The After Party

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

March 5, 2010 5 min read

Admit it. Whether you're a parent or teen, it's not the prom that has you anxious; the after-prom activities are what make you fret.

And for good reason, says Carleton Kendrick, who is a family therapist and author. He shares his expertise at "Prom night always seems to be linked with drunken-driving injuries and deaths, date rapes, pregnancies and STDs," he says. "It's become the night where teens' poor judgment and dangerous choices have become institutionalized."

Act now if you think your teen has some unsupervised after-prom partying in mind in a rented hotel room, remote cabin or beachfront condo, experts say. Ditto if your teen will be heading to one of those crowded metro-area nightspots that heavily promote themselves to high-school seniors as after-prom destinations.

"Many parents worry that their adolescents will balk at inquiries into the planning of events like prom, but in reality, it is reassuring for most teens to have concerned parents ensuring their children's safety," says Shari Corbitt, senior executive director of Promises Treatment Centers, which treat drug and alcohol addiction. "If your teen becomes secretive around this, it's your red flag that there's something to be concerned about."

Home parties can work if there are sufficient chaperones (preferably drawn from parents of teens invited to the gatherings) and operating rules that ban alcohol, drugs, smoking, coming in and out, and uninvited guests. If your child is invited to several parties, call the parents and find out who will be chaperoning. Ask about the rules and when the party will end. If your teen gets several invitations, limit it to one. No party-hopping.

In many communities, parents team up to stage free or low-cost after-prom parties designed to keep their children safe and off the streets. Some are more elaborate than others, and most require advanced planning and fundraising, but the effort is well worth it, says Lori Heatherington, whose definitive book on after-prom planning, "After Prom Party Guide," has been used for more than a decade by parent groups, parent-teacher associations and school district officials across the country. The post-prom party, she says, "isn't something that parents should leave to someone else to do."

To make an organized after-prom party a success and to get teens to attend, "you must make this celebration so appealing and entertaining that teens will want to make this party their after-prom party," Kendrick stresses. "Entertainment might get them to attend such celebrations, but it's usually the valuable prize drawings held at the close of the party that get them to remain there for the entire evening."

The lure of winning prizes -- such as cash, automobiles, computers, iPods and gift cards donated by local merchants -- is made all the more attractive by the addition of decorations, carnival and casino games, inflatables and snacks. "Students must arrive at these parties by a certain time, or they will not gain admittance. If they leave before the celebration is over, they will not be readmitted," Kendrick says.

When her daughter was invited to the senior prom, Heatherington learned the school had no organized after-prom activity. And in checking further, she found statistics showing a connection between prom weekends and alcohol use, which causes a hike in teen deaths in motor vehicle accidents. With only eight weeks to go before the prom, she acted quickly, organizing a committee of parents to handle every aspect of the post-prom event. The party was so successful that the school asked her to pass along her detailed notes, outline and plan so it could be used in coming years.

Realizing it might aid parents and schools elsewhere, Heatherington went a step further, turning her notes into a guide, which is available in hardcover and downloadable online for a fee. She encourages buyers to copy and share its pages with members of their committees.

"My goal is to get this book in the hands of every school and parents organization or any parent who wants to make sure children have something fun to do on one of the most dangerous nights of their lives," she says.

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