Teenage Rampage

13th December 2013

Everyone needs to let their hair down now and then, don’t they? But – with adolescent drinking ever on the increase, and more teenagers than ever before receiving help for drug and alcohol problems, according to Public Health England – those party smiles are masking some pretty grim statistics.  When did it all change, asks Heather Harris

The Scout Disco finished at 10.30pm. My Dad picked me up at 10pm. And I wasn’t alone. Half an hour before the end of any function of my teenage life, the majority of parents would be sitting outside – hooting their car horns.
This was, of course, before the invention of the text message, or, come to think of it, the mobile phone, and the reasoning behind this extreme punctuality was the presumption that all ‘shenanigans’ happened with the onset of the slow dance. In parents’ eyes Lionel Ritchie’s Three Times a Lady was many a damsel’s downfall. Lady no more.
Whisk us away before he had time to hit that first note and we were safe… And we were 15 years old at the time.
Roll on to parties 21st century style – and my 14 year old is being invited to travel by stretch limo to a random teenager’s house (one of his 30,000 very closest Facebook friends) and to bring a sleeping bag.

The only time we used a sleeping bag in our teens was on Guide Camp. We stayed at someone else’s house if (a) they were related or (b) we had a major power failure.

Nowadays no-one seems to sleep in their own beds seven nights a week once they hit 13 years old. The term ‘ Sleepover’ is about as contradictory as ‘Fun Run’ or ‘Easy To Assemble Flat Pack’ – no-one ‘sleeps’ and it’s never ‘over’… come 11am and the ‘overnight’ guests are still hanging around your breakfast table eating their way through the European bread mountain.

They drink too – and not just the odd sip of advocaat (think custard in a glass) while their parents are too preoccupied with the Christmas washing up. They drink proper alcohol often provided by the householder themselves: the excuse being, ‘Well, they’ll smuggle it in anyway,’ – as if they’re international MI5 Agents or ‘I’ve just bought enough for one per guest.’ The undercurrent of liberal parenting in the latter comment overlooks the fact that certain children are likely to down 90% of the supplies leaving the rest to tap water – or, indeed, to milk: at my goddaughter’s party they downed the 18 pints intended for the following day’s senior citizens’ coffee morning.

One friend even employed professional bouncers to monitor her pubescent daughter’s party and smugly told us the next day that there was ‘no drinking at all’…

…until she happened to glance into her neighbour’s garden (luckily away at the time) and saw a lawn strewn with ‘empties’ thrown over the fence for swift concealment.

Another equally naïve friend was clearing up after her 15 year-old daughter’s end-of-the-winter term-and-let’s-get-ready-for-Christmas party and offered the family dog some water from a discarded Evian bottle only for the hound to choke violently as the first gulp of vodka hit the back of its canines.

Even my husband when faced with the slightly green look on my 16 year old son’s face – the result of matching beer swilling friends can-for-can with Fanta at Halloween – asked why he didn’t just drink beer. “I just hate the taste,” was my son’s reply.

Did my husband pat him on the back?

No.

Instead, he said, “It’s always like that when you start. Just persevere and you’ll soon get the hang of it!” and followed this with a handy list of optimum stomach lining foods – because that’s another thing with teenage parties post millennium: the buffet has passed its sell by date. Any food provided is normally ordered in and arrives by bike – just in time for it be danced into the carpet or (as in my nephew’s case) thrown Frisbee-style in a highly competitive game of ‘ hit the greenhouse’.

Not exactly musical statues or pass the parcel is it? The fact is that our parents stopped hosting house parties around the time we no longer felt the thrill of a decent party game and birthday cake wrapped in a disintegrating napkin.
Nowadays, as reported in lurid newspaper headlines, along with photo of party venue in leafy suburb, mortified teenager and sobbing mother (‘He was always such a good lad’…) often the thing disintegrated is the house itself – along with the family relationships of the inhabitants.

All you need is the mere whiff of a suggestion that parents and all other responsible adults are going out overnight and today’s teenagers are putting out the party bunting. Metaphorically speaking. Bunting itself is out of style. But with a few strokes of the keyboard – hey presto – half the western hemisphere are grabbing their coats and heading their way. When he invented Facebook, I bet Mark Zuckerberg never realised he’d have so many decorating bills and stomach-pumping incidents on his conscience.

Life was so much easier when friends were people you knew, not ‘poked’ or ‘posted’; when the only guests who turned up came clutching their dog-eared personal invitations and were dropped off at the door in a car significantly shorter than a stretch limo.

My Mum knew all my friend’s parents too and living in a small village communication was much faster than Virgin Broadband. Forget Tweeting, news of my first sneaky cigarette at the age of 14 got back to my parents before I’d even stubbed it out.

Nowadays, with school catchment areas stretching further than a couple of continents, our teenagers’ social circles are huge. Circumnavigation is impossible so those on the outer edges – and their parents – remain anonymous.
Call me old-fashioned (and they all frequently do) but I still want to enjoy my teenage children’s birthdays, not endure them. I want Christmas parties to be festive fun, not drunken seasonal scuffles and stomach-pump sessions at the local A&E. I don’t want to wake up, Goldilocks-style, to discover strangers sleeping in the bath, pizza in the vegetable patch and dustbins with more empties than the night after the Brit Awards.

So I’ve come up with a rule. It’s quite simple: while they all still live under my roof – I won’t let them raise it.

Happy Christmas…

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