Warmer months are exciting times for high school students. Spring break, proms and graduation parties provide opportunities for young adults to let loose, kick back and celebrate the end of the school year with their peers.
While parents want their young adults to have a fun spring party season, they need to be aware of the safety issues that surround this time of year. One major concern is underage drinking and substance abuse.
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety roughly a third of alcohol-related teen traffic fatalities occur between April and June.” In addition to driving issues, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to other destructive behavior including accidents like falling down the stairs, fighting, sexual assault, etc.
How can parents help young adults to enjoy the season while staying safe?
Peer Influence on Young Adults
Social peer pressure may be the number one reason that young adults choose to drink alcohol. They may worry if they do not partake they will be missing out on the experience or deemed “un-cool” by their friends. A 2005 survey conducted by Chrysler Group's Road Ready Teens program and partner Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) found that many teens reported pressure to engage in unsafe activities on prom and graduation nights, such as drinking alcohol, drinking and driving and driving carelessly/speeding.
However, peers can also act as a positive influence on each other. Much of the spring party season is about connecting with friends and this can be done without engaging in dangerous activities. Rick Birt, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD Inc.) says, “One of our primary goals at SADD is to educate young adults on how to be role models for their peers.
It is up to them to make sure that everyone around them is making responsible decisions and stays safe. It is empowering for young adults to know they can speak up and influence their peers to make good choices.”
Parental Role in Underage Drinking
Although underage drinking is against the law, parents may feel hypocritical challenging their young adult about alcohol consumption because they remember drinking when they were that age. This feeling of nostalgia for their own prom or senior year may cloud their better judgment.
Parents may also be negatively influenced by social peer pressure. They rationalize that “all” the other parents are allowing their children to break the rules and they don’t want to be the only strict ones who say no or set limits. With young adults leaving home in just a few months, parents may be more inclined to avoid arguments and be more lenient.
Some parents may think they can keep kids safe by compromising or bending the rules. They may allow a party with alcohol but collect car keys in advance so no one drives drunk or encourage them to drink only beer and avoid hard alcohol. But these policies only serve to send young adults conflicting messages about underage alcohol use.
In addition, it is illegal to serve alcohol to minors. The Drug Free Action Alliance’s program, Parents Who Host Lose the Most, seeks to educate parents about the dangers and safety issues associated with underage drinking.
Promoting Alcohol Free Celebrations
All over the country there are school officials, parents and young adults working together to come up with creative ways to have substance free celebrations.
One such initiative is the Safe Sober Prom Night founded in 1991 to encourage young adults to stay safe and alcohol free on prom night. Over 450 high schools in North and South Carolina have participated. Students are asked to sign a pledge that they will stay sober during prom night. There are similar programs throughout the country including in Los Angeles, Southington, Connecticut, and in Virginia.
“Project Graduation” is another popular initiative. The original “Project Graduation” was held in Maine after eighteen people died during two graduation seasons due to alcohol-related crashes. Since then, “Project Graduation” has become a generic name for substance-free graduation and prom celebrations. Schools organize events from laser tag to bowling to community service projects that offer students fun ways to hang out together after their graduation ceremony without being tempted or bullied into partaking in drinking alcohol or doing drugs.
Keeping Young Adults Safe
Parents can help their young adult children to make good choices during the spring party season by talking to them. Good communication between young adults and their parents can have a significant impact. Birt explains, “Young adults brains are not fully developed so they are predisposed to risky behavior. Parents need to have honest conversations with their teens, not only about the dangers of drugs and alcohol but also other concerns such as driving while drowsy or under the influence of prescription medications. They need to understand that one bad decision can having lasting consequences.”
Remind young adults that they can have a good time and bond with their friends without binge drinking or using illegal substances. In fact, they will create better memories if they are sober and can remember all the fun that they had. In addition, explain that legally, if someone were to drink alcohol in your home and get in an accident while driving, you and your family could incur large financial damages because the alcohol had been consumed on your property.
As part of an initiative to promote communication between young adults and their parents SADD has created the Contract for Life. Says Birt, “The contract is a way for parents to educate their teens about good decision making but it also takes into account that sometimes teens will make bad choices. The contract also states that young adults can call their parents if they are ever in a situation that threatens their safety and the parent will help them.
Keeping young adults safe is the number one priority.”