Prom, Death and Sexual Assault: Helping Your Teen Make Safe, Smart Decisions -- The Talk, The Ride, The Connection, The Offer

For parents, the primary prom-related concerns aren't financial. Our biggest prom worries are the risky behaviors associated with proms, most specifically driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and unsafe sex.
04/22/2013 11:10 am ET Updated Jun 22, 2013
well dressed teenagers at...
well dressed teenagers at...

High School Goes Hollywood

High school proms have become obscenely expensive affairs. With prom dresses, tuxedos, prom tickets and pictures, stretch limos, extravagant dining, flowers, tanning, special hairstyles and French manicures, it's not hard to see why the national average tab tops $1,000. The prom bill, especially for seniors, may also include renting a motel or hotel rooms for all-night, post-prom partying. Parents pay the majority of this bill.

What Parents Worry About Most

For parents, however, the primary prom-related concerns aren't financial. Our biggest prom worries are the risky behaviors associated with proms, most specifically driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and unsafe sex. It's become the night where teens' poor judgment and dangerous choices have become institutionalized. For far too many years, prom night has been synonymous with teen alcohol-related car fatalities and serious injuries, sexual assaults, date rapes and crime. Add to that sobering list the irresponsible parents who host after-prom parties where under-age kids are served alcohol.

Remember your own proms? While yours were certainly far less expensive and perhaps less self-indulgent, they still brought the same evergreen hopes, disappointments and joys of today's proms. But were your prom's pressures to drink, use drugs and lose your virginity as prevalent and intense as they are for our current crop of prom kids? I doubt it.

  • Teen traffic deaths during prom season weekend are higher than at any other time of the year.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for the past several years during prom weekend, approximately 300 teens have died in alcohol-related car accidents.
  • Also according to the NHTSA, one in three children under age 21 who died in alcohol-related accidents died during prom and graduation season.
  • An American Medical Association study reported that 10% of parents believed it was appropriate and safe for underage teens to attend both prom and graduation parties where alcohol is served, if a parent is present.
  • Most date rapes and sexual assaults against girls are alcohol and drug-related.
  • A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services national survey reported 39% of high school senior boys considered it acceptable to force sex on a girl who is intoxicated by alcohol or high on drugs.

The following advice and tips may ease your prom anxieties, while helping you keep your kids as safe as possible: The Talk, The Connection and The Offer.

The Talk -- Begin your pre-prom talk with your children by emphasizing that you want them to have a wonderful, memorable prom. Keep that wish as a central focus throughout your discussion. They need to give you their complete itinerary for the evening, including whom they will be with, where they'll be going before and after the prom and the phone numbers where you can contact them. "We'll just be driving around," is not an acceptable response.

Come to a fair decision on a curfew, based upon your children's past level of responsibility in this area. Express your concerns about their health and safety and explain to them why prom night makes it understandably more difficult to make safe and smart decisions. Don't be vague -- discuss drinking, drug use, driving under the influence and sex. Ask them how they plan to keep safe and avoid actions they will regret. Role play some predictable dilemmas and decisions they may face. Reinforce your belief in their character and in their ability to act responsibly.

The Ride -- Regardless of how many times you have talked about the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, emphasize that these dangers are particularly high on prom night. Your children cannot drink or take drugs and drive. If they're not driving themselves, you must know who'll be driving them. They must be driven by someone who has not and will not drink alcohol or take drugs. You need their promise on these rules. These rules are non-negotiable.

If your teen is being driven in a limo, speak directly with that limo company owner about his company's alcohol and drug policies. Do business only with a company/owner who forbids the presence and consumption of alcohol and other drugs in his vehicles.

The Connection -- If your children are not returning home right after the prom, you need to be able to contact them at all times until they return home. You also need to be reachable at all times as well. There can be no doubt where your kids will be and with whom throughout the evening and morning. Post-prom, parent-child check-in calls make sense. Establish a few mandatory call-in times with your kids. Make sure they leave with a fully charged cell phone, thereby establishing a guaranteed connection.

If they're going to other kids' houses after the prom, check ahead of time with these children's parents. You also have a right and a responsibility to ask if these parents are going to allow drinking in their homes. Many parents believe that as long as they "take keys" in a situation like this that underage drinking is permissible in their houses. Is that OK with you? I hope not.

You must also decide whether you will allow your teen to attend after-prom parties where parents aren't present. Again, I hope not. As for your teen spending the night with others in motel or hotel rooms, whether chaperoned or not... give that some serious, "get real" consideration.

The Offer -- Give your children the unconditional option of calling you at any time for help or advice. That includes and offer to pick them up at any time of day or night, with a promise not to shame or humiliate them in front of others, nor to condemn or shame them once you get them in the car or back home. There will be ample time to calmly, lovingly discuss the night's events and the lessons learned. Assure them that you always welcome being part of their making smart and safe decisions. This unconditional offer of help and advice should be an outstanding offer throughout their lives.