April brings about excitement for teens as they make plans for prom and graduation. This time of year is a high-risk time for underage drinking. As parents and guardians, being informed and prepared can keep our children safe.

While most students will make healthy choices, some may feel pressured to make alcohol part of their celebrations.  Some view prom and graduation night as “rite of passage” that should be celebrated with the use of alcohol.

According to the 2010 Arizona Youth Survey, 27.2 percent of youth have chosen not to drink alcohol.  However, 14.1 percent of 12th graders reported driving a car after drinking alcohol. Teens should be encouraged by friends, family and peers to make healthy choices.

Talk to your teen and make a plan about what to do if they find themselves in a situation where alcohol is present. Let them know they can call you or a responsible adult at any time for a ride home. Remind them to never drink and drive or ride with a driver who has been drinking. Their safety depends on this.

Make sure your teen has a safe, fun and memorable prom and graduation:

• Remember that you are the primary influence on your children.

• Set clear rules about not drinking and consequences for breaking them.

• Offer to host an alcohol-free post-prom or graduation party.

• Do not rent hotel rooms for teens.

• Help identify alcohol-free activities.

• Talk to other parents about post-event activities to ensure alcohol won’t be present.

Underage drinking poses many risks. Alcohol can damage the developing teen brain, and has taken more young lives than tobacco and illicit drugs combined. Remind your teen that they know how and are being trusted to make smart choices, and they have a family that loves and supports them.

It’s our goal for our teens to stay safe as they celebrate the final days of their high school career. Talk to them now about the risks of underage drinking. They need the facts.

For more tips on talking with your teen about alcohol, visit SADD’s new website, ParentTeenMatters.org or StartTalkingNow.org.

Jessica Smith is the state coordinator for Arizona SADD.

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