Help your teen have a prom and graduation to remember

By Sharon Foster and Michael Langer

Many teens are making plans for senior prom and graduation. While these are fun and safe events for most, it is also a high-risk time for underage drinking and other drug use. Parents and other adults can help keep teens safe by being informed and prepared.

While most students in Washington are making healthy choices, some may think of prom and graduation night as a “rite of passage” that should include alcohol. High school students have grown up with continuous alcohol advertising messages reminding us that just about any occasion is reason to celebrate with alcohol. And now that marijuana is legal for those ages 21 or older, teens may believe it is also ok for them to use.

The good news is that two out of three high school seniors choose not to drink alcohol, and nearly 11,000 fewer students used alcohol in 2012 compared to 2010 (Washington State Healthy Youth Survey). It’s important that parents and other adults recognize teens for the healthy choices they are making, and reinforce how their choices will help them now and with their future plans.

It’s also important to make a plan with your teen for what they will do if they are in a risky situation, such as being at a party where alcohol is available. Let your teen know they can call you any time, no questions asked, if an unsafe situation develops and they need a ride home. Remind them to never get in a car if the driver has been drinking or using other drugs. Their safety is the top priority.

To help your teen have a safe, fun and memorable prom and graduation night:

  1. Remember that you still have the most influence on your teens – they don’t want to disappoint you.
  2. Set clear rules about not drinking, and enforce reasonable consequences for breaking them.
  3. Offer to plan, host and supervise an alcohol-free graduation party.
  4. Talk to other parents about their celebration plans post-event plans for teens to make sure alcohol won’t be present.

Alcohol has taken more young lives than tobacco and illicit drugs combined. Teens need to know there are many risks that go along with underage drinking. Alcohol is especially harmful to the developing teen brain – it can damage learning, memory and impulse control. It can also lead to risky behavior that could cause problems for them long after prom night.

We all want our teens to stay safe as they celebrate the final days of high school, yet only 29% of 12th graders say their parents talk to them about the risks of underage drinking. To get the facts and tips on getting the conversation started, visit

Sharon Foster is chair of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Michael Langer is Chief of Behavioral Health and Prevention with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Service, Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery. Both Foster and Langer are co-chairs of the Washington State Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking (RUaD).


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