Homecoming events are exciting for students and kick off the fall semester social scene. All too often, however, school-sponsored Homecoming events bring up anxiety among parents and school staff due to concerns about students “pre-gaming” before arriving to school or sneaking in drugs and alcohol to school sponsored events.
The dilemma that parents face – whether or not to allow their teen to attend Homecoming events despite their reputation for being places where risky behaviors occur – is one we often hear about and discuss in the fall during our parent workshops. We always emphasize the importance of early and frequent communication around boundaries and expectations, especially regarding situations where parents have concerns about safety and decision making. Whether you have been talking with your child about your expectations for homecoming for weeks or have yet to discuss it, focusing on the following points is the way to go:
Be clear with your expectations regarding substance use. Discuss where you stand regarding alcohol, marijuana/THC, Juuling, and other substances and how you expect your teen to behave in regards to use. Don’t lecture or use scare tactics, but do answer questions they may have about the effect of substances on the brain and body. And tell them why you are concerned – namely, because you love them and don’t want to see anything bad happen to them!
Always lead with care and concern. The most challenging aspect of the having these types of talks with teens is how easily it can feel like communication gets cut off. Don’t worry about whether your discussion lasts 30 seconds or 30 minutes – the most important, impactful part is having your teen hear that you care about their safety, and expect them make good choices. And, of course, that you want them to have an enjoyable Homecoming.
Talk out potential scenarios and work out solutions together. Instead of lecturing your teen about what you want them to do and do not want them to do, have a conversation where you strategize about their decision making process, and use likely scenarios to practice how they can respond if they’re faced with making a decision about how they can respond to risky behaviors. “What if you saw an acquaintance at Homecoming under the influence of something and they looked like they were not in a place to keep themselves safe? Who do you think you could go to help the student out?”
Always emphasize that you (or another trusted adult) are available should something happen. Let your teen know that their safety and well-being are always most important to you, even if they (or their friend) have been doing something you do not approve of. Set up a specific plan for who and how they should reach out to you if adult support is needed. Letting them know that you want them to reach out to you is better than them feeling like they need to try to manage difficult and potentially dangerous situations on their own.
Do your due diligence: Ask your child where they will be going before, during and after Homecoming, and touch base with other parents as needed. Remember that you all have the same goal – ensuring that Homecoming events are safe and fun for all students. Calling other parents to find out if they will be present at any pre-Homecoming parties shows your teen how seriously you care about their safety – a message that promotes wellbeing (even if they are upset with you in the moment!).
While it is helpful to take these steps in preparation for Homecoming, we recommend that parents have these discussions and set expectations with their adolescents on an ongoing basis. Protective messages, such as “I feel strongly about you not drinking because I love you and want you to be healthy and safe” should be said in different ways each day, in passing and during longer conversations.
Our upcoming handbook, From the Inside Out: The Hallways Handbook for Raising Emotionally Healthy Adolescents, provides clear tips and direction for parents on this issue and so many others. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!