By Natalie Hirsch
Pumpkins, candy, and trick-or-treaters are what most adults, including my mom, think of each Halloween. For me, a high school sophomore, Halloween means hanging out with friends and dressing up. Social plans are the main part of many teens’ Halloween celebration. However, for some kids, it is a night out full of heavy drinking, smoking, and possibly even illegal pranking.
Teen Halloween parties often include underage drinking and drug abuse, but there are many ways to protect yourself or your child from these dangers. It may be hard to figure out what kind of party your child, as he or she gets older, may be attending because parents are no longer as involved in the planning. In this situation, it is important for parents to take charge.
Parents need to talk to their kids about their family values and morals to help them to make healthy and responsible choices. Let your children know exactly what you think, and what the consequences will be if they do not follow the rules you set. Let them know that following the law shows mature thinking and keeps them safe. They also need to know that if they are caught doing these things by a police officer it could seriously damage their future plans and the trust they share with their parents.
From my experience, I know that teens whose parents have talked to them about their expectations regarding drugs and alcohol are much less likely to participate in these hurtful behaviors.
Parents also need to set a good example -- for too many adults, Halloween has become an alcohol-infused holiday, and drinking and driving is a big issue for all drivers. In 2010, 41% of all highway fatalities that Halloween weekend involved a driver or motorcycle rider with a BAC of 0.08 or higher, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This is a preventable statistic.
Many teens drink and drive or drive with someone who has been drinking because they are too scared to call their parents and say that they need a way to get home because of drinking. Let your child know that it is OK to call you (or you could provide money for a cab, just in case). It is important for your child’s safety that he/she feels comfortable enough to call you to pick them up in a situation like this. It may be a good idea to have a code word, so if you are texting or on the phone and one of you says, “purple sweatshirt” or any other code word you would like, you both clue in and realize the situation.
If your child makes a bad choice, the best time to talk with your teen about the incident and any family consequences is the next day when everyone is calmer.
Many fun alternatives exist to drinking and drugs, including: taking younger children trick or treating for their parents; bowling or ice skating; going to a supervised bonfire; going to a farm to take hayrides or figure your way through a corn maze or a haunted house; or watching horror movies while eating pizza, candy corn, and candied apples and just hang out.
Remember that sober fun is the best kind, because you can actually remember how fun it is. Instead of waking up feeling sick, you can wake up feeling great and remembering your fun night out! Overall, Halloween should be a fun celebration that is drug- and alcohol-free.
Natalie Hirsch is a sophomore at Langley High School and is a member of the Youth Council of the Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County.
The Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County is a nonprofit organization with more than 50 community partners working together to keep youth and young adults safe and drug-free. Visit www.unifiedpreventioncoalition.org and www.facebook.com/unifiedpreventioncoalition. Follow the group on Twitter at www.twitter.com/keepyouthsafe.