Getting Real With Amy Kelly

Prom is a milestone event in every teenager’s life. It’s the last big party where everyone will be all together before parting ways for college, the military or wherever else life takes them. Both parents and teens want the night to be special, fun and above all, safe. However, teens don’t have the experience and perspective to really understand the dangers the way parents do. That’s why it’s important that parents help to protect their children by being aware and assertive on prom night.

It’s pretty obvious (though many teens think they’re being sneaky) that a lot of teens celebrate prom night by drinking alcohol. Even if your child does abstain from drinking alcohol, they can still be affected by it in the form of drunk driving. Statistics have shown that many deaths involving teenagers that occur in the months of April, May and June have a direct correlation with alcohol-related accidents. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that in 2004, 713 youths under the age of 21 died in alcohol-related traffic accidents nationwide during prom and graduation season.

The simplest way to prevent accidents like this from occurring is by doing your part to make sure your teen doesn’t drink alcohol on prom night. You can do this by talking with your teen about the dangers of drinking and driving. Based on my observation, teens are less likely to listen to their parents if they simply “put their foot down” and demand no drinking without explaining exactly why. Explain that it is not only dangerous, but illegal and they could get into serious trouble if they attempt to drink and drive. In any case, it is usually safer all around to rent a limo for prom, but parents should find out what the driver’s policy on alcohol is and make sure he’s not one of the “cool drivers.”

Know where your teen is at all times. Have them contact you by sending a quick text message once they’re at prom and when they leave. If they are going to a prom party afterward, be sure the location is supervised by responsible adults and make sure your teen doesn’t stay out too late, since many accidents occur late at night. Set a curfew and let your teen know that you will be waiting up for them when they get home. They will be less likely to drink if they know they have to see and talk to you once they get home.

Since alcohol impairs your judgment while driving, it can also impair your judgment in all circumstances. One of the most prevalent issues surrounding prom night is sex. Because of all the stigmas attached to prom night, your teen will definitely be feeling extra pressure to have sex. Adding alcohol into the equation can cause them to make decisions that they may end up regretting later. These decisions can endanger your teen’s safety because they could cause STDs, unwanted pregnancy, rape or depression. Talk with your teen about these important issues and how alcohol and other drugs can not only ruin their night, but their life. Teenagers often need to be reminded of the possible consequences of their actions, since many of them act on impulse without thinking about the future.

Finally, give your kids the confidence and the knowledge to feel like they are making the decision for themselves. Parents sometimes wish their teens would just take their word for it, but often this isn’t enough. Help your teen understand exactly why you have the rules that you do. One effective way of doing this is by asking your teen to research the effects of alcohol online along with cases of drunk driving and alcohol-related incidents involving rape, STDs, unwanted pregnancy and regret. Have them write a review of what they read: what they learned, how it affected them, what they will do if they are offered alcohol or drugs and why they will say no. Use this as a proposition: “I’ll let you go to that prom after-party only if your research this information and write about why you will say no to alcohol and drugs.”

Your teen may see this as a drag at first, but they will learn a lot and have a foundation beneath the rules you have set. Encouraging your child to research the consequences on their own will allow them to feel like they are making these decisions independently and for more important reasons, instead of just “my parents asked me not to.” By taking these precautions, parents and teens can both look forward to a wonderful and memorable prom night.