The grad parties are somethin’ these days, aren’t they?
I’m laughing at myself because I TOTALLY sound like an old lady, but it seems to me like everyone’s celebrations just keep getting bigger and bigger as the years go on. Some even have bands and fancy catering. And it seems like everyone has a graduation party, so kids have a multitude to attend this time of year. Night after night, for some. Maybe I just wasn’t very popular back in the day, but I sure don’t recall the sheer volume of events at the end of the school year.
Over the past several years, I’ve also heard more sad stories of young adults, with entire lives ahead of them, getting seriously injured or during graduation season. Memorial Day weekend starts the 100 most dangerous days of the year for teenagers due to auto crashes, injuries due to risk taking behaviors, and the combination of both of those. In light of this critical time, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write out a few suggestions for maximizing the chances of having a best-outcome-possible graduation party season. Setting expectations and doubling down on details of what your sons and daughters are doing can help increase your odds of seeing smiling faces during this time next year.
First and foremost, setting expectations about alcohol consumption has to get done.
There’s lots of pressure for kids to drink, and having open discussion with them about this topic is the best place to start. Listening to your teenager with an open mind is important, and not immediately shutting their point of view down is key to encouraging future honesty. Count to five before you respond (not kidding!) and try to get a game plan to cover a few “what if’s” in advance:
- What if your child is at a party and everyone is drinking? Or he/she comes across other illegal substances?
- Have a plan. A code word for pickup or an excuse that your child can use to save face. Whatever it is, have a plan.
- Understand the drunk driving laws where you live, and explain them in no uncertain terms to your child. Graduation is a time where a sense of newfound freedom is very real, yet one wrong move behind the wheel can result in a suspended license at a minimum and -god forbid- worse if significant damage happens and lives are lost. I’m trying not to be preachy here and everyone knows this ,but I do believe the repetition is worth it. Especially on days where there are multiple parties, this plays a key but sometimes insidious role.
- If you’re having the graduation party, know the social host laws in your area. In some states, it’s the homeowner who can be held liable if there’s underage drinking. I’m hopeful that parents reading this have ZERO interest in being the “cool parent” who supplies alcohol to kids less than 21 and/or to anyone who drinks with plans to drive afterwards. The legal ramifications are real yet pale in comparison to to the psychological implications should something bad go down.
As out of touch as some may feel personally on the topic, I encourage everyone to bring up vaping/e-cigarettes, marijuana and other drugs.
I’m a jaded, old (see above) emergency doc who has nearly seen it all over the past 15 years but I’m still fairly bowled over by the ease with which teenagers can get hold of these substances. If nothing else, having these words on your “list” of discussables shows your teen that you’re tuned in a little more than they may think. And, more importantly, it may prompt them to think twice about getting involved in something dangerous.
This is an emotional time of year,
which lends itself to surges of a multitude of feelings, which can result in dramatic and sometimes tragic behavior. Psychiatric emergencies increase at the end of the school year, as does risky sexual behavior. While I just don’t think it’s effective to hammer your kids with doom and gloom all at once (like this blog post is doing), here’s where the “doubling down on the details” part that I mentioned at the top of this post comes into play. While you don’t want to be so irritating as to drive your child away from wanting to hang out at home with their significant other, remember that it’s not your job to be their friend.
It IS your job to…
- know where they are, even if it’s a night where they plan to just “go out.”
- encourage positive self-image and self-respect that doesn’t need validation from love interests via sex.
- model and describe decision making that is not influenced by heat of the moment emotions. And- check in on them when they’re watching a movie in the dark basement. Get this- without drawing any attention to it or herself at all, my mom would always repeatedly come into the family room where I was watching a movie with my boyfriend offering a bowl of chips, or – look now—15 minutes later with pretzels. You get the point. Less opportunity for concerning activity.
Is your kid withdrawing from regular activities and friends?
Ending the year with poor grades after typically excelling in school? Changing eating or sleeping habits? Tune in to these signals. Sometimes subtle changes indicate bigger problems. I know you know this, but I don’t think we all can say and write this enough. If you don’t feel like you are reaching your child, head in to see his/her pediatrician—I have many colleagues whose teenage patients disclosed depressed feelings in the office that were not on their parents’ radar. As you know I’m a firm believer in the “village” concept, and this is a prime example of putting the whole village to work.
Oh, and please use the parent network as well. Talk to your fellow moms and dads and make it clear that you are an “I want to know” kind of parent. We’re all better together.
I know that there are lots of blog posts addressing these various topics individually in detail. I thought it would be helpful to put them all together into one synthesis during this inevitably intense time so that nothing gets left off the awareness list.
In the spirit of parent solidarity, my call to action today is to ask each of you to please share a strategy or tip that has worked for you or someone you know— related to any of these topics. How can we help out those around us whose experience may be different from ours and who could benefit from our shared knowledge?
That’s the value of tossing it all out there at once- and before the weekend, when you’ll be too busy making it to 7 graduation parties in 2 days.