Most parents have been kept awake at some point by their noisy teenagers giggling with their friends until the early hours. Sometimes, however, such small gatherings can get out of hand - as former Prime Minister David Cameron is only too aware.
For their family holiday in Cornwall, the Camerons allowed their 15-year-old daughter to invite some friends to stay at their £2 million holiday home. Yet, after three days of loud, late nights - and the unexplained appearance of local boys in his living room - Cameron called the girls’ parents and took them to the station, according to The Sun. The party was over.
Arguably, the Camerons had a lucky escape. Raucous teen parties have increasingly hit headlines in recent years. Last year, police were called to Michael Gove’s home during his daughter’s disruptive party. Elsewhere, a ceiling collapsed at a 15-year-old’s party in Lincoln last November after word spread about the gathering on Facebook.
The social media site was also blamed when 600 revelers turned up to a 17-year-old’s £1 million house in Highgate. And, a few years prior, 1,000 young adults turned up to a girl’s 18th birthday party at her Georgian home, following a ‘shout out’ on Radio 1.
With such horror stories of underage drinking, smashed televisions and thousands of pounds worth of damages, you might understandably be apprehensive if your teen asks if they can throw a house party. Yet that need not be the case - as child psychologist Dr Rachel Andrew from Time Psychology shares how you can avoid house party mayhem.
Treat your teen with respect
Before you allow your teen to throw a party you need to establish what they want. How many people do they want to invite? How long do they want it to go on for? Will they be drinking alcohol? "The clearer you can be about what your teenager wants, the better - then you can start to negotiate that or make a decision about whether that is something you would even consider".
Of course, even after you’ve come to a compromise, there is no guarantee that the party won’t get out of hand. But it’s worth giving teens the benefit of the doubt that they won’t advertise the event on Facebook and “to give them a level of respect and a level of trust right at the start of the conversation,” Dr Andrew says.
Don't be too strict
You may think the best way to stop a party from getting out of hand is to enforce some strict rules. But allowing your child to only invite three friends to an alcohol-free 18th birthday party could “end up backfiring,” Dr Andrew warns.
“I think it can push teenagers the other way,” she says. If the rules are too strict then they may “make their own rules about the party” and make it bigger and badder than you could have ever imagined. “Having those strict rules that are non-negotiable, especially during the older teenage years, can then cause more extreme behaviours," she says.
Acknowledge peer pressure
Teenagers face enormous pressure from their friends to have alcohol, sex and everything in-between. “As a parent it’s about having an understanding of those teenage years where survival within your social group is sometimes more important than survival within your own family,” Dr Andrew advises.
Teenagers will feel pressure to have a “brilliant party”, she adds, which involves more people, more alcohol, louder music and a later curfew. “Sometimes the push for that is going to outweigh that level of respect and trust that you've built over those years."
To pre-empt this conflict, tell your teenager that you understand the pressure they are under, or ask them what they want from the party and why it’s important to them. Then, you can try to deliver the fun parts while making sure they don’t wreck the house.
Don't try to be "cool"
When trying to keep a house party under control, don’t try to be a laid-back, Cool Parent (the type who’s happy to smoke a joint with their kids). “I’ve definitely come across teenagers where there are no rules or boundaries and they talk about feeling like they're floating around and feeling uncared for and unsupported,” Dr Andrew says. “There's no rules in place so they can do what they want but it doesn't make them feel better."
Instead, therefore, you need to set boundaries and give your child “structure”. In terms of the party, it’s a balancing act. You need to establish ground rules but ensure “at the same time, within those rules, there is space for fun and excitement and all of those things that the teenage years should be about”.
Be non-judgmental if things go wrong
Regardless of how well you prepare for the party, people can turn up unexpectedly and situations can get out of hand. "Things like that can happen to anyone - and to the best of teenagers,” Dr Andrew says.
If your teenager’s party does get out of control, they need to know that they can turn to you. As a parent, you need to “create an environment where, if you child makes a mistake, they’re going to be able to come to you without the fear that they’re going to get told off,” Dr Andrew advises.
"I think that's a great sign if your teenager can then ring you up and say, 'please help me, this is out of hand' rather than cover it up even further or not tell you about it at all or, worst case scenario, you come home in the morning to absolute devastation."