I’m a parent of a senior who hopes to go a rental home at Suncadia for the prom “after party” with a large group of friends. I heard this was a tradition for some Mercer Island teens, but it feels difficult for us as parents to say “No.” I think an event of this magnitude is unnecessary and worry about late-night driving and drinking that will inevitably happen at the unchaperoned event. My daughter says, “this is a tradition, Mom,” but I am sure there must be some safer, closer alternatives.
How can we talk about changing traditions that pose risks for our kids, and how do we change the culture in our community so parents don’t feel compelled to support them? I am hoping there does not have to be a tragedy to bring this conversation into the open.
You’ve captured the worries faced each year by a relatively small group of Island parents. Off-island after parties are not an all-Island tradition, but they do happen among a minority of graduates. You are correct — these parties pose many risks. Parents need to weigh the pros/cons against, perhaps, insisting on a safer, but less cool, alternative. Yes, it is okay to say “No.”
Alcohol and drug use is often a key motivation behind destination parties. In addition to the illegality, consider that youth who use alcohol are also at risk for unwanted or unprotected sex, aggression, car crashes and alcohol poisoning. Marijuana and other drug use are especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol as well. In terms of intoxication, think 2+2=6.
Some youth get in trouble when they think they have tolerance to alcohol then drink in a new location and become dangerously impaired on the same amount they usually drink. This is due to the expectancy effect where the body anticipates intoxication based on familiar surroundings and can process alcohol more effectively — when youth “surprise” their systems and drink heavily in a novel location, they get drunker faster. This is one reason there are so many cases of alcohol poisoning the freshman year of college.
There are also risks to the adults renting the venue and helping with arrangements. Providing or allowing alcohol to be consumed by a minor is a crime. Consider also the consequences for accidents, personal injury and damage to the rental.
So, should you forbid it, or perhaps insist on some “harm reduction” strategies? At similar events in the past, parents themselves have chaperoned the event (on site) and insisted on safe behaviors.
Parents can contract with their grads for safe behavior as well. While 40-60 seniors may leave the prom early for a rental house, clearly most seniors are doing something else— and this is a good reminder for your grad.
All parents should remind youth of the Good Samaritan laws in effect for minors just in case someone is in distress.
I suggest the site drugfree.org for ideas for parents and safety around substances and youth.
Helping your grad put an exclamation point on their high school career is also very important. Typically, this involves their social group, so now is a good time to cash-in on those relationships you have with other parents to brainstorm ideas. These discussions, armed with good information, are how the culture can start to change. At YFS we follow best practice guidelines and suggest parents should hold a firm line with any drugs and alcohol for minors — as the risks more than likely outweigh the reward.
Congratulations and best of luck to both of you in your next chapter in life.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth and Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for informational purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. The answers to questions are not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, psychological, financial, medical, legal or other professional advice. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email email@example.com.