Column 11 ways to handle your child's first teen disco

Are the scare stories about teenage discos really true? Sheila O’Malley has some advice on how to navigate this rite of passage.

I REMEMBER THE excitement of going to my first few discos with friends, the endless conversations with the girls – looking forward to the nightand planning what to wear was a big part of it. As teens we made mistakes, as our teens will too. Yet, now we are parents, we can be unsure of the best way to keep our young person safe. The key is a strong relationship and strong boundaries for the teen years. Strong rules without a strong relationship with your teen may mean much conflict.

Gardaí say drink is the biggest problem and that teens arrive at discos either with drink taken or with drink on them. Where are they getting this alcohol? Be sure you do not provide the first drink.

Remember that newspapers sell on the basis of scary headlines; there may be a minority doing what papers say. Instead, use it as an opportunity to talk with your teen about your values and the behaviour you expect from them.

Finally, peer pressure is often blamed for how a teen behaves; studies show the more disconnected the teen, the stronger the influence the peer group is. The stronger the parent/teen relationship, it less of a problem the peer group is.

1. A strong relationship

The strength of the relationship is ultimately the only real control you have over your child. A strong bond between parent and young person where the communication is open (easier said than done!) as this humorous example shows:

  • ‘Where are you going?’ – ‘Nowhere’
  • ‘Who are you going with?’ – ‘No one’
  • ‘What are you doing?’ –’Nothing’

Spending time with them and telling them what they are doing right is very important during the teen years, as it is not an easy time for them. Being conscious of talking ‘with’ and not ‘at’ them is crucial, as you want them to feel they can open up to you. This is achieved by listening and acknowledging how they feel and giving them a sense of feeling understood.

2. Keep them busy

‘Delay and distract’ is great advice if you want your teenager to not have to deal with discos, alcohol and the opposite sex too early. Involvement in a sport or hobby is one of the best protectors for this. It may involve a commitment from you, but it is worth it in the long run. So often I am told of teenage boys/girls who ‘fall through the cracks’ when faced with things they simply are not ready to deal with, where a sport would have provided a healthier alternative in meeting the opposite sex.

3. Don’t give them an immediate answer to ‘everybody’s going’

It is always good to check with other parents and chat through arrangements. These parents may be dropping or collecting your teenager so important that you are both ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’.

4. Know the parents and validate the arrangement

Helpful, but not always easy if your teenager has changed friends from primary school, but worth the effort. Knowing the parents means you can make a quick call to confirm that arrangements are as you think they are. An example I heard recently involved a mum who thought her daughter was on a sleepover, but everyone at the sleepover (including her daughter) went to a disco. The mum of the house assumed she had permission. Many parents say how few parents call them when parties/sleepovers are at their house.

5. Clothes

The clothes that your teen chooses for going to the disco is a topic that really gets parents heated. Role model dressing appropriately and advise them that their outfit is sending a message, what message does it send? Do you want unwelcome attention? Talk about your preferences, ‘I’d prefer you to tone it down’. Over-controlling does not work – they simply change clothes.

Teens want to experiment with their identity and they make mistakes in their choice of clothes, but they learn from it too. The heels that leave them in agony for the evening are discarded for something more wearable the next time. So parents, take a deep breath and remember the vast majority come through these rites of passage unscathed.

6. Talk with them

Before giving them permission, it is important to use the opportunity to see how they would deal with situations that may arise, whether it’s unwelcome attention, pressure to drink, or a situation developing that they are not happy about.

7. Give them an ‘out’

They need to know that they can text you and you will call and tell them they are needed at home if they feel it is necessary. As Oprah says: ‘Doubt means don’t. Don’t move. Don’t rush forward’. Gardaí have told me that many teens who end up in trouble at a disco never intended to, they just feel they have no other option in the crowd. Telling them to say they feel unwell can be a way of leaving a situation they are unsure about. This may mean that you are on call for the evening, however.

8. Strong boundaries

After a strong relationship, we need to have strong boundaries for our young teenager, which makes them feel secure. They need boundaries around reasonable dress, no photos on Facebook that may cause them problems later, no alcohol, and appropriate behaviour. Talk with them about alcohol and give them good reasons not to drink. If you are not collecting them from the disco, you should think about staying up (or getting up) and being downstairs to let them in and have a quick chat – teens say knowing this means they don’t drink.

9. Negotiate

A key word for the teenage years is to negotiate differences. Our teens need to be listened to and treated with respect. An over-controlling parent may experience a teen who becomes out of control or who simply conforms through fear. A warm relationship where the teen has a sense of their feelings being understood and listened to, means differences can be negotiated.

10. Money – keep them a bit short

Too much money causes problems. Remember: they cannot drink without money.

11. Trust

Once you have communicated clearly-defined expectations with your teenager and the relationship is good, you need to trust them. Every teenager makes a mistake but with a strong relationship and when you keep communicating and negotiate difference you will find this transition easier. Don’t focus so much on having a ‘good teenager’ that you forget you already have one.

Sheila O Malley is one of Ireland’s leading parenting experts who set up Practical Parenting to offer support and training for parents. Sheila is a fully qualified Parent and Relationships Mentor who offers her services to companies and schools; is a regular contributor to TV and radio and is a former parenting correspondent with Independent Newspapers. Book Sheila for parenting/relationship and well-being talks or a course for your company or school, or try her one-on-one parent support service. Sheila runs workshops and courses year round – see for further details. To read more articles by Sheila for click here.

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