Parents’ Role in Educating about Alcohol and Drugs

Parents’ Role in Educating about Alcohol and Drugs

Suggestions for talking to teens about staying safe.

Graduation, prom and the summer before heading off to college are some of the highlights of a teen’s high school experience. While the season brings landmark events, it can be marred by the consequences of engaging in harmful activities.

Tips for Keeping Teens Safe

Help make prom and graduation night safe for teens by following these tips:

  • Do not serve or allow alcohol at any party you are hosting; an adult who provides alcohol to a minor is breaking the law and risking that teen’s life.

  • Know where your teenager is attending a party; verify there will be parental supervision, and that it will be alcohol-free.

• Make it clear to your teen(s) that you do not approve of their drinking alcohol.

• Report underage drinking parties by calling the Fairfax County Police Department’s non-emergency number: 703-691-2131. Your call can be anonymous and may prevent injuries or a fatal car crash.

• Educate your family on the risks associated with underage drinking and its proven harmful effects on the brain. The legal drinking age is 21, and students who wait until their early 20s to drink are 84 percent less likely to develop an addiction than those who start earlier.

• Make sure your teen has a plan for the night and that you know what it is.

• Do not rent hotel rooms for prom-goers.

• Know who is driving — if it’s a limo, check their policy on not allowing any alcohol in the vehicle and driving any teen who clearly has been drinking.

• Encourage your senior to attend their school’s All Night Graduation Celebration.

— Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County

Parents can play a pivotal role in keeping teens safe. The Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County reports that teens cite their parents as the leading influence for them not to drink, and say that it is not difficult to get alcohol from their family home, older siblings or friends. Initiating a dialogue with teens about the dangers of unsafe behaviors such as drinking and drug use can be daunting for some parents.

“We know that teens who receive consistent messages from their parents about their expectations that their child not use alcohol are much less likely to use,” said Diane Eckert, deputy executive director, Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County.

The season brings celebratory activities and less supervision, and therefore more opportunities to take chances, said Eckert. It’s critical that parents “sit down with your teens and talk with them about your expectations,” she said. “With less structure and more excitement, teens can find themselves taking more risks, so it’s important for parents to be involved.”

Conversations about safety during activities where teens will have more freedom can be difficult to navigate. “For sure those are hard conversations,” said Amy L. Best, Ph.D., professor of Sociology and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University in Fairfax. “Parents want to be careful not to drown out the fun times that prom and graduation also represent. It’s about finding balance. Part of it is about finding ways to talk about the risks without your teen walking away feeling hyper-vulnerable and disempowered.”

The dialogue should be factual and non-threatening. “Ask open-ended question about what is going on at school and with their friends,” said Best. “It easier to open those conversations when you’re not talking about your child, and you’re collecting information about what is going on at school and with their friends.” Best is author of “Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture” (2000 Routledge), which was selected for the 2002 American Educational Studies Association Critics’ Choice Award.

Difficult conversations are made easier if there is a history of open, honest communication between a parent and child. While parents should make their expectations for their child’s behavior clear, Best warns against lecturing or talking down to a teen. “The prom should not be the first time that these conversations occur,” she said. “It’s really important that kids to be able to express their feelings and have an active role in the conversation. Trust has to be built into the relationship in order for that to happen.”

A concrete plan for ensuring safety should be part of the conversation. “Kids are often in situations where alcohol is being consumed and they may not be the ones consuming it,” said Best. “So safe driving arrangements are important.”

“The good news is that a lot of kids are opting out of drinking and greater awareness around the potential for sexual assault,” said Best. “The message has to be communicated in advance and schools have a role to play in that.”

In Arlington, School Resource Officers are collaborating with local high schools to focus on alcohol use prevention and awareness programs now that prom and graduation season is underway. Programs such as “Drive to Stay Alive” and “Prom Promise” are in place to educate students in having a safe and fun prom season. One of the roles of the officers is to provide positive guidance to students “and to act as positive role models both inside and outside the school environment.”

Kathy Ely, spokeswoman for Connelly School of the Holy Child, an all-girls school in Potomac, Md., says her school, as well as most schools, have safety plans in place. “We understand the pressures that these girls are under, and work hard to educate them about effects not just now but for their future,” she said.