Prepping for a Safe Prom: Talking to Teens

Prom season is fast approaching and many parents are busy helping their teens buy dresses or rent tuxedos, select corsages and boutonnieres, and choose formal hairstyles. But prom preparation should also include frequent, specific, and frank discussions with teens about how to stay safe and avoid alcohol on prom night. Here are some tips on what to discuss:

  • First, talk to other parents; then, talk to your teen about their friends’ parents. Being part of your social group is no guarantee that other parents espouse a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol. You might be surprised to discover that other parents plan to provide their teens and their friends with alcohol in a “safe” manner and location. Though this is illegal in every state, it is a relatively common occurrence. If any of your teen’s friends’ parents plan to provide alcohol or “look the other way,” reinforce your own house rules about alcohol with your teen. Make sure they understand that underage drinking is never acceptable, no matter what any other parent says or does, even for a special occasion. Make sure your teen will be riding with friends whose parents do not permit the use of alcohol. Try to organize an after-prom party for your teen with other teens’ parents who have a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol and are willing to help chaperone.
  • Next, create a code. Your teen must be able to signal for help without risking the ridicule of friends. If you haven’t started texting with your teen, this is a good time to practice. Texting is an easy, unobtrusive way for your teen to check in with you frequently throughout the evening. Your teen might say or text, “Dinner was awesome!” as a code for “Please come get me.” When you arrive to pick up your teen, she or he can blame you for having to leave or you can give the excuse of a “family emergency.” Make an agreement with your teen that if you do have to pick the teen up, a discussion about the reason can be tabled until the next morning, when you and your teen are both calm and safe. Otherwise, teens may avoid calling parents for help because they don’t want their parents to know about the circumstances that required the ride home.
  • Make a record of your teen’s planned itinerary for the evening, and require your teen to inform you of any changes. Be alert to spontaneous changes in plans on the night of the prom; your teen won’t have as much control over the situation if it takes place in an unfamiliar location and/or with people she or he doesn’t know well. In the excitement of the evening, your teen might not anticipate difficulties and could end up in a risky situation before she or he realizes what is happening. You’ll need to check in more frequently in case your teen needs extra guidance.