Prom Season Excites Teens and Worries Parents

Young people ready for the prom.

Spring is prom season. Girls search for perfect prom dresses and young men color-coordinate their ties and vests to their dates’ dresses. This is the time all stops are pulled out for an event these young people will remember forever. Hopefully, these young people will remember a night of dancing and music, not a night where they overdosed on alcohol and ended up in the hospital, or worse, lost a friend to a drunk driving accident or overdose.

According to a recent survey, nearly all parents (96%) said it’s unacceptable for their child to drink while attending a prom. But only about half of all parents actually sat down and talked to their children about the risks of drinking. This means that many youth are going to go to these events unprepared for the dangers that could arise.

Afterparties as Dangerous than Proms

It’s not just the prom itself that could be dangerous. Many young people plan afterparties and know who to ask to supply alcohol. In other cases, parents think their kids will be safer if they drink at home. They act as what is now called “social hosts”—hosting an underage party serving alcohol to their kids and friends. This could not only be fatal for young people due to overdose or traffic accident, but it could also land the parents in jail. With some forethought and honest conversation, a parent can prepare his (or her) child for a safe prom night.

What to Say, What to Do

Dad and daughter have had a good talk.

Here are points parents should cover in a pre-prom conversation.

  • Determine the exact schedule of the prom itself, who your child will go with, what the mode of transportation will be. Hiring a limo or driver is safer but it’s likely to give a teen the idea that it’s safe to drink to excess. Be very clear that you expect this prom to be alcohol and drug-free. Set a curfew.
  • If your child will go to an afterparty, find out where it will be, who will be there and who will be supervising.
  • If they will go to at a friend’s house after the prom, contact the parents and make it clear that you expect there to be no underage drinking. This is not the time to be overly polite, this is a time to be firm. Not everyone has your degree of common sense.
  • Don’t flinch from any topic when talking to your children: alcohol, drugs, impaired driving or sex. Discuss your expectations and the dangers that could come up and how to deal with them. Encourage your child to remain with trusted friends at all times.
  • Warn your child (of either sex) of the danger of drugged drinks. They should only drink from bottles or cans they opened themselves or saw opened and they should never leave their drink unattended. If they forget and leave a drink out in the open, they should toss it and get a fresh one. And a punchbowl is very easy to spike or drug.
  • It’s a good idea to ask your child to sign a pledge so your agreements are completely unmistakably understood by both sides.
Purse and cell phone of girl going to the prom.
  • Make sure your child will have a fully charged cell phone when they leave home and that they know to call anytime, from any location, for any reason, to get help.
  • Your child is likely to see things in the most positive light, given how excited they are about their prom. They will want to imagine that everyone will be on their best behavior and that no problems could possibly come up. It’s your job to get them to see that serious problems could come up and they need to be prepared. Think through different scenarios with them, such as coming across a young man having sex with a young woman who has passed out. How could they deal with this quickly? How could they avoid getting in the car with a driver who has been drinking? Help them work out solutions to each possibility.

Parents Preventing Disasters

Schools and communities stage educational events to try to prevent underage drinking but parents play the biggest role in preventing events like these:

In Twin Cities, an 18-year old girl died after coming home from a prom. The cause was “multiple drug toxicity,” a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.

A Houston mom was sent to jail for nearly two years after supplying her son and his prom date with hydrocodone and alcohol. After receiving the drugs, her son choked the young woman while they were having sex.

In Bethesda, police wrote dozens of citations for teens drinking at a private home after a prom. The parents were cited as well for providing alcohol to youth. In Charlottesville, Virginia, a mother and stepfather were sentenced to 27 months imprisonment for hosting an underage drinking party.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 300 teens have died in alcohol-related traffic accidents during prom weekends over the past several years.

Prom season is one of the most critical times for parents to grab the reins and ensure the safety of their children with frank conversations. It could mean they save their own child’s life or the life of someone else at the party.


Karen Hadley

For more than a decade, Karen has been researching and writing about drug trafficking, drug abuse, addiction and recovery. She has also studied and written about policy issues related to drug treatment.