Parents and health care providers all want the same thing for kids – for them to make healthy, safe and smart choices. As adults, there are many times when we are faced with moments when we know our own behavior as a teen differed from how we are telling teens they should behave. Prom is likely one of those moments. From the dance itself to the after-prom parties, we know (and may have participated in) some of the less-than-safe behaviors that can take place. So how can we help our teens make safe(er) and smart(er) choices?
First of all, don’t wait to have important conversations, or limit those conversations only to special events. Discussions about behavioral expectations should be taking place all the time. Curfew, driving, drinking, sex and drugs are all topics that should have been covered before. It is important to find out what the teen’s expectations are as well as inform them of your expectations. While some family rules, like curfew, may be loosened for a special event like prom, you shouldn’t change your message regarding expectations like safety, underage drinking and sexual activity. And if you feel like a broken record at times, take heart that research indicates that teens do actually listen. In one study by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), they found that when parents used a clear “no-use” message, teens were 80 percent less likely to drink.
Second, find out the plan for the evening. Knowing certain details – who is driving, the location of the after-prom party and what adults will be there – is important. Some parents even insist on an established check-in schedule (e.g. call/text home when leaving dance; call/text home when leaving party; call/text if locations change, etc.). And, after finding out the plans for the evening, take time to discuss back-up plans. This can help your teen feel empowered when faced with peer pressure situations and allow him or her to maintain a thoughtful reaction to a variety of situations. Together, talk about different common scenarios that can occur – “what happens if the person who is driving drinks?”; “what if your date pressures you to drink/have sex/try drugs?”; “what do you do if someone in the group changes plans and you’re not comfortable with the suggestions?”; and so forth. Be careful not to tell them what to do, instead, encourage them to problem solve and together talk through back-up plans. And, make sure they know under any circumstance, they can call you.
While discussing expectations and plans, it is important to remind teenagers that many decisions can have lasting consequences. Obvious consequences include car accidents after drunk driving, and pregnancy or infections after unprotected sex. However, there are risks that we adults did not necessarily encounter when we went to prom. With the proliferation of social media sites, it’s even more important to be aware and thoughtful of what information is shared. Incriminating pictures can have lasting (and even legal) repercussions. It’s certainly important to capture photo reminders of the amazing evening, but encourage them to be thoughtful of just how much and with whom they share.
And, while statistics should never justify negative behaviors, it is important to recognize that roughly 63% of U.S. teenagers have had sex by the time they graduate and 79% have tried alcohol, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Having conversations with teens before they find themselves confronted with difficult scenarios can help empower them to reduce risky behaviors and make safer choices.