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Parents Can Help Make Teens' Prom a Night to Remember for the Right Reasons

By Sam Smith, MD, Surgeon in Chief, Arkansas Children's Hospital

It's prom season across Arkansas, and teens in every corner of our state are starting to plan out that special night. Their thoughts are filled with questions about the occasion: What will they wear? Who will they go with? Where will they dine beforehand?

But the bigger questions are ones that parents need to be asking to open a healthy discussion about safety on this memory-making evening: Who is driving? Where will they go afterward? What will their teen do if placed in a dangerous situation and needs a safe out? Talking with teens well in advance of the adrenaline-fueled night and working on a plan together can give parents peace of mind and their children a safer and more fun experience.

You can open the conversation by saying you're excited for your teen to have a great, memorable prom, and that their safety is the most important detail to plan for. I found with my teens it was always important to give them a lot of credit too; they need to know you trust them to make good decisions and that you simply want to give them the resources to do just that.

Between us parents, there's a frightening reality: Teens are nearly four times as likely to be involved in a car crash as other drivers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is why our state created the graduated driver license (GDL) program in 2009 – it places limits on the risks teens face at the wheel. One of those limits is a curfew for hours that teens can drive. Remind your young driver that this curfew is still in effect on nights like prom and even more important since more teen drivers are on the road.

Also talk with them about limiting distractions. By the GDL regulations, a driver under 18 can only have one passenger unrelated to them who is less than 21 years old. Fewer passengers create fewer distractions. This helps your teen driver focus on the challenges of driving – on special occasions like prom and every other day of the year.

Suggest that your teen finalize plans for where and when to meet their friends well before they walk out the door. That may help limit their desire or "need" to text on the way there. Explain that texting while driving is every bit as dangerous as other risks that inhibit our judgment, like drugs and alcohol.

Every parent wants their teen to abstain from these dangerous substances, of course, but they need our guidance to do this. Talk to them about the risks of drinking or using drugs and driving. This is also a good time to delicately explain that alcohol is frequently connected to sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, according to the CDC.

Reassure your teens that you want them to have a great time but that you also don't want one night to have negative life-long consequences. Refusing an invitation for a drink or joint might just help them avoid such a situation.

It may also be helpful to walk through some scenarios with your prom-goer so he or she has ideas about how respond without feeling the added pressure of being surprised by a situation.

For example, you might develop a little code between you and your teen to help them get out of a situation that makes them uncomfortable. The code might mean their date has been drinking and they need a ride home or that there's simply some activity they want to escape before it gets out of hand. All they have to do is call you and use that word – or text you with it when they're not driving – and you'll know they need a safe ride.

Some kids may also like having their parents as an excuse. This is where it may be OK to tell a little fib. "My mom always finds out, and the last time, I had to give up my iPhone for a few weeks. It was killer."

Encourage your teen to practice these responses so they can have confidence when they need to use them.

The excitement of prom may also lead to stress for some teens. This may also lead to dating violence. Discuss with your teen that dating violence can occur in any type of relationship – long-term, just met, straight or gay. Abuse can take many forms, too, from verbal to physical, emotional to sexual. Tell your teen they can always count on you to help if they think the relationship is becoming dangerous. Encourage them to know their boundaries sexually, too, and to communicate them clearly with their partner.

Finally, don't let prom frighten you, as the parent! Yes, there are many risks to our teens, but they face these same challenges every day of the year. They certainly are magnified during events like prom, but if we equip our teens to make good decisions and openly discuss these hard subjects, you should be able to trust that your young adult will do the right thing.

Now, on to the memory-making!

Here's another tip: Be sure to download the new MyACH iPhone app, free from Arkansas Children's Hospital in the App Store. Everything a busy parent needs – from a health library to storage for your child's health info, insurance, medications and more.

Sam Smith, MD, is surgeon in chief at Arkansas Children's Hospital and a professor of Surgery at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He writes a column each week covering a variety of kids' medical concerns. If you have a topic you'd like him to consider addressing, email achconnect@archildrens.org.

Arkansas Children's Hospital
1 Children's Way
Little Rock, AR 72202-3591

Call: 501-364-1100

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