As we move into the prom season, many parents and school officials worry about the safety of their children. An internet search for “Safe Prom” turns up hundreds of websites that focus on encouraging students to make safe and healthy choices, and schools conducting pre-prom events showing the dangers of drinking and driving. However, there are few websites encouraging or guiding parents to take a leadership role in creating a safe prom night.
For over a decade, I’ve worked as a drug education specialist in independent and public secondary schools educating principals, headmasters, parents, and students about the dangers of underage drinking and other drug use. When conversation turns to a horror story about prom night or graduation party disasters, in many cases, it is a parent who has either rented a hotel room with little or no supervision or purchased the alcohol the teens consumed.
Under the new social host laws, many states are now prosecuting parents who serve alcohol to minors. Here in my home state of Massachusetts, not a month goes by without a courtroom appearance by a parent for serving alcohol to a minor.
Schools, law enforcement, and parent associations need to reach out to parents to educate them about the legal and financial risks of serving alcohol to minors, renting hotel rooms to minors under their name during the prom, and allowing teenagers to drink in their home.
In addition, parents need to set appropriate expectations and continue to reinforce household rules about alcohol and drug use.
According to Liberty Mutual and SADD, 70% of 11th and 12th graders expect their peers to drink and drive on prom night. Underage drinking is a major factor in the two leading causes of teenage deaths: car crashes and fatal injuries. A 2002 study found that 40% of teen traffic fatalities during prom and graduation weekend were alcohol-related. Underage drinking is also linked to two-thirds of sexual assaults and date rapes of teens, and increases the likelihood of unsafe and unplanned sexual activity.
Many students who normally choose not to drink or engage in sexual behavior are tempted and under enormous pressure to be “part of” the party on prom night.
If parents provide leadership, guidance and boundaries to their teens, the only horror will be when your teen looks back years from now and says, “Oh my, what was I wearing?”and “Look at my hair!” Those are the types of prom memories we can live with.