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Last year, my teenage son went to his first prom. We spent a hectic month putting together his tuxedo, making sure his tie and pocket square matched his girlfriend's dress, setting up dinner reservations, coordinating transportation, planning pictures and finalizing curfew rules.
More important than all of the scheduling and outfit details was a discussion we had before prom about making smart decisions and being responsible.
Thankfully, prom went off without a hitch. This year, I have two kids in high school who still haven't decided if they're going to prom or not, but if so – I know it will be OK, as long as we cover these five rules.
1. Don't have unprotected sex.
Hopefully, you've already had "the talk" with your kids long before prom is on the horizon. This talk has more to do with reinforcing the importance of safe sex rather than demanding there be no sex. Why? If we tell our children they can't have sex, chances are, they still will — with or without our approval. If we teach them the importance of having protected sex when and if they are ready to begin a sexual relationship, we are giving them the tools to avoid teenage pregnancy and STDs. I'd rather my sons know how to wrap it up than how to sneak a sexual relationship behind my back. This talk also includes a discussion about consent and personal responsibility. My sons both understand that no means no, and yes is not an option if the other person is intoxicated.
2. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. Like the safe sex talk, the drug and alcohol discussion has been going on in my household for a long time. Both of my sons know drugs and alcohol are addictive, dangerous substances that can lead to poor judgment, legal ramifications and even death. Before prom, I talked with my oldest son about abstaining from drug and alcohol use, about the consequences of using (which would include a loss of privileges for a very long time) and about reasons to stay sober, like being able to remember such a special night, not making a fool of himself in front of others, and being able to keep himself and his girlfriend safe at all times.
3. Don't get in a car with someone who is intoxicated. By now, our children have heard "don't drink and drive" enough times to know it by heart, but they should also know to never get in the car with a driver who is intoxicated. Each year the highest number of teenage driving fatalities occurs during prom weekend, and one in three of those deaths will be alcohol related. Share this statistic with your children and talk with them about alternative ways they can find safe transportation. Before prom, my son had the Uber and Lyft apps on his phone, and the number of three different taxi companies written on a piece of paper tucked into his wallet, just in case his phone died.
4. Be a leader, not a follower. Sometimes, when large groups of hyper teenagers get together, stupid decisions follow. It's easy to get swept up in the moment and do something foolish (who hasn't been there?) but it's also important to be an example for others. I told my son that if the group of people he was spending time with were doing things that could get him in trouble, it's best to step away. I also talked to him about the importance of notifying a trusted adult if he witnessed someone doing something potentially dangerous. It's better to get help than to risk letting someone hurt themselves or others.
5. Call me without hesitation. I told my son that I didn't care what time of the night it was, where he'd been, or what he'd been doing; if he needed me, he could call me (collect, even) and I would be there. That applies even if he didn't follow a single rule I'd set for him. He knew he could call me without fear of humiliation or public anger and that we would deal with whatever needed to be dealt with in private, and with respect and dignity. Sometimes asking for help when you've made a mistake is the hardest thing to do, and I wanted to remove that fear for my son. I also wanted him to know that I wouldn't sleep until I knew he was home safe, so calling me would be OK, no matter if he needed help, or just wanted to say hello and tell me how his night was going.