It's party season for middle school and high school students: proms, dances and graduation celebrations. If you're a parent, you might be wondering what to say to your daughter or son before sending her or him out the door. Most adults adopt a stern tone to tell teens and preteens not to drink alcohol, not to use drugs and not to have sex. Does it work? No, it trains adolescents to avoid confiding in parents, teachers and other caring adults. By staying silent, teens believe they will avoid a parent's disappointment, anger, or punishment if it becomes obvious they've broken the rules. Instead, parents can choose to engage in the realistic conversations that follow:
You will probably drink alcohol. Being drunk might feel fun, but it requires other people to be responsible for taking care of you. Your friends will have to stop partying to focus on keeping you safe. Lots of times they won't want to. I prefer that you do not drink, but if you do, call me to pick you up. I promise not to be angry or disappointed. I just want you to be safe.
You will probably be offered drugs. Experimenting with drugs may seem like the ticket to hanging with a friend group you want to be in. But drugs are strict bosses. Before you realize it, they are in charge of your body, mind and soul. If you start to feel dizzy, nauseous, or your vision turns fuzzy, someone might have slipped a drug into your drink without you noticing. Text me the second you feel sick. Drop a pin so I can find you. Call 9-1-1 immediately. That way, if you pass out, help is on the way.
You will probably feel pressured to experiment sexually or go further sexually than you ever have. Just because your date buys your prom ticket, or pays for dinner, or foots the bill for a limo, doesn't mean you owe your date anything in return. Also, remember that being equal means doing what is right for you and the person you want to be known as, not what a date wants you to do for him or her. Don't pressure anyone. Don't let yourself be pressured. I know that a lot of times, we adults try to scare kids into postponing sexual activity by talking about sexually transmitted diseases. The truth is that heartbreak is often harder to deal with than STDs. If you do have sex, it's important to understand that a sexual experience may mean one thing to you (love, for example) and something different to your partner (a hookup).
You will likely witness something illegal or immoral: If you see something, say something. If you say nothing, you're siding with the person engaged in illegal or immoral behavior. So confide in a chaperone or trusted adult. Call me, or call 9-1-1. You might save a life and you'll definitely save someone's soul.
Middle school and high school students deserve honest conversations with parents and other adults about the real problems they face. By going beyond rules, we can give preteens and teens the information they need to navigate the complicated social scene outside of the school day.