For many high school students, the senior prom is one of the highlights of their school career. They’re ready to celebrate 13 years of hard work during this rite of passage before the next phase of life.

But even though the prom’s focus is on the teens, this season can be tricky for parents, too. Even they experience the peer pressure. Plenty of parents know the realities of dealing with idea of being the “cool” parents.

“The whole notion of being the cool parent who has the after-prom party, takes the car keys and allows alcohol in order to keep their teen and the rest of the group ‘safe’ is a flawed thought process,” says Hamilton County Tennessee Juvenile Court Judge Rob Philyaw. “What we really need is for parents to be the parent.”

According to the laws of several states, there is no time when a child can legally drink before age 21. If an 18- or 19-year-old is caught holding a beer without even having a sip, he or she can still be arrested for underage possession. And unfortunately, the mugshot on Right to Know or Google won’t go away unless all charges are dropped, which could certainly impact future job opportunities.

A 16- or 17-year-old caught with alcohol at a house party or behind the wheel automatically loses their driver’s license. Then, they must go through an expensive, long, arduous process to regain their driving privileges.

If you have a teen headed to the prom, there are some things you can do to help them have a great time.

  • Make sure they have a plan for the evening. Your teen should give you a complete rundown for the evening, including who they will be with and where they will go before and after the prom. Set expectations for checking in. Some parents want to hear from their teen whenever they move to a different location; others expect their teen to check in periodically throughout the evening.

  • Discuss curfew. Work together to determine a fair curfew. Consider your teen’s trustworthiness, maturity level and ability to be responsible.

  • Be specific about your safety concerns. Explain why prom night makes it more difficult to make safe and smart decisions. Don’t leave anything to their imagination; discuss the dangers surrounding drinking, drugs, driving under the influence and sex. Know who will be driving. If your teen rents a limo with friends, check out the limo company’s rules about alcohol.

  • Be sure you have information about the after-party. Don’t assume that your home rules also apply at the after-party location. Some parents believe it’s OK to serve alcohol to underage teens as long as the keys are checked at the door. But parents who choose to have a party at their house where minors are drinking alcohol need to consider the consequences. Contributing to the delinquency of a minor carries a sentence of up to 11 months and 29 days in the Hamilton County jail or probation for that amount of time. These consequences are minor compared to dealing with the loss of a life caused by teenage drinking.

  • Give your teen an unconditional offer for assistance. Make sure your teen knows that you want to be their first call for help. Some parents and teens have an agreed-upon code to use in case the teen feels uncomfortable with her date or does not want to go along with an unsafe plan. Be clear that you are willing to pick them up at any time and will save the lecture for later.

  • Most importantly, your teen needs to know you love him/her. One of the best ways to show love is to set limits. Help them understand that limits are there to make sure prom plans are safe.

“The stakes for today’s teens are higher in some respects,” Philyaw says. “Being crazy in 1984 and being crazy now are two very different scenarios.

“It is true: You only live once. We need to help our teens make wise decisions that will not haunt them as they launch into the next stage of life.”

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