What is safe partying?
Most children and young people enjoy going to parties. Some parties are held to celebrate a special occasion (eg. a birthday) while others are to socialise and have fun. Parties for children tend to have a lot of adult supervision whereas those for adolescents and young adults may have limited or no supervision.
Parties involving adolescents and young adults sometimes involve the consumption of alcohol (legal or otherwise) as well as the use of other drugs. Although underage drinking is not acceptable, recent data on the substance use of young Australians suggests that many people begin using alcohol around the ages of 16-17 despite the legal drinking age being 18 years.
Substance use not only affects the person using the substance but it can also put others at risk of harm. A fifth of 12-17 year-olds and almost half of those aged 18-29 had been recent victims of some form of abuse (verbal, physical or intimidation) as a result of someone else’s alcohol use. Given that drug and alcohol use is a feature of many parties where young people are present, the risk of harm arising from substance use as well as other sources is a reality.
This hot topic addresses the issue of adolescent/young adult parties and what parents and carers can do to assist in keeping young people safe when at a party
What kinds of parties do young people have?
Young people have a wide range of parties. Many young people have their own source of income and means of transport, so parents/carers may not have much influence as to what is or is not allowed. Some examples of young people’s parties include:
- a birthday party where a group of friends go out to dinner
- “Schoolies week” – a week-long celebration where groups of friends go to a specific destination such as the Gold Coast or Bali
- a house party where one young person hosts the party at their home and their friends come over
- a themed party where all guests dress up in costumes or conform to a particular theme
- “raves” where the main purpose of the party is to dance to high-energy music.
Why do young people go to parties?
Parties are a normal part of many young people’s lives and most begin going to them as children. Young people may want to attend a party for a number of reasons including:
- hanging out with their friends
- meeting new friends or potential romantic partners
- spending time away from their parents/carers
- an opportunity to drink alcohol or use drugs
- a space to dance to music
- having a break from their busy schedules.
Parties encourage social interaction, relaxation and enjoyment and can serve to strengthen and develop peer relationships – critical to the social and emotional development of children and young people. However, as adolescents age, there can be an increasing number of risks associated with parties.
Let your kids know you care and remain approachable.
What are some common risks from parties?
Without the proper precautions, a number of issues can arise as a result of young people attending and/or hosting parties. These include:
- Host liability – You are responsible for the welfare and behaviour of any underage party guests (less than 18 years of age), even if you’re not present. This means you can be held responsible if they consume drugs or alcohol or behave illegally.
- Drug and alcohol consumption – If you’re having a party at your house, people under the age of 18 can only drink if an adult responsible for them (like their parent) supplies it or gives permission for them to drink. Guests over 18 years may drink alcohol but uncontrolled usage may result in intoxication.
- Drink spiking – Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks can have substances put in them without the drinker being aware. This can result in people becoming ill or unconscious and/or giving someone the opportunity to harm them.
- Unsafe sex – This can happen as a result of drug/alcohol use and/or because of the unavailability of contraceptives, resulting in unplanned pregnancies or the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.
- Drink/drug driving – Guests may be tempted to drive home or elsewhere while under the influence, or get a lift with someone who is under the influence. This may result in legal problems, injuries and/or fatalities.
- Violence and other illegal behaviour – Emotions can escalate as a result of substance use. This can lead to reckless or illegal behaviour that may result in damage to property as well as injury to guests.
- Getting arrested – If violence, underage drinking or other illegal activity occurs and the police are contacted, young people may end up being arrested and facing charges for their behaviour. This could lead to a criminal record and potentially spending time in jail.
What if my child wants to host a party?
If you or your child is hosting a party, there are a number of things that should be taken into consideration to make sure the party is enjoyable and safe for all:
- How will guests enter/leave the party – A single entrance makes it easier for you to control who enters the party and helps keep gatecrashers out.
- Will other people be affected – If the party is held at your home, it may help to notify the neighbours and to consider noise levels and their impact.
- What are the arrangements for the party – Setting the start and finish times will ensure guests know what time to arrive as well as when they should leave. Guests also need to know what is expected of them (eg. alcohol, behaviour, etc).
- What food or drink will be supplied – Supplying food and non-alcoholic beverages are important ways to minimise the impacts of alcohol consumption.
- What will happen after the party – Guests can be kept safe if they are provided with details on how to get home by public transport or taxi, or are invited to stay over if unable to drive home.
- What will happen if someone becomes ill or gets injured at the party – Planning in advance about what should happen if someone gets into difficulty can ensure they can get the assistance they need as soon as possible.
- Have a security back-up plan – You may wish to let your local police station know about the party so they can provide assistance, if necessary.
Tips for parents/carers who are hosting a party for young people
- Decide on who will be attending – Help your child choose guests you think will enjoy the sort of party you want to host and who can be trusted to behave in a responsible manner. Make sure you don’t invite too many people for the venue you have chosen or, alternatively, choose the venue based on the number of people you want to invite.
- Only allow entry to those who have been invited – Direct invitations ensure only those guests who have been invited are allowed in. Make sure your child does not advertise the party on social media like Facebook as it could encourage gatecrashers.
- Be clear on the details – Let guests know what time the party will start and finish, the location and any other important details (eg. what to bring, any special theme). Make sure they’re also aware of what behaviour is expected of them.
- Provide adequate food and (non-alcoholic) drinks – Providing party food and soft drinks is a good way to make sure the effects of alcohol or other drugs are minimised, as well as adding a nice touch to the party!
- Ensure the neighbours won’t be disturbed – Let them know in advance that you’ll be having a party and invite them to contact you if they’re being disturbed too much. Make sure all noise stops by the time local law stipulates (often midnight).
- Be clear about the consumption of alcohol at the party – If minors are going to attend, they should not be allowed to bring alcohol or consume it. If over 18’s are attending make sure they know to drink in moderation.
- Register your party with the local police – This usually involves filling out a simple form and submitting it to the local police station. The police will then know in advance that a party is happening – this will make it easier for them to attend if things get out of hand.
- Have public transport information on hand – Guests who are not able to drive themselves home and are not staying overnight may need to use public transport to get home. It’s a good idea to have this information on hand. This could include the timetable of the local bus/train/tram and the location of the nearest station or bus/tram stop.
- Suggest that driving guests stay overnight – If guests have driven to the party and have consumed too much alcohol, invite them to stay overnight so that they do not risk driving while drunk.
- Ensure supervision is adequate – You may need to provide adult supervision. This is particularly important for parties where the guests are under 18 years. Typically, one adult for every 10 to 15 guests is advised. Supervision is important so that you can assist if something goes wrong or to control alcohol use. Invite some of the other parents/carers to the party to help with supervision and turn it into a mini get-together of your own. Have an emergency phone number list on hand.
- Provide a safe space for guests to store their belongings – This will not only make guests feel more comfortable at the party but could prevent personal belongings from being lost or stolen.
- Lock rooms that guests should not be accessing – This can assist in party supervision and ensure protection of your own property.
How can parents/carers assist in keeping young people safe at parties?
The following are some general tips that parents/carers can use to help make parties safer for the young people in their care:
- Talk to them about the risks and how they can be avoided.
- Do some planning about the potential risks of partying and ways young people can better ensure their party experience is safe and enjoyable.
- Make sure they can contact you (by mobile phone) especially if you’re not at home. This is particularly important if the situation gets out of hand or they need to be picked up.
- Discourage minors from drinking alcohol as drinking under 18 years of age is illegal and opens up a range of legal issues for parents/carers as well as the person hosting the party.
- Make sure young adults drink safely, that they have access to suitable food and non-alcoholic beverages and that they won’t be driving home.
- Check the details of the party so you can ensure it has been organised properly and will be properly supervised.
- Encourage them to stay in a group with their friends so they can help each other, if the need arises.
- Caution them on leaving drinks unattended so they do not become a victim of drink spiking.
Avoid violent situations – Even if one of their friends becomes involved in a fight with another person, it is best to bring the issue to the attention of the person in charge of the party rather than getting involved and putting themselves at risk of harm.
- Network with other parents to find out some really great ideas regarding what they do to keep their kids safe at parties, as well as sharing your own ideas.
Calm conversations with your kids will always be more productive.