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Counselor's Corner

Prom, for Better or Worse

It’s a beautiful time of year here in Portland. Spring has sprung and that means warmer days, blooming flowers and PROM. I’m sure a lot of you have memories from your own prom experience. Even if you didn't attend prom there may be rumors or stories you heard about a peer’s prom experience.

Prom, for better or worse, will be remembered by students who attend (and perhaps those who don’t). Most students are out to make memories on this night. Sometimes, students feel pressured by media or other peers to expect outlandish stories or activities for prom. This kind of pressure mixes particularly poorly with the teen brain, and the more excited or stimulated students are, the more likely they are to make poor choices.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of data and some tragic stories to support this. Most of you know how to prepare your student for this milestone event, but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to outline some common sense tips regarding you, your student, and prom. So here are five tips to get you and your student safely through this magical night:

  • 1. Keep the lecturing at bay. Remember that the prom is your student's chance to pretend that he or she is grown-up. Treat your student like an “adult in training,” or a mentee (you being the mentor.) You can still bring your family values to the table. These values will be more likely internalized if you’re the “older adult” rather than the “strict parent.” Discussing expectations for the night, let your student come up with some ideas. You don’t have to agree with them, but it gives your student a sense of mastery and control over the event. This is a great moment in your student’s life to help them master the skill of making wise choices.

  • 2. Plan for the unexpected. For example, if you ask your student to text you to let you know where they are at a certain time, there should be a plan in place if you don’t get that text. Talk to your student about what must happen. Make it clear that you have to do something. A word of caution: using threats, intimidation, or humiliation in an attempt to force compliance will result in your student possibly starting to believe that doing what you warned against is a sure way to feel independent. It is more effective for students to learn independence by learning to make wise choices. You might make a deal that if you don't hear from your student, you’ll get in touch with the parents of the other student(s) who are attending the prom. I encourage you to touch base with those other parents before the big night so that you’re all on the same page.

  • 3. Do not share stories of how crazy it got at your prom. This can be confusing for your children. Please don’t use your own hi-jinks as a cautionary tale. I doubt your student wants to hear them. Also, do you really want that information repeated to peers, other parents, or the school counselor? Also, it can up the stakes for whatever shenanigans they are planning.

  • 4. Demonstrate the behavior you expect from your student. Parents who stay out late without notifying their students or drive under the influence are not modeling healthy behavior. These parents are not very effective when they tell their students to “behave” on prom night. Remember the old saying, “Your actions speak so loud, I can’t hear the words you say.”

  • 5. Don’t supply booze or edibles! Do not give your student intoxicants or have intoxicants at your house for the prom party. This sends a highly mixed message, is very illegal and extremely dangerous for minors. I especially stress this to Edison parents —the mixture of alcohol and prescribed medications can make them very sick. If your student takes ADHD medication, antidepressants, etc. make sure they know the consequences of mixing drugs and alcohol. No one wants to spend prom in the hospital ER.

So this brings up the obvious question: Will kids still abuse alcohol or drugs? Possibly, but not all kids will. Regardless, you can tell your student that you expect them to make wise decisions, thinking things through carefully. If they find themselves in a dangerous situation, let them know they can call you and that you will come get them, no questions asked. Tell you student that you are happy to be the “bad guy.” Let them blame you and your possible punishment for whatever irresponsible thing their friends want them to do. Tell them to use their prescribed medications as an excuse out of imbibing alcohol or drugs.

As parents and educators, we want to guide our students into wisdom, making smart choices, and predicting outcomes of behavior. Helping students learn important life skills is an ongoing process and prom is one more opportunity for them to learn and practice these skills.