A Parent’s Guide to Helping Teens Celebrate Graduation Safely

May 20, 2015

The days and weeks before and after graduation are an exciting time for teens and their families, but the joy can turn tragic when alcohol is part of the mix.


graduates ready to celebrate

The author's daughter and a friend in graduation regalia.

In the next few weeks, many young adults will be celebrating a major milestone: high school graduation. The days and weeks before and after graduation are an exciting time for teens and their families, but the joy can turn tragic when alcohol is part of the mix. 

In Arizona, car crashes are the leading cause of death among teens, and a third of teen traffic deaths are alcohol-related. In fact, young drivers (ages 16-20) are 17 times more likely to die in a crash when they have a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent (the state’s legal standard for “driving under the influence”) than when they haven’t been drinking. 

Mixing teens and alcohol doesn’t just cause car crashes. It impairs judgment in other ways, too. A national survey of more than 1,000 adolescents by the Guttmacher Institute found that about half of all nonconsensual sexual experiences involve alcohol use by the perpetrator, the victim or both. Another recent report called Girls and Drugs found that a third of young women ages 14 to 21 who had unplanned pregnancies were drinking when they had sex, and 91 percent said they hadn’t planned to have sex.

Our sons and daughters aren’t oblivious to these risks. Despite knowing many of the reasons why teens shouldn’t drink, it’s often challenging for them to stay clear-headed when all their friends are drinking. No one likes to feel left out, and teenagers especially feel the need for acceptance by their peers.  Plus, they’ve worked hard for that diploma and many just feel like letting loose.

So what can we do as parents?

  • Have a straight-up, honest conversation about how to prevent risky situations, how to recognize them early, and ways to get out of them. Some families decide that a “no-questions-asked” ride home is a practical way to avoid a bad outcome.
  • Talk to your teen about ways to turn down alcohol. Check out 15 Ways a Teen Can Say No to Alcohol for ideas.
  • Clear up any myths and answer your teen’s questions about how alcohol affects people and why it can be dangerous. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has guidance on how to approach the conversation and facts about the effects of alcohol.
  • Help your teen plan safe, alcohol-free activities to celebrate their accomplishments.

In the long run, fostering self-esteem throughout childhood is critically important because it gives kids confidence in themselves and their decisions.  We’ll blog about self-esteem in the coming days.  It turns out that self-esteem is critical component of healthy decision making, not just as a young adult, but across the lifespan.

About the Author

Will Humble, MPH, is an effective public health leader with over 28 years progressively responsible experience successfully leading public health programs. He has a collaborative management style that focuses on establishing and maintaining effective working relationships with staff and stakeholders. He’s a believer in leading and managing with emotional intelligence.

He served as the division director for health policy and evaluation at the Center for Population Science & Discovery at the University of Arizona’s Health Sciences Center where he provided leadership in the development, management and evaluation of health and public policy advocacy and initiatives. He previously served for 6 years as the director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, which provides a wide array of health related services including Arizona’s behavioral and public health systems, the Arizona State Hospital, medical and child care licensure and certification services, and the Arizona Public Health Laboratory.