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Help your teen have a prom and graduation to remember

Sharon Foster and Michael Langer

Prom night.  Graduation!  You want these milestones to be fun and memorable for your teen.  But you also worry about their safety at after-event parties, and for good reason.  The most dangerous time of year for teens is from prom night to graduation, especially when it comes to drinking and driving.  So let's keep our teens safe by being informed and prepared.

While most teens will make healthy choices, some may think of prom and graduation night as a “rite of passage” that should include alcohol.  One reason for this is that the alcohol industry spends over $5 billion on ads each year - ads which often imply that drinking alcohol will make you more attractive and popular, and is a key ingredient for fun parties.  A USA Today survey found that teens say ads have a greater influence on their desire to drink in general than on their desire to buy a particular brand of alcohol.

The good news is that two out of three high school seniors choose not to drink alcohol (2012 Washington State Healthy Youth Survey). It’s important for teens to know that underage drinking is not the norm.  Praise your teens for the healthy choices they make, and reinforce how their choices affect their goals and future plans.

It’s also important to have ongoing, brief talks with your teens about the risks of using alcohol and other drugs while their brain is still growing.  To prove the risks are real, show them news stories about teens who made tragic choices while under the influence.  

Here are steps you can take to make prom and grad night safer for teens:

  • Remember that you still have the most influence on your teens – they don’t want to disappoint you.  Teens who learn about the dangers of drinking from their parents are less likely to drink, and drink less than teens who don't have these talks with parents.
  • Set curfews and clear rules about not drinking, and let other parents know your rules.  Let your teen know what the consequences will be for breaking the rules.  
  • Offer to plan, host and supervise an alcohol-free graduation party.
  • Make a plan with your teen for what they will say or do if they are offered a drink or a drug.  
  • Let your teen know they can call you any time, no questions asked and no lectures, if an unsafe situation develops and they need a ride home.
  • Remind your teen to never get in a car if the driver has been drinking or using other drugs.  Consider renting a limo or arrange for an older sibling to drive.

Prom and graduation are once-in-a-lifetime experiences that every teen should enjoy.  Help them avoid risks that can cause problems long after these nights are over.  Remind them to enjoy their big night - and come home safely!

For facts about underage drinking and tips on talking with teens, visit www.StartTalkingNow.org.

Sharon Foster is chair of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Michael Langer is Chief of Behavioral Health and Prevention with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Service, Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery. Both Foster and Langer are co-chairs of the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (RUaD).