parents and young people on the topic of alcohol and other drugs
Strictly Parenting: Everything you need to know about raising school-aged kids – The latest book from the adolescent psychologist, Professor Michael Carr-Gregg.
Carey’s Commitment to Drug and Alcohol Education
Carey has an excellent drugs and alcohol educational program. The biological and social issues relating to alcohol and drug use are discussed in the Senior School Enrichment Week program, in House sessions, and in curriculum units in various subjects such as Year 8 and 9 Health classes, Year 10 Science, and Years 11 and 12 Psychology. Prior to the School Formal each year, House staff discuss safe partying and alcohol issues with small groups of students.
Carey takes a strong stance against students who use alcohol, tobacco or drugs whilst under the care of the School.
Our School Counsellors, Chaplains and Pastoral Care Staff make themselves freely available to our students and their parents to discuss any issues associated with parties, adolescence, peer pressure, and drugs and alcohol.
Please do not hesitate to discuss any of these issues with your daughter/son’s teachers, House Mentor, the School Counsellors, Chaplains, Head of House, School Officers, Head of School, or me. Naturally your queries will be treated with respect and confidence.
I ask for all parents to work with us on these matters at all times.