Search form

Prom Playbook: How Schools Can Keep Kids Safe


With prom season in full swing, countless teenagers are taking to the streets to celebrate their high school years. Sadly, some of those students will not live to experience the next phase of their lives due to drunk driving and other dangerous activities commonly associated with prom.

A survey of more than 2,500 high school juniors and seniors conducted in 2010 by Liberty Mutual and SADD found that 90 percent believed their peers are more likely to drink and drive on prom night. Of even more concern is the fact that only 29 percent of teens say that driving on prom night is very dangerous.

For decades teachers, administrators and parents have worked to curb the dangerous activities that too often accompany prom. EducationWorld has put together a playbook addressing common pitfalls as well as proven strategies.

Talk to Kids

This may seem obvious, but a surprising number of adults feel awkward talking with children about the dangers that risky behavior brings. According to The Governor’s Prevention Partnership, a non-profit agency tasked with reducing underage drinking and drug use, open and frank discussions about the topic are essential and can begin as early as elementary school.

“As long as the discussion is developmentally appropriate, there is no age too young to begin talking about how your child takes care of his or her body,” The Partnership said in A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Underage Drinking. “Talking about the issue of alcohol before there is an immediate need to discuss the subject will make it much easier to bring up this topic once the child reaches the age when first experimentation often occurs.”

With respect to high-schoolers, the Partnership advises adults to arm teens with information about local laws, consequences for breaking those laws, and the reasons these rules exist.

Educators should join parents in making sure that kids receive the right messages and have the necessary skills in order to make good choices on prom night. Students may seem as if they aren’t listening, but research shows that they in fact consider what caring adults say.

Stop the Scare Tactics

Along with prom, another time-honored tradition appears every spring at high schools across the country. Student, parent and school groups organize mock car crashes to illustrate just how dangerous drunk driving can be. While these types of programs have students’ well-being at heart, experts agree that they have only a very short-term impact on actual youth behavior. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health science panel found in 2004 that programs relying on scare tactics to prevent children and adolescents from engaging in violent behavior are not only ineffective, but may have damaging effects.

Keep an Eye on Them

Many schools host prom-to-dawn events that give teens an all-night event to attend where they will not be able to drink. These events are often held at family fun centers, go kart tracks, arcades and the like. Students arrive after the prom and are not permitted to leave once they are inside. If it is discovered that they have left, they are not permitted back in. The goal is to keep as many prom-goers off the streets.

Although this may seem heavy-handed, students appear to attend these events in large numbers. They even get heavily involved in the fundraising to secure venues. Involving parents is essential, and it can also be helpful to mobilize local hotels, restaurants and bars so that they pledge not to sell to minors.

Make sure to start the planning process early, since events like this require a lot of effort. Also, don’t forget to reach out to students who are unlikely to attend an all-night event; these teens may be at greatest risk on prom night.

Educate and Watch

When all is said and done, these are the major strategies adults can use to discourage risky behavior at prom time. While many schools take steps like mandating breathalyzer tests before entering prom, this policy may only move risky behavior to another location. The most effective way to protect teens is to keep as close an eye on them as possible and ensure that they fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. For a comprehensive set of tips that schools and communities can use to plan safe proms, check out SADD’s Planning a Safe Prom guide.


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
Education World®      
Copyright © 2011 Education World