The excitement of prom -- choosing the perfect dress, wristlet flowers, a pretty upswept hairstyle on Pinterest, posing for priceless photos of friends all dressed up -- can quickly turn into tragedy when prom night alcohol consumption claims yet another teenager's life.
High-school students have heard "don't drink on prom night" lectures in school and seen the bashed-up car in their school's parking lot, meant to be a warning against drinking and driving. For many teens, though, the message is just a low hum in the background, since teenagers believe they're invincible, magically exempt from the very real dangers associated with teen drinking and the prom. The school can only do so much. It's your most important job as parents to keep your child safe at all times, with prom a big focus.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, "teens are at far greater risk of death in an alcohol-related crash than the overall population, despite the fact that they are below the minimum drinking age in every state. Among 15- to 20-year-old drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2006, 31 percent of the drivers who were killed had been drinking and 77 percent of these drivers were unrestrained." Prom to graduation season -- April through June -- is the most dangerous time. One-third of alcohol-related traffic fatalities involving teens each year happen during this time of year.
In addition to teens dying in horrible auto accidents, don't forget that not all alcohol-related auto accidents end in death. Your child could suffer severely debilitating head or spinal cord injuries, loss of limbs, or serious burns leading to disfigurement and many months of treatment. They could grieve for a lost friend who was in the same car but did not survive the crash.
In addition to these dangers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that high-school students who drink alcohol are more likely to engage in risky sexual activity that may result in sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Even physical assault may happen when another teen has had too much to drink and gets violent, and your teen gets caught in a melee, perhaps becoming injured or even arrested. And then there's alcohol poisoning from binge drinking, an ER stay or even a deadly overconsumption.
Parents can be the greatest deterrent to alcohol-related disasters, keeping a child safe with realistic messages and offers of assistance. There is no upside to being the "cool" parent who allows teens to drink at a pre-prom party. When discovered, you will face charges. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that more than 40 percent of underage drinkers say they got their alcohol from an adult. Injuries on your property often lead to lawsuits, and teen alcohol poisoning cases resulting in emergency room treatment or death will quickly lead right to you for culpability. So the adage that "parents who host lose the most" is very true.
Since teens will have access to alcohol on prom night -- it's just too prevalent to expect any other situation, since the NIAAA reports that there are 10.8 million underage drinkers in the U.S., with more than three-quarters of 12th-graders and two-thirds of 10th-graders saying they have consumed alcohol -- it's wise to create a multistep strategy to keep your child safe and alive during prom time:
--Forbid older siblings to buy alcohol for younger ones, with serious repercussions levied if the rule is broken. "No more credit card" is a promise that often registers with older siblings.
--Put your own alcohol away. If you have a bar or alcohol collection in your home, consider moving bottles to a safer place or establishing serious repercussions for stealing your alcohol.
--Find out what the school is doing to warn against teen drinking on prom night. Many schools plan special presentations with speakers -- perhaps teens injured in prom night alcohol-related auto crashes, talking about the loss of their best friend or what it's like to live without an arm or an eye. Ask the school if they will institute a Breathalyzer test at the entrance to the prom. Those who fail the test cannot get into the prom.
--Buy a Breathalyzer machine of your own. They're somewhat inexpensive and available at your local drugstore and on Amazon.com. If teens know you're serious enough to buy a $100 machine, the message may sink in a bit more.
--Know where your child will be and with whom, and call the parents of students hosting post-prom parties to be sure they will be in attendance. Yes, your teen will feel embarrassed, but you'd rather have an embarrassed teen than a dead one.
--Teach your child never to leave a drink unattended, or accept a drink from someone they don't know, since it may be spiked or drugged. Tell them to always open a fresh, non-alcoholic drink to be safe.
--Set a curfew with big repercussions. Your teen needs to know you're serious about punishment, so if you've been soft lately, make sure they know you will follow through this time.
--Know who's driving. Contact the limousine company to ask about their no-alcohol-for-minors policy.
--Tell your child you can be called at any hour of the night or early morning to come pick them up -- even if they have their own car with them. All you care about is their safety and will handle the logistics to get them home.
--Host a post-prom party with no alcohol served, a great menu and good decor, making your child the host of a great after-party that you will be very present for. Schools often host post-prom dry parties, with kids not allowed to leave until a set morning hour, and this too may be a way to keep your child safe and off the roads where drunk teens may be driving.