Family

How to throw a party for your teenager that you won't live to regret

Teens will be teens, and that’ll probably involve alcohol. Is there a way to keep them safe without pulling the pin on fun? Yes, there is.

By: Sarah Catherall

In our garden the other day, I found a beer can stuck in the roots of a native tree. The living room carpet is splattered with wine stains and our recycling bin groans under the weight of empty bottles.

"You must be mad,'' some said, when I told them I was hosting my daughter's 18th birthday party. After all, I'd already thrown her two parties – one at the end of Year 12 and another at the end of Year 13.

If I count the number of parties I've thrown for her and her two younger sisters, I've actually hosted far more. My house could rightly be called the party house.

I hired Fairy Trina for her fifth birthday and Harry the Clown when she turned six. I've hosted laser-tag parties, gingerbread-decorating parties, pool parties.

Give me the option of a party with kids throwing tantrums about their goodie bags over one with good music and teens taking selfies, and I'd quickly choose the latter. The difference that parents are rightly nervous about is that lemonade is served at childhood parties, while at teen parties, they want Vodka Cruisers.

I was the ripe old age of 21 when my parents threw my first boozy party. Most of the parties I went to before then were secretive, when we slipped into friends' houses when their parents were out or away on holiday, drinking their liquor cabinets dry. Back in the 80s and 90s, the legal drinking age was 20, and alcohol wasn't sold in supermarkets. We managed to get booze anyway, partly because bouncers and liquor store staff never checked our IDs.

I'm no Edina in Absolutely Fabulous, trying to party with my daughter's friends, but I do think we should find a way to host teen parties so everyone's safe and happy. Parents seem so nervous to open their doors to drinking teens, so the kids do it on the sly.

Studies show teens are taking longer to grow up and have never been safer and more sensible. However, binge drinking is a serious social problem and I certainly don't advocate underage drinking. We need to find a middle ground, where we can supervise sensible drinking, because they'll do it anyway.

The law is that under-18s are allowed to drink as long as there's parental supervision and parents of minors give permission. When I hosted a party for my daughter before she reached 18, I required a text or phone call from her friends' parents, had extra adults there to supervise, and never needed to pull a bottle away or kick anyone out.

There are different ways to run an underage teen party. One friend required permission for the kids to drink, hired bouncers and made the drinking kids wear a wrist band.

Australian parenting expert Michael Hawton says teens are social creatures, so it's important to realise they'll party, but they need limits. "It's a good idea to tell other parents what the limits are ahead of time. By flagging how your party is going to roll out, you show homage to other parents who are wondering how things are going to go down," he tells me.

My daughter's latest party was more relaxing than ones in the past, partly because her friends are no longer minors. The girls turned up first, arriving in flimsy dresses and tottering on heels. The boys arrived later, en masse, like a tidal wave.

During the evening, my partner and I wandered around often enough to keep an eye on them, offering pies hot out of the oven and refilling bowls of chips. The kids got drunker as the night went on, but no-one seemed out of control. I met some of my daughter's new university friends, who thanked us for hosting.

At midnight, I reached for the stereo remote, pushed a few buttons and said, "Time to call the Ubers soon. And happy birthday!'', and we all started singing.

"That was such a great party, Mum, thanks,'' said my daughter, when she turned up with half a dozen friends the next day for the clean-up.