Parents can mark their children's stage in life by the parties they have. When they're little, we coax them into pointy hats and suffer through Barney-themed birthdays; then come the Chuck E. Cheese years, followed by the slumber-party era. Parents gamely go with the flow, because we know that social occasions are extremely important to kids. But a new party concept sweeping the teen circuit--the coed sleepover--has parents wondering when to say, "Enough already."
Many a valiant parent has buckled under the twin strains of trust vs. responsibility that go with parenting a teen. Coed teen slumber parties bring these concerns into sharp focus. Despite the natural questions that arise (I know--you're wondering if the kids are having sex in the basement), I am convinced that these parties can work. They can be fun, memorable occasions, but only if parents take an extremely active and responsible role.
Last year J.D. Moss, 17, of Falls Church, Va., was able to persuade his parents to hold his first coed sleepover. Since then he has had three parties with 20 to 30 guests--the most recent on New Year's Eve. J.D. and his father Joel established very sound party-giving techniques that, I believe, would benefit any parents who are thinking of having or letting their teen attend such an event.
--CONTROL THE LIST Agree with your child on a firm guest list and do not permit any last-minute additions or substitutions. Joel greets guests as they arrive at his front door and checks them off the list.
--CONTROL THE FLOW Once kids enter, they stay at the party. Any guest who leaves is not permitted to come back. This greatly reduces the risk of guests' leaving and drinking. According to researchers, the lack of alcohol will greatly reduce the possibility of irresponsible sexual behavior.
--MAINTAIN A VISIBLE PRESENCE J.D.'s parents occasionally walk unannounced through the party room in their basement. The use of small snack bowls, which require frequent refilling, provides a reason for a walk-through. Soft drinks are kept upstairs, so there is steady traffic between the basement and the kitchen.
--HOLD THE PARTY IN ONE LARGE ROOM Guests are less likely to engage in sexual behavior if they don't have privacy. But make sure boys and girls have private places in which to change their clothes.
--SECURE THE HOUSE AND HOUSEHOLD LIQUOR Joel locks his doors at 1 a.m. and goes to bed. Anyone coming or going will set off his house alarm. For families without security systems, I suggest that a parent sleep on a cot or couch near the door.
--MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS THE GROUND RULES AND CONSEQUENCES J.D. has made it clear to his guests that if anyone does anything outrageous or illegal, he will pay the price.
--KNOW YOUR CHILD Not every teen can handle this kind of gender proximity. If you feel yours is vulnerable to unwanted sexual or other behavior, don't let him or her go.
--TRUST YOUR CHILD Despite the firm ground rules, J.D. feels his parents trust him and his guests to use their best judgment. "These sleepovers are really special occasions, and I think we all want to be on our best behavior, so we won't screw it up for everybody," says J.D.