Keeping Teens Safe in Prom and Graduation Season
It’s an exciting time of year for many teens as school winds down and summer approaches. It is time to celebrate some of the most traditional and joyous occasions in a young person’s life – proms and graduations!
Although we do not want to take away from the joy of these events, it is important that parents are aware of, and prepare their child for, the risks that are inherently involved with the celebrations. In the glow of prom or graduation, even the most sensible kids take risks. Some of the risks teens can face on prom or graduation night are: binge drinking, drunk driving, drug use, rape, drowsy driving as they stay out so late, and unprotected sex. Adolescents are already prone to poor decision-making, and they seem especially susceptible at prom or graduation.
Before the big event, parents need to talk through their rules and expectations, the school’s rules, and the consequences for breaking those rules. Here are some tips to keep your teens safe:
Establish the itinerary. For many teens, prom or a graduation party is just one stop in a long night of activities. Make sure your child gives you their complete itinerary for the evening, including whom they will be with and where they’ll be going after the prom or graduation. “We’ll just be driving around” is not an acceptable response. Communicate with the other parents of the teens your child will be with to make sure you are all getting the same story.
Require a cell phone. This is one night where every teen should have a cell phone, so if your child does not own one, lend them yours. Establish a couple of mandatory call-in times with your kids. Additionally, make it a requirement that if the itinerary they gave you changes in any way, they must call to let you know the new plan. Give your children the unconditional option of calling you at any time for help or advice. That includes picking them up at any time of day or night, with a promise not to shame or humiliate them in front of others.
Establish a curfew. Come to a fair decision on a curfew, based upon your children’s past level of responsibility in this area. As you consider the proper curfew, realize that teen car crashes and deaths increase exponentially late at night. Be aware that some teens desire to stay out all night on prom or graduation night, having brunch together the next morning. As parents, you must decide if this is acceptable or not. Do not be swayed with “everyone is staying out all night” logic. There are plenty of teens who are not staying out all night, and you must decide what you think is best for your teen and your family. If you are not comfortable with them staying out all night, consider allowing your teen to invite friends to spend the night at your house. If you decide to allow them to stay out all night, let them know that you will contact them at various times until they return home.
Be wary of post-event parties. Many teens want to have another party after prom. While this is part of the fun of the event, you need to be cautious about what type of parties you are allowing them to attend. For example, do not allow your teens to rent a hotel room or take off to a remote spot, such as the beach, with no supervision. This creates unnecessary risk. If your teen is planning to go to someone’s house for a post-event party, you have a right and a responsibility to call these parents to confirm they will be there and whether or not they are going to allow drinking in their homes. Many parents believe that, as long as they “take keys,” underage drinking is permissible in their houses. Not only is this illegal, it is unsafe. Despite the fact that the parents are there, teens are still engaging in risky behaviors.
Know who is driving. The biggest danger teens face on prom or graduation night is auto accidents, either because the driver has been drinking, is tired, or is simply distracted by a carload of exuberant friends. If you can afford it, chip in for a chauffeured limousine ride; you’ll know there are seatbelts for every passenger, and you’ll know the driver is experienced and sober. If your teen is riding in a limo, check the company’s policy on allowing alcohol in the vehicle. If you can’t afford a limo, tell your child you will be available at all hours to take his phone call and pick him and his friends up – no questions asked. If they still end up driving themselves or riding with a friend, communicate your rules: you must use a seat belt; you must let me know who is driving you; you may not drive if you have had any alcohol, drugs, or are drowsy; and you cannot get in a car being driven by someone who has had any alcohol, drugs, or is drowsy. You need their promise on these non-negotiable rules.
Communicate expectations. The most important thing that parents can do to ensure their child is safe on prom and/or graduation night is to talk about your expectations beforehand. Parents need to provide leadership, guidance and boundaries to their teens. Even if you think you have already talked about making healthy choices and the risks of drugs or sex, proms and graduations are a very important time to repeat this message. Explain why prom or graduation night makes it more difficult to make safe and smart decisions. Do not be vague! Directly discuss alcohol, drugs, driving impaired, and sex. Ask them how they plan to keep safe and avoid actions they will regret. Even if they roll your eyes, ask your teen to rehearse what he or she would say if offered alcohol or drugs. Reinforce your belief in their character and in their ability to act responsibly.
Final Thoughts… You want your teen to enjoy themselves during these wonderful events, but you also need them to stay safe. Keep your ultimate goal of guiding your teen to responsible adulthood in the forefront of your mind.