High school seniors do the strangest things, especially in these dizzying weeks before the final bell. All over the South Sound, they zoom between activities that test a parent’s ability to exercise even modest oversight: senior class pranks, skip days, Nerf-gun wars and — most nerve-wrackingly — prom nights and post-graduation parties.
Just when you think every teenager is flush with a false sense of immortality, along comes a girl from Pennsauken High School, New Jersey, who arrived at her prom in a pretty blue dress — and a hearse. She stepped out of a casket unloaded by a pair of undertakers, and stepped into 15 minutes of fame as an Internet video star.
It wasn’t a metaphor or a macabre stunt, she explained. Rather, it was a tribute to the funeral home career she plans to pursue. “No disrespect meant,” her mom posted to the critics on Facebook, “just a celebration of knowing what she wants to do with her life after graduation.”
And anyway, what’s so wrong about bringing a glimpse of the Grim Reaper to the last dance of high school?
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In fact, adults shouldn’t waste any chance to remind their adolescent kids, no matter how old or seemingly mature, about the dangers of alcohol, drugs, distracted driving, unsafe sex and other risks inherent in this season of life.
Historically, more than one-third of all teenage alcohol-related traffic deaths happen this time of year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
It’s no coincidence that high schools around the region hold safety awareness weeks in the spring. At Gig Harbor and Peninsula high schools, students this week are signing safe-driving pledges and watching a mock fatal car crash; on Thursday, a group of upperclassmen will roam the halls like ghosts, their self-written obituaries pasted on fake tombstones.
Schools have come a long way in spreading the student safety gospel. Seventy percent of Washington 12th graders said they’d received the anti-alcohol-and-drug message at some point in the classroom (64 percent in Pierce County), according to the 2016 state Healthy Youth Survey.
By no means should that let parents off the hook, though many seem fine deferring the responsibility to teachers. Only 53 percent of Pierce County students who participated in the 2016 survey said their parents had talked to them about the risks of alcohol.
There’s no time like the present to improve those numbers. Parents need to be seen and heard during prom and graduation season, discarding all feelings of self-consciousness, setting aside any fear of being branded the helicopter mom or losing one’s status as the cool dad.
Experts advise talking to your children before, during and after their big nights out with friends — but the most important work is done up front. Inquire about their post-prom plans, set curfews and other expectations, and insist they check in at designated times. You can even problem-solve scenarios that might crop up, drawing from your own (ahem) long-ago experience.
Perhaps most important, tell them clearly and lovingly that they can always push the panic button, no questions asked; a parental rescue is a call or text away.
High school seniors aren’t full-fledged adults yet. Until they leave the nest, parents must remain vigilant for every clumsy wing flap that can send them plunging earthward.
In New Jersey, it might be clever for a girl to catch a ride to her prom in a hearse. But in Washington, getting picked up in one at the end of what should be a life-celebrating night is nothing short of a preventable tragedy.