The annual rite of passage known as prom night can leave a teen and his/her family with wonderful memories -- or it can be a night of regrets and sorrows. Conversations about drinking, sex and drugs should be ongoing and not just the night before the big event.
Parents should be involved with planning, according to Dr. John Mayer, who is a clinical psychologist, lecturer and consultant. He is also the author of "Family Fit," which is filled with valuable lessons and tips for a balanced family life. "You have to pay attention to what is going on with this prom," he says. "Participating in the prom planning is a great way to know what is happening and to know when to intercede." Parents should be involved in everything, including apparel purchases, limo renting and after-party plans.
How can you trust your child and the people he or she will be with to make sure that there are no shenanigans going on? "I have a 'golden rule' about this issue of trust," Mayer says. "If your child hasn't been a model citizen for the 364 days prior to prom day, what makes you think he or she wakes up on prom day and you can trust him or her with this very adultlike day? Trust is earned by past experience and history. What kind of grades does he get? What is her behavior at school? At home? Does he treat you with respect? These are the ways we answer that question of trust."
After-parties and overnight jaunts should be discussed beforehand. "What do we think goes on in a hotel party?" Mayer asks. He is adamant that no good comes from having unchaperoned teens in a hotel room. He recommends well-chaperoned house parties with no alcohol or drugs and parent-arranged restaurant parties as viable alternatives.
"Prom is one of the biggest nights in your teen's life; you don't want it to be your worst," says Bill Wade, who is the national program manager for Tire Rack Street Survival, a nonprofit teen driving program. "Few people realize driving is one of the most dangerous things they do on a daily basis. A car traveling at just 4 mph has more energy than a bullet. That's a lot of responsibility."
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, on a typical prom weekend, 48 American teenagers are killed in vehicles, and 5,202 are injured. And 40 percent of the deaths are alcohol-related.
Wade shares some tips:
*Prepare limits. Your teen's license is not about your convenience; it's about his/her life. Set limits on your teen's driving, particularly in high-risk situations, such as prom night. Do not let your teen ride with a driver who has less than one year's driving experience. The higher the number of teens in a car the greater the level of distraction.
*Have a clear understanding of where your teen is driving on prom night, whom he/she is with and the route he/she intends to take. Confirm a check-in time with your teen so he/she can update you should anything that was planned change.
*Complete a quick vehicle maintenance check with your teen before prom to ensure everything is working properly. Are the tires inflated correctly?
*Sometimes teens make mistakes and get themselves into situations in which others have been drinking and they feel stranded. Teens should have responsible adults they can call, with code words, if they feel they shouldn't be driving or are riding with another young driver who is driving recklessly or under the influence. Safety comes first; ask questions later.
Mike Domitrz, author and founder of The Date Safe Project Inc., adds, "Ask your teenager what his or her goal for prom night is. This answer will help you set up the proper guidelines." He also reminds parents to be open about the things that can go wrong. Be supportive, he says. "Tell your son/daughter the following: If you find yourself in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation, call and I will be there instantly." Don't let your teenager be afraid to ask for help.