Opinion

Steps to a safe and fun prom night

The high-school prom can be a dream experience for teenagers, but fears for their children's safety can make it a nightmare for worried parents.

Building an ongoing relationship of trust and open communication is the best way for parents to ease those fears, says Galena Smith, teen violence prevention coordinator with Youth Eastside Services.

"If you already are comfortable talking with your teen about important issues, then it's easier to talk about prom night safety in a nonthreatening manner," she says.

There's good reason to be concerned. 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. And substance abuse increases the chances of violence and sexual assaults.

Smith recommends taking these important steps to help ensure that prom night is enjoyable and safe for teens:

* Know who your child will be with, where he/she will be, when he/she will be there and who's driving the car. "Get the cell phone numbers for your teen's friends," Smith suggests. "If they are going to a friend's house after the prom, call the parents in advance to talk about supervision, rules about alcohol and other issues. Offer to host the after-party yourself to maintain more control."

* It's OK to allow kids to stay out later than usual, but it is still important to set a curfew. "Often, teenage girls don't have strong assertiveness skills," Smith explains. "A parent-imposed curfew can give girls the 'out' they need to get home and avoid an uncomfortable situation."

* Require that your child carry a cell phone and set one or two mandatory check-in times. Teens might resist, but tell them you're concerned for their safety and want to know that they are having a good time.

* Speak frankly with your child about how to say no to drugs, alcohol or sex. Let them know what you feel is harmful and unacceptable. Provide facts, not scare tactics.

* Let kids know that keeping them safe is your top concern, not punishing them for bad behavior. "If teens have been drinking and their driver is drunk, they might not want to call their parents for a ride because they fear they'll get in trouble," Smith explains. "Let them know that you will pick them up any time, no matter what."

* If your teenager is the driver on prom night, warn he/she that there might be more drunk drivers on the road. Discuss safe driving practices, such as waiting a few seconds after the light turns green to enter an intersection. Insist that they limit the number of passengers in the car to avoid distractions.

* Coach your daughter on how to stay safe from dating violence and rape, to be assertive, to stay in groups or with other couples. Also, let your daughter know that using drugs or alcohol increases her risk of being sexually assaulted.

"With extra attention to safety, along with good communication, prom night can be a special event for teenagers and their parents," Smith concludes.

Since 1968, Youth Eastside Services has been a lifeline for kids and families in East King County. With YES at their side, they learn to cope with emotional problems and to heal from and avoid drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, dating violence, gang activity and discrimination. Regardless of their ability to pay for the services they need, more than 35,000 youth and families each year count on YES for counseling, outreach and prevention. For more information, go to www.youtheastsideservices.org.


Teresa Moore

Youth Eastside Services

Bellevue

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