Preventing Prom Night Perils

As a parent, you've probably put hours into helping your child choose a dress or try on a tuxedo, and mulled over transportation and planned activities. But before you send her on her way, make sure you spend a few minutes going over the most important part of their night out: their safety.

Many parents think it's enough to say "Remember what the rules are." But there are many ways in which kids can get into trouble on this activity-fraught night. Don't just assume that talks you've had in the past will hold true when the excitement of this major event overshadows former reason.

There's a mob mentality that comes into play when lots of teens are together, causing peer pressure to climb to a whole new level. So sit down before and in a serious, but non-threatening way, make sure your child has a refresher course on the values and rules that you've set as a family. Consider the following as well to make sure all bases are covered.

Know Before They Go. Have a complete itinerary of your teen's night, including the usual who, what, where, and when's. Set the rules for post-prom parties and have a complete list of names and phone numbers, allowing you to make contact with the other parties involved so you can find out if you're on the same page where supervision, drinking, and other issues are concerned. Hosting the after-prom party can solve many prom night worries. Meet your child's prom date in advance and become acquainted with his or her parents.

The Importance of Play. Teens may exude a know-it-all attitude, but what they really want is to know what to say or do in high-risk situations. Consider having a role-play session that will help reinforce the rules you're laying down. What will he do if the rest of the group wants to ditch the plan and go someplace different? What should he say if drugs or alcohol are offered at the dance or party? If some other uncomfortable situation occurs, what can he say to be safe and still keep his "coolness" intact? Maybe there's a code word or phrase you can come up with to alert you when your teen checks in during the night. Sit down and think up possible scenarios together and how each will be handled.

Arrive Alive. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol contributes to as many as three out of every five traffic-accident deaths during prom and graduation weekends. There are other factors that can contribute as well.

Cells phones, ipods, and other technology have catapulted us into a new age, perhaps faster than our brains can keep up. According to the NHTSA, distraction-based accidents may account for as many as twenty-five percent of overall car crashes each year. Also, if you take into account how many teens are often shoved into one car, you can see why the driver may have a hard time focusing.

A solution to this problem can be to have several couples go in on renting a limousine. Or, if you wear a disguise of your teen's choosing, he might even allow you to chauffeur for the night! If that fails, insist that your teen's driver have at least one year's driving experience, a good record, and that all passengers have access to a seatbelt (which are not for decoration, but to be used!). Even if your teen is the responsible driver, warn him that he'll have to watch out for the other unsafe drivers that will be on the road that night.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Even after your teen has left for the night, you need to be available at all times for that potential call for help. Giving her a cell phone can definitely relieve some of your worries. This doesn't mean that you have to go out and buy one-it can be on loan. Now you have the opportunity to text your teen at some point during the night, reminding her to have a good time and not to take any unnecessary risks. Or, arrange times to have your teen call and check in. And remember, by maintaining a no-questions-asked policy, your teen will be more likely to call you if she gets in too deep.

Abstinence is the Best Policy. It's important to be brutally honest with your teen about the dangers of alcohol. Not just how it impairs driving skills, but how it increases the prevalence of violence and sexual assault as well. Explain to your teen that she should always get her own soft drink and never leave it unattended. Mood-altering chemicals can be tasteless and odorless. Remind her that, if at any point during the night, she starts to feel groggy or "silly," she should call you immediately.

Young girls often struggle with assertiveness and should be encouraged to stay around friends or in a group. They also need to know that all of the money their prom date has spent on the limo, dinner, and his tux does not entitle him to any more than a handshake or peck on the cheek at the end of the date. (Repeat this sentiment verbatim if it's your son who has forked out a wad of cash.) This is only a date with no payment due for services rendered. Your daughter should be expected to be treated like a lady. Sons should act like gentlemen.

All Good Things Must End. Even Cinderella had to be home on time. Set a curfew based on past behavior. Be generous-after all, this is a special night-but don't be a pushover. Then expect him to call if there's any reason for delay. And while all-nighters may be popular in your area (when teens stay out until 4-6 A.M. and have breakfast), don't feel pressured to give in to this demand. This is behavior is not for teenagers.

After all that being said, enjoy this experience along with your teen. Shed a few tears at how grown-up she or he is becoming, extend the trust they'll need so they can prove themselves trustworthy, and lastly--pray!

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