For many parents, high school graduation ceremonies bring a mix of joy and trepidation. It’s thrilling to watch a new graduate stride across the stage toward a distant future. But what of the immediate hours and days after commencement when grads gather to celebrate their accomplishments and let off steam? Invariably, some of those celebrations will take a terrible turn linked to underage drinking.
One healthy trend is the community-sponsored, alcohol-free party that typically lasts throughout the night. Good food, top DJs, dancing, games, and karaoke are often sufficient to keep recent graduates entertained until 5 a.m. As a rule, parents of the junior class serve as chaperones so as not to cramp the style of the graduating seniors. And to minimize contraband, any celebrant who leaves during the course of the night is not allowed to return.
Even without such options, parents can employ simple strategies to keep their children safe during graduation week. The best is a straightforward conversation about what to do if sons or daughters find themselves in risky situations. The standing offer of a no-questions-asked ride home from a parent or older sibling is an especially powerful tool because it reflects reality. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 39 percent of underage students drank some alcohol during a 30-day period and almost a quarter rode with a driver who had been drinking. Keeping a teen out of a car with an impaired driver is the first priority. Everything else can be discussed later.
There is a widespread assumption that teenagers listen first to their popular peers in an effort to fit in and only afterwards to their parents, if at all. It’s really not the case. Parents underestimate the influence they have over their children. Teens are smart enough to know that underage drinking leads to legal problems, unplanned sexual activity, fighting, alcohol-related crashes, and alcohol poisoning. They are capable of hearing and heeding these warnings from parents, especially if communicated in a calm, non-hectoring manner.
Some parents offer their own homes for private graduation parties. It’s a generous impulse. But it also can be a dangerous one if it includes looking the other way where underage drinking is concerned. The CDC attributes more than 4,300 deaths and 189,000 emergency room visits annually to underage drinking. Adult hosts can be held criminally and civilly liable for knowingly allowing people under 21 to drink alcohol in their homes. And the social host law extends to parents who are not at home when the drinking takes place.
This is the season of celebration for high school seniors. But it’s also a season of risks related to underage drinking. And the first step on the path to adulthood is fully understanding and preparing for those risks.