Prom? — Tips for parents for high school’s big night

Prom night doesn’t have to come with pressure if parents provide the appropriate focus and perspective. UAB psychologist Josh Klapow, Ph.D., provides advice.
prom“It seems like such a loss of innocence that something like prom has to be a night of potential danger.”

Prom season will soon be in full swing over the coming weeks. High school students will be getting dressed up in anticipation of a memorable time for one magical evening. However, it isn’t just a big dance anymore.

Prom has transformed into an extravagant event that causes enormous amounts of stress and pressure for teenagers and their families, says Josh Klapow, Ph.D., associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and a clinical psychologist.

Instead of just having fun, the focus has turned into having the most outlandish “promposals,” photo shoots or the biggest hangover. For many parents, there is fear and worry about alcohol, drugs and sexual activity.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, one in three children under age 21 who died in alcohol-related accidents died during prom and graduation season, and a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services national survey reported 39 percent of high school senior boys considered it acceptable to force sex on a girl who is intoxicated by alcohol or high on drugs.

“It seems like such a loss of innocence that something like prom has to be a night of potential danger,” Klapow said.

Klapow offers these tips for parents looking to manage stress and combat worry:

Start early

Planting the seed is important. Teens need time to chew on the ideas that parents present. The more time they have to mull it over and process it, the more likely they are to come back with questions and initiate conversation.

Initiate open conversations with your teen

Talking to a teen about drugs, alcohol and sex on prom night should not be an inquisition or a lecture. “If you jump on your teen to strike fear in them, in most cases they will shut you out,” according to Klapow. “They are not adults; but if you want to engage them, treat them like adults. Ask questions. Have them offer their thoughts about drugs, alcohol and sex on prom night. Keep it open and general, but keep them talking.”

Be prepared

Know what you are talking about, says Klapow. This may mean doing some research or refreshing on your own. Parents should be ready to answer questions about their own prom night. This is not a time to deny everything. It is a time to talk about learning from experiences.”

Reach an agreement through negotiation, not dictatorship

“A very powerful angle to take with your teen is to be realistic about what might happen,” Klapow suggested. “Instead of making them promise to be good, give them the tools to get out of tough situations. An agreement or contract that you negotiate with them can be a very liberating action for you and your teen — typically something that includes their willingness and promise to call you for help if they get into a dangerous situation that includes alcohol, drugs or unwanted sexual activity. Your agreement to serve as the rescue with your promise not to publicly humiliate or judge is vital.”