You've just spent a weekend out of town. As you come up the drive, you notice tire marks on the front lawn and a hole in the front door. You pass through the door and take a look around -- your house is a mess. While you were away your teenager had a big party that got so out of control, the police were called to break it up. What do you do?
You could nag, rant and rave. But as much as you'd like to lose your temper, take a deep breath and think through your responses. While reading your kid the riot act may allow you to vent your feelings, there's a better way to help your son or daughter correct the situation in a way that teaches valuable lessons. Consider these three words: Safety, accountability, and responsibility.
First, consider the safety of your son or daughter and those who may have attended the party. If your home is damaged and the police were called, things were obviously out of control and you should ask many questions to get the answers you need to assess the safety of all involved.
Drugs and/or alcohol may have been used at the party. If so, make sure your teen is no longer under the influence of any intoxicants. Ask if anyone was hurt. Ask about sexual activity that may have taken place in your home and reinforce the importance of safe sex.
After your child's safety has been established, focus on accountability. Accountability means your son or daughter gives a full account of what happened. Discuss how the party started, escalated and got out of control. Take advantage of opportunities to teach problem solving and reinforce family rules.
Focus the conversation on the decisions your teen made along the way; take particular interest in his or her judgment and problem-solving strategies. Parents could offer a multitude of problem-solving strategies according to the scenarios discussed. Some may include: informing you about all parties that take place in your home, clearly limiting guests, calling you or a neighbour when in need of help. Your teen needs to know that his or her safety takes priority and that you will be there to help at all times. Convey that you care.
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Finally, tell your son or daughter that he or she is truly responsible for what happened as his or her decisions allowed for a cascade of problems. Your son or daughter should contact the parents of the other teens at the party, explain what happened and apologize. Further, they should tell the other parents if drugs or alcohol were available at the party and if sexual behaviour was known to be undertaken so that the other parents can attend to the safety needs of their children. This teaches your teen to show concern for the welfare of others, particularly when tied to their own behaviour. It also teaches them to deal with their mistakes forthrightly and understand the importance of displaying moral or ethical behaviour.
Taking responsibility is a call to duty on the part of your son or daughter to make amends and set things right. If there was damage, then they must restore the home as it was prior to the party. If the damage is so great that they cannot restore it, then they make restitution with partial, but significant payments. This is a natural consequence to their behaviour and likely more meaningful to any discipline you might dish out in anger. Let them pay a price for what they've done.
The power of example
In all the above, remember to keep your cool and your teen will focus on their behaviour, not yours. Wisely keep yourself in a position to talk and discuss the situation and any problems that may have lead up to it. Throughout, be a role model, be reasonable, and show concern and care for your child and their friends. Your teen will learn the significance and implications of their behaviour and how to take corrective action.
An out-of-control teen party may be a scary and upsetting incident to confront. However, by following the three steps of safety, accountability and responsibility, parents can help their son or daughter correct the situation and demonstrate the maturity to manage these situations. Our children learn as much from our responses as they do by managing the consequences of their behaviour.
Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW, is a social worker in private practice (Interaction Consultants). He provides expert counsel on a range of family life matters including child development, parent-child relations, marital and family therapy, and custody and access issues. A writer and workshop facilitator, he also founded the "I Promise Program" -- a safe driving initiative for teens. Visit www.yoursocialworker.com for more about Gary and his projects.
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