Prom and Graduation season is coming up quickly. Many parents of juniors and seniors worry about their children's safety, especially at this time of year. It is all too often that too much youthful celebrating leads to accidents and serious injury.
In 2002, a study revealed that 40% of teen traffic fatalities that occurred either during prom or graduation weekend were alcohol-related. According to the American College of Preventive Medicine, three-quarters of adolescent morbidity and mortality is directly related to behavioral health risks, primarily alcohol and other drug use. Underage high-risk drinking is also linked to two-thirds of sexual assaults nationwide.
Here are some basic things you need to consider to help keep the young people you hold dear safe.
Recommendations for parents
Prom and Graduation are important milestones for students and should be celebrated with friends and family. However, many teens may be tempted by peer pressure to engage in behavior, like drinking and risky sexual behavior, at this time of year. According to leading experts on parent and teen issues, parents need to set appropriate guidelines for these special events and not be deterred by agitated teen pleading. Remember that many "low-risk" kids become casualties of "high-risk" situations not of their own making.
* Know the plan - Teen car crashes and deaths increase exponentially late at night. Know where your child is, how long they will be there, when they will be leaving, who is there, who is supervising the event, and who will provide transportation home. Talk to the other parents beforehand.
* Do not rent a hotel room - Should anyone be surprised when a tragedy occurs here? The parent must be there, not out to dinner, and not asleep on another floor.
* Be up when they come home - A teen's curfew should never exceed the parents' ability to stay up. Be wide awake, with the lights on, waiting at the kitchen table with coffee when they come through the door.
* Keep the celebration local - Don't be tempted to allow your children to celebrate at a beach, cottage or other remote location. Allowing teens to take off unsupervised creates many unnecessary risks.
* Don't be afraid to check up on your teen during the evening- If your child has a cell phone, have him/her check in with you at certain specified times during the evening. If your child has arranged to stay over at a friend's house, make arrangements to be called by the other parents when your child arrives and leaves.
* Talk about your expectations - Reinforce that you love your teen, and that your only concern is his or her safety. Ask your teen if he/she has any concerns or apprehensions about the prom or the after-party. Reassure your teen that you understand prom night pressures and fears. Although you may feel you've communicated your standards of acceptable behavior to your teens many times over, don't miss the opportunity to reinforce and remind them. Talk to them about drinking and driving, getting in the car with a drunk driver or someone they don't really know well. Let them know what they can do if something goes unexpectedly wrong. Consider role-playing a few scenarios. Let them tell you how they'd handle the situation and affirm their wise choices or recommend alternative approaches.
It can be hard to say "no" to a child who wants to go to a party that "everyone" is going to. Parents may wonder if they are being too strict. But with the health and safety of your teenagers on the line, the stakes couldn't be higher.
The city of Westchester, NY has produced an informative brochure for parents on Prom Night safety.
Advice about alcohol
* Check with the parents hosting the event and find out if any alcohol will be allowed. If there are guests who are over 21 in attendance, what is their plan to prevent minors from drinking as well? If you aren't satisfied with the answers you get, don't allow your child to attend.
* Talk to your child in advance about what to do if he or she finds themselves at a party where alcohol is being served to minors. Let him or her know that it is not acceptable for them to join in the drinking and that it is OK to call you to come pick them up no matter how late it is. Because your child may be surrounded by friends, you may want to create a "code word" that your child can use to both avoid embarrassment and let you know to come get him/her right away.
Social host liability
Some parents think that the best approach is for them to host the after-prom or graduation party so that they can keep things "under control." In theory, this may sound like a good approach. However, there is significant risk under Massachusetts law.
The adult owner of a home who allows minors not related to the adult to drink alcohol can face criminal charges with fines up to $2000 and a year in jail. However, the homeowner can be held financially liable for damages if someone who was served alcohol at their residence goes out and gets in an accident under the "social host" provision. (Click for details)
If a teenager hosts a party where some of the guests are drinking, the teen cannot be held liable unless he or she served the alcohol. However, adults can be found liable in some situations, even if they didn't serve the alcohol, because there is an expectation that they will exert effective control over the supply of alcohol and keep it away from minors.
Some, but not all, homeowner's policies carry some coverage for social host liability. Consult your policy or call us for a review of your coverages. Often, an additional Umbrella Liability Policy is an especially good investment while you have teenagers living at home and driving family vehicles.
If you have a new driver in your family, let us know immediately. We will need to make the proper adjustments to your policies to protect your family. Stop by or call us at 508-528-3310 or toll-free at 888-528-3310.
Did You Know?
My child and a group of friends want to go to the prom and after-party in a limousine. Is this a good idea?
Find out the name of the limousine company and give them a call. Ask about their provisions to prevent underage drinking or drug use while in transit. Check with your local police to see if the limo service has been involved in any past incidents. Also find out which specific friends will be riding in the limo and what the limo company's policy is about picking up additional passengers, specifically after the event.
Can a parent be held liable if a son or daughter holds a party without their knowledge or while they are away?
Under Massachusetts law, the answer may be "Yes." But the state must prove that you "knowlngly allowed" a minor to possess alcohol, even if you didn't serve it. The presumption is that the parents are in control of their property at all times, even when they are not physically there. Parents are expected to make arrangements with neighbors or family members to secure their residence against unauthorized and illegal teen activity.
Can I be sued if my child or an underage guest at my home drinks alcohol and injures someone?
Yes. You may be financially responsible if your child or an underage guest injures someone or damages property after having consumed alcohol if you controlled the supply of alcohol, made it available, or served it.
Does the Social Host Law apply if I rent a hotel room for my daughter's party?
Yes. Since you control the hotel room, the Social Host Law applies.
Will my homeowner's policy cover the costs of litigation and any judgment against me or my child?
You may or may not be covered, especially if underage drinking causes injury or death by use of an automobile. Many insurance policies do not cover situations where criminal conduct is involved (i.e. DUI)
Should we have a Parent-Teen Driving Contract?
A comprehensive discussion of the use of a teen driving contract can be found at www.teendriving.com. It covers issues like the maintenance and cleaning of the car, who pays for insurance and gas, etc. It also discusses safe driving practices that must be observed. And finally it contains a simple, straightforward sample contract format that may be copied and used.
The site also suggests getting a blow-up of the contract and posting it on the kitchen or garage wall or a bulletinboard. This not only reinforces the rules in the contract, but also alerts visiting friends to your child's constraints when he/she uses the family car.