The Significance of Prom
The night of Prom is second only to high school graduation for teen drinking, drug use, and the crimes and accidents that come with these preventable behaviors. It can feel like Prom is such a large-scale event spanning your teen’s social scene that there is little that can be done to affect it. Taking a few steps back from Prom night, however, options begin to appear. Understanding the symbolic and pivotal role Prom plays in the minds and lives of so many teens is the first step to reframing these rights of passage in safer and more stimulating ways, making Prom itself less significant to your teen. On top of this important first step, there are lots of tips and tactics you can use to help your teen pull off the healthiest Prom possible.

Growing up is confusing. Cultural mile markers are fading away, leaving families, communities, and teens at a loss about how to know when teens have became ‘adults.’ In this respect Prom serves three primary functions. First, it makes teens feel like leaders in their community, dressing in their finest and putting on an event that does not need an adult audience to validate its importance. Second, it confirms that they are now ready and encouraged to begin to be romantically involved. Third, it formalizes each teen’s status in the class system of cool. Who is Prom King will likely be utterly trivial a few years down the line. Yet, the long-term impression of seeing someone so openly placed in a delineated class system is definitely part of growing up today.

Alternative Rites of Passage
There are fascinating and critical elements of America’s disappearing cultural rites of passage that if considered can help you and you teen put Prom in perspective. For example, in many cultures families put on dances for their teenage daughters, Quinceaneras or Debutante Balls, that have created similar rites of passage as Prom. However, these events are planned by a teen’s parents, keeping them clearly within bounds, and surrounding the teen with family as well as friends. Finding ways to offer your teen alternative ways to achieve rites of passage, especially those that Prom symbolizes, often helps teens build the self confidence to understand that they do not need to take Prom too seriously. If your teen comes to understand that Prom is less significant than it may appear at the height of his or her classmates’ preparations, then he or she will likely feel far less pressured to celebrate Prom unwisely by getting drunk or using drugs.

Choosing to help your teen through rites of passage that speak to a teenager personally is a wise and loving way to support your teen overall, yet it is likely also the best big picture way to protect your teen on Prom night. With such unusually high levels of drinking and drug use that night, teens can almost certainly take part if they choose to. Building their confidence so that they can feel like they do not need to drink and do drugs may be your best shot.

Ideas for rites of passage that you could support for your teen include getting together with family and friends to throw a party well before Prom that fills the same symbolic role, offering your teen whatever possible opportunities to travel, and fostering independence and self reliance. Travel can help teens understand that what goes in their high school is just a very small part of the world. Spending time alone or with a parent in the wilderness is fantastic way to provide your teen with chance for profound self reflection, making your teen surer of him or herself and less susceptible to pressure. It’s vital to help teenagers take leadership roles in professional and community events. If they become deft and confident in the spotlight they will be less likely to feel a need to get drunk or use drugs to ‘be cool’ or calm their nerves when they step into the social spotlight going to Prom. Take every opportunity to support your teen in having healthy and appropriate relationships before Prom, whether that’s letting him or her borrow the car more often, or just being open and supportive about dating, rather than nosy and judgmental. If your teen is comfortable dating before prom then he or she can feel less pressured to go over the top at prom with drugs and alcohol in a misguided attempt to have a good date.

Tips and Tactics for a Sober Prom
The bottom line is that even if your teen is incredibly confident and mature, asking him or her to play it safe on Prom night may not be enough, because many teens don’t need to be pressured to use drugs and alcohol; they may think it is fun to “party” with their friends. However, that can be very dangerous, especially on Prom night. Here are some specific tips and tactics to limit their opportunities to get in trouble after leaving the Prom. First, it is always helpful to get to know your teen’s friends and date; inviting them to have fun with your family, camping, playing sports, traveling, or just getting together for a meal will give you valuable insight into your teen’s life, and provide hints about how they may be getting into trouble. Putting extra energy into these activities before the big event will help you see your teen’s Prom plans in the context of his or her overall social life and make you a better informed planning partner for Prom night.

It’s a great idea to offer to help your teen plan a couple weeks in advance. It can help to start the process of Prom by taking time to have fun with your teen and catching up on what’s going on in his or her life by going out to dinner or taking a hike together etc. That way you can put aside distractions and listen to your teen and have a thoughtful discussion to start the Prom experience on the right course, offering your help as needed. By getting involved early you have the opportunity to help set the plan rather than frustrating him or her by trying to tweak the plan after it has been made. Even if your teen does not have a date yet you can still start offering safe after-Prom options and simply discuss your concerns, letting your teen know that you are there to help him or her have fun, not control the fun. If you are spending time with their friends before the Prom you could offer help to the friends you trust most, so they can support your son or daughter in making the right choices, too.

It is critical to be observant and take precautions on your own before Prom to minimize chances for trouble. It can be tempting not give constant attention to physically keeping drugs and alcohol out of your teen’s hands, yet the weeks before Prom are no time to look the other way. If they have been in the habit of drinking and using drugs in the weeks before Prom they are much more likely to get drunk and high on Prom night.
Take stock of any alcohol and prescription drugs in your house and put them under lock and key.

Teens usually don’t take lecturing well, yet there are issues that are crucial to discuss and make sure your teen is well informed about before Prom. For example, one drug that sees a huge spike in use on Prom night is cocaine. It can be very difficult to figure out if your teen is at risk for cocaine use because it’s a party drug that is shared so much that teens rarely have to buy it to use it. However, sharing specific information on cocaine a few days before the Prom can help. You can let your teen know that “Coke (cocaine) makes people hyperactive, mean, and emotionally cold, and it gives people trouble having sex.” Also make sure your teen’s sex education is up to date; whether you approve or not, Prom is a high water mark for teen sex. Besides providing him or her with contraceptives if it does not deeply contradict your values, it’s good to discuss emotional dangers of rushing into sex especially while drunk or high. Though it may feel uncomfortable, sharing some of your personal experience can be really helpful, since you can guarantee your teen will be listening.

Ways To Make Plans Safer
When you are helping your teen make plans for prom it is critical to know not only whom he or she will be going with and hanging out with, but also where they will be and what they will be doing all night. Ideally, the plan will keep your teen in places that openly do not accept drug and alcohol use. Ask around to find out about after prom parties supervised by other parents. You could even help your teen, their friends, and their friends’ parents put one together. Sweetening the deal by doing it somewhere with a hot tub or pool helps. Renting hotel rooms is generally a very poor idea because whether someone is trying to supervise the party or not, parties in hotel rooms garner expectations of debauchery among potential guests

If your teen is going to be somewhere you are not familiar with, check it out. If they will be using a limo, you can call the company and make sure they enforce a no drinking policy. If your teen is not taking a limo or cab make sure they have money specifically for a cab home. Although someone may be a designated driver, it’s not wise to count on another teen to stay sober and drive your teen home, even a date. It’s a good idea to chat with the police and see if they have any ideas on what local trouble spots are for teens, houses or places where teens have been caught drinking or using drugs in the past that you don’t know about. Then if those places come up in your teen’s plans you know what to say. Encourage the people planning the Prom to serve dinner. If they are not going to, make sure your teen has a filling meal before Prom. A full stomach means that if they do drink it will take more to get them drunk or give them alcohol poisoning.

Consider that plans very often change on Prom night as teens hear about other parties or things going on. Though you can tell your teen not to change the plan, a functional guarantee is hard to come by. Asking him or her to call or text message you when leaving the Prom to let you if plans are changing is practical first step. The one thing many teens want to get out of prom night more than a wild party is sex. If you approve of your teen having sex, or even are just resigned to the likelihood of it, offering to stay out of the way if he or she decides to bring his or her date home is a very effective way of getting them home sober.

Always Keep the Help Line Open
There is so much for you and your teenager to do preparing for Prom that it can be easy to get stressed out and frustrated with each other. It’s important to be a little extra forgiving so that there are no bad feelings between you on Prom night. Even if you find his or her date appalling or can’t agree on safe plans, an open and supportive mood between you and your teen on Prom night is your best resource for a Prom healthy night. Do your best to make your teen feel like he or she can always call you for a ride, and can bring the friends, too – even if they are not coming straight home. You don’t have to embarrass them, just be considerate and discrete. Even if they have gone through their own rites of passage, see Prom as an insignificant tradition, and don’t seem likely to get into trouble, Prom night will abound with opportunities for bad decisions. If your teenager feels like you have been overly controlling, or you have been arguing, there is much a better chance he or she will throw caution to the wind and get high and/or drunk. Keeping the help line open, both practically and emotionally, can help safeguard your teen during this critical event.