How to help your teen stay safe around prom and graduation season

picture of mother and son talking

As the school year winds down, the season of milestones approaches—prom, senior trips, graduation. So how can you talk to your teen about making smart choices when they are out celebrating?

Parents should have conversations with their children early and often. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), “Children as young as 9 years old already start viewing alcohol in a more positive way, and approximately 3,300 kids as young as 12 try marijuana each day.” Stress, peer pressure and transitions can contribute to drug and alcohol use among teens, so during the busy season of teen milestones like proms and graduations, it’s a good time to reinforce these conversations.

Be clear and honest

More than 80% of children between the ages of 10 and 18 say that their parents’ opinion about alcohol affects their decision to drink. Don’t assume your child knows how you feel. If you expect your child not to use drugs and alcohol, you need to tell them that. Be prepared to discuss your own experiences with drugs and alcohol.

Teens need to know they can trust you. Some families have a no-ask policy where if their child is in an uncomfortable situation, they can call for a ride—no questions asked. This doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences for not following expectations. It means making it easy for your child to leave an uncomfortable situation safely without fearing your reaction.

Talk about consequences

Teens should understand all the consequences of their choices—not just those within your household. Be a reliable source of information when it comes to explaining the legal and personal costs of poor decisions. Discuss with them how their choices can affect their family, their community and their future, such as endangering themselves or others, paying fines and legal fees, or losing privileges like driving.

Alcohol and other drugs can interfere with recognizing and respecting boundaries. As teens experience more independence with friends at parties, you can help teach consent by modeling healthy boundaries, affirming the importance of asking for permission before touching people (including hugs and tickling) and respecting when someone says “no” to any touching.

Not respecting consent comes with severe consequences. Taking advantage of someone under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is a form of sexual assault. And though the specific charges can vary depending on the victim’s age and the sexual contact, most people convicted of sexual assault must register as a sex offender.

Have a plan and practice

Practicing these talks with your child can help make sure your approach will be willing to listen and talk with you. To help have these conversations, SAMHSA offers a mobile app.

Practice with your child how they might handle a situation where they might feel uncomfortable speaking up—or saying no. Practice what they might say if their driver leaves a party impaired. Discuss what actions they can take, like calling you for a ride.

Consider using a code word or phrase if your child gets into a situation where they feel unsafe; they can text you that code word for you to call them or to pick them up.

Communication is key

Open and frequent conversation is the most important action you can take to make sure your teen stays safe. Let them know how much you care and that you are someone they can trust to come to and be honest with.


Watch the “How to Keep Your Teen Safe Around Prom and Graduation Season” webinar for more information on talking to your children about making safe choices.



Deryn Smith, MPH, community health partnership coordinator
Population Health, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

Andrea Smith, MPA, MSW, community health partnership coordinator
Population Health, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

Lexi Bly, MPH, youth operator program coordinator
Injury Prevention Center

Kerry Rochford Hague, senior prevention educator
Turning Points Network