I know, teenagers can be loud and obnoxious. But when your kids get into high school and especially once they start driving, it’s easy to lose track of where they are and who they are hanging out with. It won’t seem like it initially, but if you’re lucky, your kid’s teenage friends will want to come to your house to hang out. And you can possibly influence this if you try.
Motivations & Benefits
My wife and I didn’t optimize for this in an attempt to keep our daughters jailed up at home. Most importantly, we wanted to get to know the other kids they were hanging out with. There’s no greater influence on a kid’s behavior and priorities than the other kids they hang out with.
What do teenagers want when they go to a house with parents present? In a perfect world, the parents would disappear never to be seen. So our goal was to come as close to that as possible, while still serving our obligation as parents and guardians for both our kids and their friends.
What Does It Actually Mean?
If they wanted to watch an action movie on the big screen TV in the family room, while cranking up the sound system to get the subwoofer pumping, why not? If they wanted to play music, dance around and be silly, why not? If they drink all of our sodas and ate all of our popcorn, who cares? We tried to let them have their haven to be carefree teenagers.
Sure, it meant that we wouldn’t be able to sleep until whatever curfew was instituted for a given daughter at a given age. But the benefits far outweighed the nuisance. We just had to remind ourselves why we were doing this.
To achieve the benefits, we had to find clever ways to get to know their friends without embarrassing our daughters. As the friends showed up, often we would be the ones to answer the door and welcome them with a smile. With that, we at least got their name. But we could also immediately tell which were more comfortable engaging with parents (not a judgment) and what their general manners were like (again, not a judgment). Later, one of us would offer to make popcorn get get sodas. Any excuse for periodic interaction with an individual or group gave an opportunity to get to know them.
As the kids were hanging out, we mostly retreated to our bedroom. But we also had a practice of periodically and randomly wandering into the kitchen for a glass of water or some other excuse. We didn’t conduct a full inspection of the kids or what was going on. Just randomly reminding them of our presence was usually enough to keep things civil and safe. Otherwise, we let them do their thing and have fun.
What about our obligations as a parent/guardian? First, we had a basic set of ground rules that our daughters and their friends knew. Two of our daughters didn’t want us to be the ones to announce the rules every time some new friend come over that didn’t know them, so we let them do it in their own way. But our stipulation was that the ground rules be explained in a way that was clear and understood by their friends.
Listed below are some of the ground rules we had:
- No alcohol or drugs, period.
- We were to be introduced to any new friend that we hadn’t previously been introduced to.
- If there was a mixture of boys and girls in the house, bedrooms are off-limits. Only the living and common areas could be used.
- If there’s a mixture of boys and girls while watching a movie, blankets aren’t allowed.
- Hanging out outside is OK until 10:30, out of respect for the neighbors. No amount of coaching and scolding can prevent a group of teenagers from talking and laughing loudly for more than about 5 minutes.
From our experience, the kids were totally OK with our ground rules and really enjoyed hanging out at our house. Our rules were clear and less strict than most other parents imposed in a similar situation. That, coupled with our willingness to let the music/movie be turned up loud or let the group of kids themselves be loud gave them an environment that was plenty flexible and fun. My wife and I actually formed a level of friendship with many of our girls’ friends that continues to this day.
See my other blog posts on parenting here.