Jackson: How parents can ensure prom is a night to remember

High school graduation is right around the corner for Arizona seniors and teens are faced with a wild mix of emotions.

Sadness to be parting with friends and the familiarity that high school brings, stress as they push through their final assignments, and nervousness and elation as they prepare to walk across the graduation stage to move on to their next phase of life.

Shomari B. Jackson

Between all this, there is one event in particular that brings much anticipation, planning and excitement — prom!

Teens spend countless hours preparing for this one special night. It’s a last hurrah where all of a teen’s friends are in one place at the same time. But as fun and as memorable as this night should be, it can quickly turn dangerous.

Each year, teens across the country engage in this so-called “rite of passage,” but many teens are also put at risk during this time.

According to a report put out by AAA:

  • 39% of high school teens report it is likely that they or their friends will be under the influence of drugs or alcohol sometime during prom or graduation season.
  • 87% of teens believe their peers are likely to drive impaired instead of calling their parent or guardian for help because they are afraid of getting in trouble.
  • 33% of teens know other teens who have been arrested for impaired driving.
  • 23% of teens have ridden in a car with an impaired driver.
  • 28% of teens have called their parents at least once to pick them up because either they or their ride was impaired.
  • 83% of teens would support a program that offers to tow the family vehicle home for free to avoid the risk of anyone driving impaired even when it means admitting to their parents or guardians that they’ve been drinking and/or using drugs.

Not sure how to ensure your child makes prom a lasting memory with a sober and safe celebration? Here’s a few tips to help:

  • Set expectations. While helping your teen prepare for prom, discuss what you expect from them on this occasion. Just because it’s a special night doesn’t mean that all rules go out the window.
  • Don’t assume your teen is “too good.” Talk to your teen openly and honestly about their thoughts and feelings on alcohol and drug use, as well as the dangers. What should they do if they are offered drugs or alcohol?
  • Know the plan for the night. Know where your teen is getting ready, where they’re having dinner, what time prom starts and ends and what their plans are following the event. It also doesn’t hurt to check in with other parents to make sure they got the same itinerary.
  • Set a curfew. Since it is a special occasion, maybe the curfew can be set later than usual, but there should still be a cutoff time for when your teen should return home.
  • Make safe transportation arrangements. Make sure your teen has a safe way to get to and from prom, and encourage them not get in a car with a person who has been drinking. Make it clear that if your teen feels unsafe riding with someone or driving, they can call you.
  • Keep in touch. Throughout the night, send a text to your teen and ask that they do the same. Parents can ask how the night is going, and you can ask your teens to confirm once they’ve made it to dinner or the venue. This also provides them the opportunity to tell parents if something is going wrong.
  • Create a contingency plan. If something does go wrong, having a safe word or phrase can alleviate any worries or even embarrassment if your teen needs you to pick them up.
  • Don’t think you can control everything. Sure, parents may wish they could prevent their child from making any sort of dangerous mistake, but being controlling and overbearing may not be the right way to go about this.

Being too controlling may distance you from your teen and prevent them from calling if they get into a bad situation.

As you and your teen prepare for prom, remember that parents have the most impact on teens choosing to live a healthy lifestyle. Talk about expectations and safety so that your teen can have a fun and positive, but still safe prom night.

Editor’s Note: Shomari B. Jackson is a prevention specialist with Southwest Behavioral & Health Services in the Community Youth Development Department.

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