Prom time is upon us once again. For many American teenagers each spring, prom night is often seen as a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood.
Unfortunately, these nights of celebration have also marked the end of so many young dreams because of drinking, drugs and driving.
Many adults know the kind of recklessness teenagers are prone to when they get together. When these gatherings include an element of finality like a prom or graduation, the danger quotient rises exponentially.
Parents, members of the hospitality industry, limousine companies and licensed alcoholic beverage establishments should do all they can to help keep teens safe during the next four weeks.
Last year’s Fairfax County Youth Survey should be mandatory reading for every mom and dad in Northern Virginia. According to the survey, 37.1 percent of high school seniors in Fairfax reported they had consumed alcohol in the past 30 days, while another 20.7 percent said they engaged in binge drinking in the past two weeks. Perhaps even more troubling was the survey’s finding that 65 percent of underage youth said they got alcohol from family or friends.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 189,000 emergency room visits last year by youths under the age of 21 were for alcohol-related injuries and conditions.
Based on those statistics — and many others just like them — it’s safe to say teens regularly are drinking alcohol and driving under its influence, and prom night is no exception. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-related car accidents involving teens rise sharply between April and June.
Steps can be taken to turn those numbers around.
For starters, do not allow young people to attend parties where alcohol is flowing. That includes hotels, licensed establishments or the back of a 12-seat limousine. Adults who provide alcohol or allow individuals under 21 to drink alcohol at a party in their home should also be reminded that they are subject to prosecution and four-figure fines.
Most important, parents should have a conversation with their teenager about responsibility. It certainly would not hurt to discuss prom night plans. Find out what your teenager is going to be doing that night. If their school has pre- and post-prom activities, encourage them to attend.
Talk with them about the consequences of drinking: poor judgment, becoming more uninhibited, nausea, hangovers, irritability and sleep disturbances.
Although it seems obvious, teens should be reminded to never get into a car with a driver who has been drinking, even if it is their boyfriend or best friend. Many parents should strike a deal with their teenagers that, regardless of time or place, they will pick them up without a question being asked. If a family car is not available, consider sending a cab or agreeing on another mode of public transportation.
No parent should have to endure the pain of a post-prom phone call from a police officer or emergency room physician.
Not when there is a chance that a word of warning might have made a difference.