Your reaction when your teenager asks, 'Can I have a party?' is likely to be one of horror. Mine was, fuelled by accounts of what other parents had experienced: kitchen units left dangling from the wall, toilet bowls cracked, carpets ruined, ambulances called for collapsed teens and parent's bedrooms being used.
Some teenagers see a party as a place to get up to everything they dream of doing – think sex, drugs, booze – in a warm house well away from their parent's prying eyes.
How can you say 'Yes' to a party but ensure that your home won't be trashed in the process and teenagers will be safe?
Some of the responsibility lies with your child so you need to start by asking yourself if they are ready to cope with what may become irresponsible behaviour.
1. Be around.
Yes, your children will protest, but it's vital that there is an adult either at home or nearby for some or all of the party. Going away for the weekend and allowing a teenager to have a party in your absence is asking for trouble. Depending on the age of your child you may want to stay at home but out of sight – such as in your bedroom – or agree with your child that you will go out but be home by 11 or midnight. You might decide to inform other parents what the arrangements are because they too may have their own concerns about allowing the teen to attend a party if there are no adults around.
2. Limit numbers
Think about how many people your home can hold comfortably. If you think 25 is the limit then your child needs to comply. Whatever number you agree on there are bound to be a few gatecrashers. Social media means that unless your child is careful all their friends could know about the party; it's best they do not advertise it this way unless you want 500 Facebook friends turning up. Word of mouth invitations are best but their friends should be told they cannot pass the invitation around.
Do you or don't you provide alcohol? This will depend on the age of the teenagers and your approach with your own. Behavioural psychologist Dr Sandi Mann says: "I am very concerned about the amount of parent-condoned drinking that goes on at teen parties. There are two reasons that parents think it's OK to supply alcohol to under-age drinkers and their friends; the first is they think it's safer at home than elsewhere and the second is they want to be cool and down with the kids. The second reason is never a good reason.
"Kids need their parents to be parents not one of the gang. A parent's role is to set limits and boundaries. My advice is that parents should never supply alcohol to other people's under-age children without permission of the parents. So for me, that means no alcohol for under-16s at all. For over-16s I would serve low alcohol drinks and the same goes for children bringing their own supplies."
This can be extremely difficult to monitor, especially if you are not at home. Teenagers may well arrive with a bottle of vodka or cans of high-strength beers. It's worth considering contacting other parents beforehand to tell them this is an alcohol-free party if that is your decision. Another measure is to provide plenty of food. Alcohol and empty stomachs aren't a good combination and, given that teenagers are always starving, having food available is a good idea even if it's only sandwiches and pizzas – lots of them.
If you decide to leave them all to it for a couple of hours it's worth talking to your teen about what to do if friends become drunk, unconscious, vomiting and therefore need medical attention. You may think it's never going to happen in your home but it can, especially if they have drunk alcohol before arriving at the party.
4. Your valuables
Be prepared. Accidents can happen so if you want to protect your antique vase, your best wine glasses and those favourite cushions, lock them away. Teenagers are renowned for being a bit clumsy and uncoordinated so instead of crying afterwards and wondering, 'How on earth did they manage to do that?' move anything valuable to a safe place. Use paper plates and cups, have plenty of bin bags to hand and be prepared to shampoo your carpets the next day.
You know your own house rules, so enforce them. If you are a smoking household then you may be relaxed about smoking; if you aren't, then ban it. This means your teenager has to be prepared to show smokers the way to the garden or street if they light up. If you do allow smoking then provide plenty of ash trays all around your house or your might find they have used the aquarium or your solid walnut dining table instead.
6. The neighbours
We always knew when our neighbours were away: there'd be a lot of noise – music and teenagers shrieking, cigarette ends lobbed over the garden fence and parents turning up in cars in the small hours. Yes, it was a party. What we never knew was if the absent parents knew. So if your teenagers are having a party, please consider your neighbours. It's a good idea to forewarn them and control the noise because most people don't appreciate being kept awake until 3am. Remember that noise after midnight is considered an environmental nuisance and can be reported.
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