No Alcohol Allowed

The temptation to drink at teen parties can have devastating effects
By Gary Koen

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Everything changes during adolescence, including the perception of what constitutes a good party. Gone are the days when a jumping castle, a swimming costume and a birthday cake was all that was needed to have a good time. Though you may find that many boys of 13, 14 and even 15 would still prefer a cricket or rugby party to a dance party, while a lot of girls would opt for a sleepover or DVDs with a few friends, than the hyped-buzz of a dance party.
 
Parties tend to evoke a range of anxieties, from the fear of being left out of the cool, fabulous and fantastic time that everyone appears to be having, to the equally crippling fear of being at a party and not having the cool, fantastic and fabulous time that everyone else appears to be having. It’s little wonder then that so many teenagers deal with the devastating possibility of rejection by falling down drunk at the party.
 
A party should teach teenagers how to overcome shyness and awkwardness when socialising, and how to hold a conversation with someone they have just met. They should discover that they have the resources to overcome their anxiety and possibly take a few social risks. These include: learning how to accept or decline an invitation; preparing for the party, including deciding who to go with, what to wear, how to get there and home and what time to leave; asking someone to dance or even coping with rejection. If anything, now is the time for teenagers to learn a vital lesson – that it is possible to socialise and enjoy the company of others without the need for alcohol. Unless they go through these awkward moments, where they learn to handle themselves and take sober risks without the help of alcohol, they are never going to find out who they are or can be. Teenagers who rely on alcohol to help them overcome these very natural and normal jitters do so at the expense of their own growth as individuals.
 
Establish the ground rules
 
The only time that teenagers really have a good time is when they feel safe. If the party is well-organised, they are more likely to relax and enjoy themselves. The reality is that teenagers hardly need alcohol to have fun at a party. Their natural state of mind is almost an altered state of mind – you may have experienced this while sitting at a table with a group of teenagers who are joking, laughing and finding every story funnier than the next. They are virtually oblivious to the adults around them, and the last thing any of them needs is a drink. Alcohol will spoil the party, it will not enhance it. The moment some wannabe decides to smuggle a bottle of alcohol into the venue, the atmosphere changes, and not for the better. Little groups start furtively disappearing into the garden. The mood becomes fractured as others become aware of what is happening. Instead of feeling like they can be open and relaxed, they suddenly feel as if there is something to hide. The party starts to break up and children start to feel unsafe. Alcohol is too powerful a drug for teenagers to control. Something always goes wrong.
 
It can be relatively benign, with some poor wretch sitting huddled and snivelling beneath a vomit-soaked blanket or it can be really dangerous. An ambulance had to be called to a school hosted function in Cape Town last year because two teenagers had been rendered completely comatose by alcohol. They had to be hospitalised and treated for alcohol poisoning, while several others were dangerously drunk.
 
In another sinister and serious incident at a house party, a 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, both very drunk, disappeared into the garden. They were later discovered by their friends in an extremely compromising position. The news spreads rapidly and a few photos, which were later distributed around school, were taken. When she saw the photos, the girl claimed to have no recollection of the evening. Their parents found out and lawyers had to get involved. This was not just a couple of teenagers having “fun”. These are not good memories to have; these incidents can have serious and lasting consequences for everyone involved. The list of alcohol-related injuries racked up at parties – from slashed faces, to broken jaws and fractured skulls – is also staggering.
 
We all know the myth that alcohol is supposed to relax people and make them more convivial and easy-going. However, when it comes to teenagers, the reverse is invariably true. Alcohol inevitably brings chaos and stress to a teenage party. No alcohol should be allowed.
 
Plan the party with your teenager
 
When your teenager announces that they are going to host a party, do not simply grunt from behind your newspaper or mumble, “Yes, dear that sounds fine”. Before you realise it, your weekend may have a few unanticipated surprises. I know of one teenager who was given carte blanche to plan his own party and, using his father’s credit card, managed to rent out an entire nightclub for the occasion.
 
Keep the party numbers down
 
Given the proliferation of friends on Facebook, if all of your teenager’s “friends” came to their party, you would have to hire the school hall to accommodate them. Therefore the basic rule of thumb is that when your teenager gives you a proposed guest list, immediately divide it in half and begin your negotiations from there. It is very easy for a party to get completely out of hand and this happens particularly when the numbers get too big. Don’t allow gate-crashers; all guests by invitation only. An “open” party is a sure recipe for disaster. The social network ensures that everybody will hear about it very quickly, and once the floodgates open it is very difficult to close them again.
 
At one 15 year old’s birthday party, the parents had thought to organise portable toilets to cope with the number of guests and keep them out of the house. But they did not know that two groups of boys from rival schools, with a score to settle, were on the massive guest list. When one of the boys went to the toilet, the opposing group sealed the toilet’s door and rolled it down a slope in the garden, where it crashed into a neighbour’s wall. The boy was fortunately unhurt, but you can imagine the mess and the effect this barbaric act had on the rest of the evening.
 
Make parts of the house out of bounds
 
Just because it is a house party, does not mean they should have free reign of the whole house. Keep the party to living areas only, not in bedrooms, or behind closed doors, and make only one bathroom available. Remember that it is a party that you are holding, not a show house. They are not entitled to wander wherever they like. Houses with drinks cabinets, fridges and CD collections are then often viewed as an opportunity to loot and pillage.
 
Be visible without being intrusive
 
To be in control, you have to be present. It is not possible to control a party from the country hotel where you went to spend the weekend. Being present in spirit does not count when it comes to a teenager’s party, neither does sitting huddled in the TV room upstairs while your house collapses around you. At the same time, being visible does not involve bumping and grinding with them on the dance floor. Be sensible.
 
Watch the drifters
 
These are the ones who seem to arrive, and then just as rapidly, disappear and reappear. You can be sure that whatever is magnetically drawing them away is neither healthy, nor legal. Allow people to leave and return for valid reasons only, and without extra guests in tow. An open party is never safe because anyone who can come, does, including those who you would never have considered inviting. There is no control and no way of making your guests leave, which means that the party generally only ends when the police shows up.
 
Be wary of bulky bags and clothing
 
Be explicit that no alcohol is permitted, and that any alcohol discovered will be confiscated and handed back to the parents of the offender. Keep a sharp eye on the guests. You are entitled to search shifty-looking characters in big jackets or carrying large tog bags.
 
A word of warning: teenagers who are determined to get alcohol onto your property will be innovative in their attempts. If it happens to be a birthday party, the gifts, beautifully wrapped in shiny paper, may well be hiding a couple of cheap bottles of spirits. Other tricks include a decoy, such as a small bottle of sherry, which you duly confiscate, only for the real stuff to get thrown over the garden wall in tog bags. Also, innocent-looking mouth freshener sprays, that are actually full of alcohol, are other little surprises.
 
Where do they get it from, you may ask? The answer is: mainly from you. You may find your liquor cabinet or wine cellar is not quite as well stocked as you thought it was. Other common sources would be older siblings, older friends, or Mr Dial-a-Dop, that notorious supplier of liquor to underage children where no questions are asked and service is guaranteed.
 
Provide lots of good food
 
Boerewors rolls, pizza and other simple party food will go a long way to making your party a success. Teenagers do not need alcohol to have a good time, but they still need something to do. Giving them something tasty to eat often breaks the ice and encourages them to talk to each other.
 
Consider hiring a DJ
 
If you really want to have a good dance party, you have to get the music right. Unless your son or daughter is an aspirant DJ, or is particularly gifted when it comes to setting up an iPod or a Smartphone, it’s better to leave it to the professional.
 
You are responsible for the children at your house. You have to remember that you are not off duty until everyone has left the house or gone to bed. This is not a case of, “Will the last teenager to leave the house please switch off the lights and turn on the alarm?” These teenagers are your responsibility, and they remain so until they are safely off your property. But watch out for these possible curve balls. For instance, whose responsibility is the teenager who turns up drunk at your party?
 
I heard a story of a parent who was hosting a party for her son when the doorbell rang. It was a taxi with two of his guests. When the door opened, the two boys fell out, face-first onto the driveway. It emerged that the boys, from the boarding house, had been booked into a city hotel by a parent who had gone away for the weekend. In their plush hotel room, they had discovered and made short work of the mini bar. The poor host had no choice but to bundle these boys into bed, before attempting to contact the parents who were more annoyed at having their weekend interrupted than about the boys’ behaviour. They took the moral high ground and blamed the pair, dismissing it as “boys will be boys”, with little thought given to the experience of the host parents or the boys themselves.
 
The temptation to cover up
 
You may find that adults sometimes want to protect the teenagers from their own parents, particularly if their own children are involved. Be wary of becoming too involved in your teenager’s need to protect their friends. Just imagine how you would feel if you discovered that someone had concealed from you the fact that your son or daughter had gotten drunk. You would have to seriously question their intentions, as well as their understanding of what it means to be a parent, and it would undermine your trust in them. Parents need to realise how much good can come from gaining information their child would probably prefer to conceal from them, particularly if it pertains to destructive habits or tendencies.
 
 
Gary Koen is a clinical psychologist in private practice with over 20 years’ experience, working mainly with adults and adolescents. He also does presentations at schools on a range of teenage-related topics. These include all the general aspects of normal adolescent development. He developed and successfully runs a course, “An introduction to adolescence”, aimed at parents. He is also working on a book that deals with the challenges facing parents and teenagers and, as a father of three, he is heavily invested in everything he says. For more information, visit garykoen.co.za

Comments

Raging Alcoholic wrote 4 years 10 weeks ago

There is no doubt that young people who use alcohol as a crutch to be more sociable and interact with other people do so to their peril. If alcohol does all the heavy lifting for them they won't learn how to deal with uncomfortable, painful, ackward situations. Some people claim that whatever age a person began drinking alcohol is the emotional age that they are operating at. I don't thing alcohol stops emotional growth, but I think it stunts it pretty dramatically. Especially if alcohol is consumed everyday.

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