Teenage parties - when things go wrong: A police officer's perspective

Teen parties are important events for young people to attend - that's where they learn how to socialize in a different way than they do at school. I have a great deal of admiration for those parents who make the decision to hold a party at their home. These events aren't easy to organise, particularly if you want to ensure those attending have a great time, they are all kept as safe as possible and your house and its contents are all in one piece at the end of the night. I am regularly contacted by parents who have held a party who are desperate to tell me how well things went and how proud they were of their own teen and their friends - things seemingly went without any problems and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. That said, these parents usually had put a great deal of effort into planning and, apart from the 18th birthday parties, were almost always 'alcohol free'.

I have said this many times, but it is important to acknowledge that we see hundreds of teen parties held every weekend right across the country that have few, if any, problems. Those that do go wrong often receive a great deal of media attention and many in the community believe that that this is the 'norm'. Unfortunately, it's what is happening before and after these events, or even around them that is increasingly becoming the greater problem.

Late last year I asked three frontline workers (a paramedic, an emergency nurse and a police officer) to give their perspective on teenage parties. This week I'd like to share stories from three police officers, all who responded to my request in a very different way:

"I've been working as a police officer for almost 10 years and have attended many teenage parties on Saturday nights. I think the most important thing I'd like to make clear is that I've never been involved in 'shutting down' a party. Many of my friends who have teenagers have complained to me about police closing a party and then causing them to spill out onto the road and beyond. When we attend a party due to a complaint, usually about noise, we don't ask them to shut it down basically we know that is just what would happen. It's also not that easy to shut a party down and often ends up causing more problems for all concerned. What we have seen recently, however, is that there are growing numbers of parents who are calling us to help them after they have shut it down themselves. Either the young people won't leave or they start to become unruly and in some cases, physically threatening."

That's certainly something I have been hearing about more and more - parents hosting parties are now far more likely to have 'zero tolerance' for bad behaviour and if things do go wrong (e.g., gatecrashers, drunken partygoers, etc), they pull the plug quickly. This causes great problems for those parents who have arranged to pick up their child at a particular time, confident that their teen will be at the party until then. Hopefully your relationship is strong enough to ensure they would give you a call to let you know what is happening, but that is not always the case. Unfortunately, it is when teens are wandering the streets on a Saturday night that things are more likely to go wrong ...

Police have a tough job to do and when things go wrong at a party, they can go really wrong, and in some cases lives are put at risk. When we see TV coverage of a party out-of-control, we tend to forget that there are real people involved and frontline workers, including police and paramedics, put their lives on the line to keep others safe. Here is the second officer's response to my request:

"I've been a police officer for almost 25 years. One party I remember vividly. A girl was celebrating her 16th birthday and had invited a group of 40 friends to her home. Her parents, as well as some older male relatives were apparently present to deal with security issues.
By the time police were called and my partner and I arrived, all hell had broken loose. Drunken teens were shouting and screaming everywhere. I saw a grown man with blood all over his face holding a bloodied towel over his nose. Several groups of young girls were screaming and crying in the front lawn of local houses. Young men no older than 17 were walking around with ripped shirts or no shirts at all, chests puffed out looking to fight the first person to look sideways at them … me included. Others were carrying fence palings or star pickets taken from garden beds. Danger comes from all directions in these type of situations, where anyone can be a potential threat to partygoers, police and other emergency service workers. As I was speaking to a drunk girl on the front lawn of a neighbours house a bottle crashed on the concrete path a metre away. Then another and then it started raining glass and rocks. My partner and I pushed everyone we could see inside and took refuge behind a car in the driveway. 
It was about two hours before the streets were relatively quiet. Before the end I would guess that 50 coppers had arrived, including the police helicopter. Over 20 young men had been arrested for assault and public drunkenness. Many were injured, including several police officers. People don't understand how quickly teen parties can deteriorate, particularly when alcohol is involved, and how volatile they can become." 

Once again, this is not the 'norm', but this anecdote clearly illustrates that things can and do go wrong. Forty guests invited (that sounds rather tame for a 16th!) and it ended up with 50 officers and a helicopter being needed, as well as more than 20 people arrested. Absolutely frightening!

The final story is the one that I find the most disturbing. I have known this officer for some time and when she first told me this story I was dumbfounded. When I have repeated it at parent sessions, I think many find it hard to believe, but I have heard similar stories from other police officers around the country.

"In my experience most young people are wonderful and, as a police officer, I have to remind myself that I have to deal with those that do the 'wrong thing'. I rarely come in contact with the majority who don't get into trouble. When it comes to parties on Saturday night, most of my colleagues and I are finding that most parents putting on parties do their best, with many of them now registering their event with us. What amazes me is the number of parents who simply have no idea what their child is doing on a Saturday night and, in many cases, don't seem to care. 
About 5 years ago, my partner and I picked up two drunk 15-year-old girls in a park at around 10.30pm. They were very intoxicated but we assessed them and they did not need medical assistance. We could not leave them there and so asked them for their parent's contact details. We made two phone calls, both went to voice mail. We were not far away from the station and so took the girls back with us. When we finally got a call back from one of the girl's parents and informed them what had happened and could they come and pick them up, their response was unbelievable. They said "We're at dinner, could you put her into a cab and send her to her grandmother's house?" What is so sad is that this had happened a number of times now. Parents who are seemingly unwilling to have their Saturday night interrupted by something as 'trivial' as having their teenage daughter found drunk in a park."

Every time I hear that story it just blows my mind! Most parents I meet would be so worried about their child if they had received a phone call from a police officer that they would be jumping into a car, taxi or whatever as quickly as possible to ensure they are okay. I've talked about this before but when it boils down to it, effective parenting, particularly where teenagers are concerned, is all about sacrifice ... Some sacrifices are not going to be too hard to make (giving up having a drink on a Saturday night to ensure that you can be there for your teen if the need arises shouldn't be too much of a challenge, but sadly, as shown above, proves unbelievably hard for some!) while others can prove to be extremely difficult, e.g., sacrificing your son or daughter 'liking' you is never going to be easy.

Things can, and do, go wrong at teen parties. Many (but certainly not all) of them are totally preventable - all it takes is a little bit more effort in the parenting department occasionally. Dropping your son or daughter off to wherever they're going when you are able, making that quick phone call to talk to other parents when you're not and just doing a little bit more 'age-appropriate monitoring' can make all the difference. Remember the importance of keeping connected to your teen. If you can maintain a positive and open relationship with them during their adolescence, they are much more likely to call you should something go wrong at a party they are attending or if they feel uncomfortable and want to leave.

Effective parenting can keep your teen safer, as well as potentially lighten the load on all those amazing people who work on the frontline every weekend.

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