Updated: Jan 30, 2020
Prom is always an exciting and special time for parents and teens alike. Teens are increasingly creative these days with "Promposals". As a result, there is much anticipation in the air at school and preparations all over town are happening in the weeks leading up to Prom.
Prom usually involves "going big" and sometimes that can result in risky substance use.
Although Proms are typically held off campus in fun venues outside of school, students and
parents should be aware that all rules and restrictions for alcohol and drug use at school apply. Students and parents also should know that buses, backpacks and purses are sometimes searched. While the vast majority of students are well behaved, some students
have been disciplined for possession of alcohol or other drugs or for being under the influence. Additionally, random breathalyzer tests are sometimes administered at Proms.
To make Prom safe and fun, we suggest that parents take steps before and after Prom, including knowing in advance the whereabouts of your students for pre- and post-Prom parties, checking in with your teen post-Prom, contacting the hosting parents to ensure that their parties will be supervised and alcohol and drug free, imposing reasonable curfews and not renting hotel rooms for post-Prom parties. Special precautions also should be taken for transportation to and from Prom, that are discussed below. Pre-Prom: Be Mindful about Your Own Use. BTI recommends that parents consider
keeping any pre-Prom parties alcohol free. The event is meant to be about our teens dressed in their finery, with parents snapping too many photographs and everyone being excited in anticipation of a special night. Parental drinking can send the message that alcohol is intertwined with celebrating Prom. So consider saving any imbibing for after the teens have left. Show our teens that we can get together and have fun without alcohol being involved.
Limousines and Party Buses. Teens love not only taking stretch limousines but also renting large "party buses" that typically carry between 25 to 50 kids, which can be a lot of fun. Party buses can come equipped with amenities such as stereo surround systems, large HD flat screen TVs, state of the art mood lighting and dance floors, making them essentially parties on wheels. However, party buses can involve binge drinking and other drug use, particularly post-Prom, when buses can drive around for another hour or more, also essentially making them the "post prom" party.
The good news is that parents can take several precautions to prevent alcohol and drug use on party buses, including requiring that any backpacks or large purses be searched for alcohol, drugs and drug paraphernalia, and be placed in the cabin under the bus (and stay there until the kids disembark), not allowing water bottles on board (which can be filled with clear liquor instead of water), and having an adult chaperone on board. Some bus companies require adult chaperones when the passengers are under 18 years old and provide them free of charge. A case or two of water bottles also can be purchased by parents and provided to the teens on board.
Parents who sign the party bus contracts can be the ones who set these rules, and it is especially appropriate to do so, given they potential personal liability. Parents who sign the bus contracts can be held responsible for any underage substance use, including being fined civilly undersocial host ordinances, sued for damages if anything goes wrong, and even found criminally liable (all as discussed below). Additionally, these parents are potentially on the hook for hundreds or thousands of dollars in cleaning fees (some bus contracts charge a set amount per pile of vomit) and other damage incurred. Accordingly, BTI suggests that parents who sign the bus contracts set the rules, share them by group email with both teens and parents and require signed agreements that their rules will be followed and that any liability resulting from the rules being broken shall be shared equally among the parents.
The Laws on Party Buses. California law requires that if the bus driver becomes aware of any alcohol or drug use by minors, the bus company is obligated to immediately terminate transportation services. That means parents may have to retrieve their kids wherever the bus has stopped (and that obviously requires parents to be sober). California law also requires that chaperones over 25 years old be present if there will be alcohol and minors on the bus. Although incidents and deaths in California led to these laws regulating party buses effective January 2013, some unscrupulous bus companies and drivers ignore these legal requirements and safe practices. So it is important to make sure your teen is on a bus owned by a reputable company that follows the law.
A recent example occurred a few summers ago in Marin County, California when police intercepted a party bus loaded with young teens and large amounts of alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs. With roughly 30 teens on board, there were 30 bottles of hard liquor and a case of hard lemonade. The driver involved also had drugs on him and the case was referred to the District Attorney's Office which ultimately brought charges. Unfortunately, this incident was not an isolated one as it is no uncommon for party buses rented for Prom (as well as New Year’s Eve and birthday parties throughout the year) to involve this degree of binge drinking and other drug use.
As Mary Jane Burke, Marin County Superintendent of Schools has written, “This time of year in particular, as prom and graduation season approaches, kids are more likely to want to “go big” with party buses and hosting social engagements in celebration of these milestones. I urge parents to get involved with the planning of these events and require responsible chaperones. Inform your teens that the party bus rental comes with a responsible adult on board; a party is allowable but only with attentive adults present. Establish clear rules and boundaries for your teen when they are with friends. Establish a level of trust and be clear that if your child violates that trust, there will be consequences.”
Hosting Post-Prom Parties. If you are going to host a Post-Prom party, we advise taking the precautions outlined in our website's BTI Party Guide. The smaller you can keep it, the easier it will be for you to host since you will likely know most of the kids attending. In addition, consider contacting the parents (a group email is easy), clearly setting forth your rules, requiring that backpacks and purses be left at the doorway and not allowing in and out privileges. Another suggested practice is to require any teens who are driving (though most take Uber or Lyft these days) to leave their keys with you and then to check in with you before they leave. Social Host Ordinances. These are local laws that are in effect in some parts of California (e.g, Marin County) and Colorado (although not in Denver) which hold a parent strictly liable and assess fines for parties or gatherings when alcohol, marijuana and other drugs are consumed by minors. It doesn’t have to be a big party and it doesn't have to be in a home. A Legal Consequences in your area.“gathering” is defined in some jurisdictions as involving only one or more minors and "party buses", limousines and rented venues such as hotel rooms, restaurants, etc. are included in addition to homes. In Marin County, Social host ordinances are strictly enforced (no warnings) in most jurisdictions. For more information, see our webpage on
"Providing/Furnishing" Alcohol to or "Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor". Additionally, under California and Colorado law, adults may be charged with "providing" or "furnishing" alcohol to a minor or "contributing to the delinquency of a minor"
(both misdemeanors involving a steep fine, possible jail time and a criminal record). Recently, in December 2018, an 18-year old (treated as an adult under the law) was cited by Central Marin Police Authority not only under the local social host ordinance but also for contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The Marin County District Attorney is considering whether to file charges.
Attending Post-Prom Parties. It is always a good idea to reach out to the hosting parents if your teen is attending a post-prom party. If you have made our BTI Parent Agreement and have access to the BTI Parent List (if not, consider doing so!), use it to determine whether the hosting parents also have made the BTI Parent Agreement. Then reach out to them to confirm that your child is invited and ask whether they will be home and supervising the party, and whether they will make efforts to keep it substance free. It can be much more challenging to supervise a post-prom party given the lateness into the wee hours of the morning. And even parents who normally prohibit substance use by teens in their home sometimes “look the other way” on Prom night. The same applies to smaller gatherings, called "kickbacks".
Hotel Rooms. Finally, it is never a good idea to either rent a hotel room or allow your teen to attend a post-Prom party in one. Social host ordinances apply to rented venues and hotel rooms, the temptations are too big and it is easy for things to turn out badly.
The bottom line? Be aware of your teen's pre- and post-Prom plans and reach out to other parents (especially those of your teen's date and friends they will be with) to ensure measures are being taken to keep things substance free and safe. Take special precautions if you are renting a party bus or hosting a post-Prom party because "parents who host can lose the most"! Most importantly, do whatever you can to help make Prom the special time it should be for your teens - with memories that last a lifetime!
We wish you a Happy and Safe Prom Season!