3 Tips for Parents to Discuss Prom Safety with Teens

Parents may not be there for the slow dance or after-party, but hopefully their advice will be present.

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Spring is in full swing, which means blooming flowers, baseball season, and for many teens—prom. It's easy for high school students to get swept up in the excitement of prom, especially if they're going the whole nine yards with dinner reservations, fancy outfits, corsages, and boutonnières.

But many parents of those teens are thinking about different elements of prom. From official reports to famous movies, prom is often associated with peer pressure to drink alcohol, do drugs, drive dangerously, and have sex.

While it may be unclear if these activities will be a part of your teen's prom night, simply talking with him or her ahead of time may play a crucial role in your teen's safety.

[Read about the reality of drunk driving on prom night.]

Parents can engage in an effective prom safety talk with their teens by following these tips from D'Arcy Lyness, a child and adolescent psychologist and behavioral health editor for Nemours' TeensHealth.org.

1. Initiate the conversation: Hopefully by the time a teen is gearing up for prom, parents have already talked with him or her about subjects such as drinking and sex, says Lyness. A conversation about prom safety is an important follow-up, she adds.

Parents could start by noting the excitement of prom and how they want their kids to have fun, Lyness says, then transition with something such as: "Prom is also a time when there's a lot of peer pressure to do things, like lose your virginity, or drink, or do drugs, or stay up all night … I want you to have a great time, I want you to have fun, and I want you to be safe."

Lyness discourages parents from trying to squeeze this conversation into a busy prom-day schedule. Parents and teens should discuss prom safety a few days in advance, she says, with possibly a small reminder on the day of the dance.

2. Make a safety plan: Parents and teens should discuss what to do in various situations that may arise, Lyness suggests. Consider scenarios such as someone bringing alcohol to the dance, or a friend driving dangerously, perhaps while drinking or texting. Teens who are prepared for these situations will be better able to handle them if they happen, Lyness says.

Teens must know that they can and should call parents if they're in an unsafe situation, Lyness notes, and the parents should be ready to answer the call.

"Sometimes parents and teens set up a little code call, in which a teen doesn't have to say 'come get me—my ride is drinking,'" Lyness says. Teens can call parents and say a simple, agreed-upon phrase that will cue parents to pick them up.

Parents should also set a clear curfew for the teen and establish times when he or she should call home to check in, Lyness says.

[Check out five ways to save money during prom season.]

3. Watch the tone: Throughout the talk, Lyness says, "It can help when parents give a lot of credit to their teen, so it's not a conversation where you're talking down to them."

Lyness suggests parents begin with, "I know you know these things already, but I think it's a good idea to review them."

It can be tough to find a balanced approach. Parents shouldn't lecture or scare teens with gloom-and-doom possibilities, she says, but they also shouldn't be too "friendly" with teens by letting them call the shots on their special night.

"The middle ground is where you exercise your parental responsibility of declaring firm, clear guidelines in a caring way," Lyness says. "Not punitive, not harsh, [but] positive expectations."

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