What is it about this time of year that makes otherwise rational parents seem to lose their grip on reality?
Think about it. Parents who would never consider putting their 17 year-olds on a plane for Daytona Beach during Spring Break, proudly wish them well when they head for an unsupervised weekend at the Jersey shore. Somehow, the dangerous drinking and casual sex they have seen on television couldn’t possibly be happening at Seaside. “Not my Kid” becomes a parent’s wishful thinking mantra.
Studies have revealed that 40 percent of teen traffic fatalities during the prom and graduation weekends were alcohol-related. In fact, underage drinking is a major factor in the two leading causes of teenage deaths: car crashes and fatal injuries. Underage high-risk drinking (and make no mistake, this is the only way they drink) is also linked to two thirds of sexual assaults and date rapes of teens and increases the likelihood of unsafe and unplanned sexual activity.
If a concern for safety is not enough to promote responsible parental behavior, perhaps knowing the legal and financial risks of serving alcohol to minors or renting hotel rooms for minors under their name will help. Serving alcohol to any underage child other than your own is illegal. Should any harm come to that child or someone else as a result of that child’s alcohol use, whoever provided the alcohol is legally liable. In other words, renting a hotel room could cost you your house.
With all of that in mind, here are some tips for parents and care givers that hold true, no matter what time of year it is:
- Be up when they come home — A parent once told me that her prevention plan was coffee and lights — be wide awake with the lights on, sitting at the kitchen table coffee in hand, when they come in the front door. A teen’s curfew should never exceed the parents’ ability to stay up. Set the rule that your child must give you a hug and kiss goodnight before they head to bed. This gives you the opportunity to both see and smell them. Plus, you are never too old for a hug.
- Have a conversation with your child about your expectations, AGAIN — Although 80% of parents say they talk to their teens about alcohol and other drug use, only 20% of teens say they recall the conversation. Be direct. Talk to them about drinking and driving, getting in the car with drunk drivers, and what they can do if something goes unexpectedly wrong. Consider role-playing a few scenarios. Research shows that parents who discuss possible scenarios in great detail and seek their teens’ knowledge about what to do increase the chances of their teen actually doing what they suggest.
- Don’t blindly trust other parents – If your child is going to a party in someone else’s home, make sure the host parent knows your expectations regarding alcohol. Too many parents fool themselves that they are being safe by just “taking the keys.”
As much as they would like to think so, teens do not think or act like adults. It’s up to the real adults to protect our children by being parents. Fatal car accidents, injuries, and assaults are not rites of passage for any adolescent.