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Perils of Prom

By Robin Sweeney

This blog was written when my daughter was a senior in high school.  The fear and worry I felt back then is just as strong for parents of today’s teens.

As prom season approaches, the most important things on my daughter’s mind may be her dress, make-up and hair. But those are only minor details compared to what’s going on in my head. I’m thinking about inexperienced teenage drivers, alcohol, and risk taking, and I’m just praying that my daughter and all the other teens attending proms will come home safely. Although I believe they are “good kids,” we parents know that even “good kids” can make “not so good” choices.

Some startling facts:

  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of death for teenagers in America.  Mile for mile, teenagers are involved in three times as many fatal crashes as all other drivers.
  • This problem is aggravated by inexperience and immaturity, combined with speed, drinking and driving, other drug use, not wearing seat belts, distracted driving (texting, loud music, other teen passengers), drowsy driving, and nighttime driving.
  • A 2022 survey by AAA found 41% of teens age 16 to 19 said they’d most likely drink or use drugs on prom night. Of teens who do drink at prom, more than half (54%) have four or more alcoholic beverages.  What’s more, teens surveyed said their friends were more likely to get behind the wheel when drunk than to call their parents for a ride.

As parents, we can and must play a crucial role to help insure our children’s safety on prom night. While we may help our teens with some of the prom expenses, the most important thing we can do for them is actually free!  We can talk with them!  We need to tell our teens that we want them to have a wonderful and memorable prom night, but we are also concerned for their safety. We need to ask them how they plan to stay safe. They may roll their eyes and give us the “I know, Mom,” but we’re talking here about possibly saving our children’s lives.

Here’s what to discuss with your teens:

Getting from here to there and back.  Find out who is driving and who will be in the car. Get their promise that they will absolutely not get in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using other drugs. Another option is to consider sharing the expense for a bus, a limo, or Uber.

Know where they are going.  Where is the prom being held? Are they going to an after-prom party? If they will be gathering at someone’s home, you have the right, and the responsibility, to ask the parents if they allow underage drinking in their home. As an alternative, many schools have supervised after-prom parties offering fun activities, food, music and prizes. I volunteered at my son’s after-prom party last year. The kids had a great time, enjoying the action until after 4:00 a.m. when the drawings were held to give out the prizes.

Stay in touch.  Be sure your teen has a cell phone that is fully charged. Make it clear that they should call you if any of their plans change or if they want to talk with you for any reason. This includes your commitment to pick them up at any time, with your promise not to pester them for details about the situation.  In addition, consider choosing a family code word to be used for dangerous or uncomfortable situations.

Although our teens may not admit it, we are helping them feel loved and secure when we communicate clear and reasonable guidelines and expectations. Keeping a healthy balance between sharing our teens’ excitement at this special time, while taking our parenting responsibilities seriously, can help ensure a fun and safe prom night.

Robin Sweeney has been with JCS for 20 years.

Jewish Community Services (JCS) provides programs and services for people of all ages and backgrounds, helping them achieve their goals, enhance their wellbeing, and maximize their independence. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.

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