It's a proud moment for any parent. You hear your teen's name and with the passing of the diploma, high school is over. All of the classes and hard work have prepared them for life beyond high school and the important decisions that will shape the rest of their lives. Yet, graduation does not end the high school experience. Many graduates gather for senior parties to celebrate their friendships and achievements, and while you shouldn't forbid your son or daughter from attending, it is your responsibility as a parent to make your graduate abundantly aware of the risks.
Parents play a critical role in keeping teens safe by having clear, unrestrained conversations about alcohol use at graduation parties. Every year, I hear stories of graduation party accidents and parental arrests for providing alcohol, and many could have been avoided by having direct conversations and setting clear expectations beforehand. Help equip your teen with the tools to make safe decisions, and when having these discussions, keep these five tips in mind.
- Embrace repetition. Already had this conversation around the holidays? Good. Make sure you have it again. No matter how many times you and your teen have spoken about this, you'll need to repeat it. Teens are developing rapidly at this point in their lives, and they may now have a different perspective or understanding of the situation. They may be more responsive and receptive this time around or they may be more willing to take risks than before. Every child is different, and you cannot become complacent.
- Make transportation plans well in advance. I cannot stress this enough. Sometimes smart kids make dumb choices. Let them roll their eyes, but make it clear how dangerous and illegal drinking and driving is. If you suspect that there will be drinking, offer them a safe transportation option, no matter how late it is. It may be inconvenient for you or expensive, but it is worth it.
- Yes, discuss sex. This is often a difficult topic for parents to discuss, but many teens have sexual experiences (both planned and unplanned) around this time of year. Talk about safe sex and how alcohol lowers inhibitions and can lead to unwanted sexual encounters, even sexual assault. Talk to both your sons and your daughters about this.
- Talk about the dangers of social media. Your children may be on their way to college, but posting pictures of drunken party behavior can only work to their disadvantage. There have been incidents where colleges have rescinded acceptances based on particularly egregious postings. Even if they are not drinking, being in pictures that may give the appearance that they are can be just as problematic. Not only should your children be careful about what they post, but they should also be aware of how friends' posts can reflect poorly on them if they themselves are tagged in certain pictures.
- Stay in touch. Sometimes, kids make their parents feel a bit superfluous during graduation time -- they graduated after all, not you. Nevertheless, insist that they stay in touch with you throughout the night(s). Regular contact will give you the opportunity to help out quickly and effectively when asked, and it will give your teen permission to blame you for being lame and unreasonable while offering them an easy excuse to escape a dangerous situation.
Yes, these conversations will be awkward and probably a bit uncomfortable, but they are 100% necessary. To make these discussions go smoother, try to talk with your children -- not at them. Ask them what they know and think before you even start. Be respectful of their perspective and maybe even challenge them to do the research if there are questions or areas of disagreement.
Graduating high school seniors are on the verge of adulthood. They are usually 18, able to vote and eligible to serve in the military. Recent grads have college, travel or work planned for the future, and this brings a sense of freedom and agency for the first time. But make it clear that with this independence comes responsibility. Your child will have a lifetime of big decisions to make; some of the first will involve how they behave during this festive time. As a parent, it is your responsibility to prepare them to act in a smart, safe way.
For more information on how to discuss alcohol with your teens, please visit www.healthallianceonalcohol.com.