The post-prom party at the Groveport-Madison High School in central Ohio this past weekend was almost as elaborate as the formal dance itself. There were karaoke machines, giant slides, a banquet of food, raffles for TVs, and even sumo wrestling in padded suits (cummerbunds, apparently, only help so much). Everything, in other words, except alcohol.
"It was a big success," says Kim Clements, reached by cellphone around 7 a.m. on Sunday, as she and other parents were still cleaning up after the $12,000 party. "The kids were all thanking us. They had a blast. And you know what? They don't miss the alcohol, they really don't."
Enduring concern about teen drinking and driving is prompting parents to try to take back the all-important night in which high schoolers swap their low-rise jeans for satin dresses. From Colorado to Maryland, parents are organizing and running all-night alcohol-free post-prom and post-graduation parties and finding a way to make them "cool."
"The message about the dangers of underage drinking is getting out there, and we're seeing more and more parents respond," says Millie Webb, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
While substance-free prom and graduation soirees have spread like a conga line in recent years, some towns have had them for a decade or more. In Montgomery County, Md., "Project Prom" is a loose association of 35 schools that exchange ideas on staging parties and win favorable pricing from vendors. Meg Baker, a founding mother of the group, says their gatherings generally draw 80 percent of a school's juniors and seniors.
In the past 10 years, no fatalities have been recorded during prom season in Montgomery County. In the 1980s, prior to the substance-free parties, one occurred on average per year, according to Ms. Baker. She says the parties are needed now more than ever. "Today kids drink to get drunk, they binge drink, and that can create a variety of dangerous situations," she says.
To entice students to "clean" parties, parents like Barb Rutledge, a post-prom organizer in Ft. Collins, Colo., says "you have to have stuff they like." It didn't hurt that a party held there last Saturday night included a final door prize of a car, donated by a local dealer.
Ms. Clements decided Groveport-Madison needed a substance-free post-prom party when her child was still in 8th grade. She and another mother had heard horror stories about seniors renting hotel rooms after the prom for all-night revelries.
THIS year's party, her sixth, drew 60 percent of the senior class plus guests, nearly 350 kids in all. The school's nickname is the Cruisers, and the theme was Cruiser Express. Kids rode in a wheeled train from the parking lot to the gym and entered through a mock train car. As many as 100 parents helped with the decorations. "There are still kids who are too cool to come, but they really don't want to miss it," says Clements. "So they don't buy a ticket ahead of time, but they buy one at the door that night."
Although no one can say if such parties have a lasting impact in curbing substance abuse, parents believe they make a difference on at least one weekend a year. "It's a night where temptation can be very strong," says Linda Britton, a Richardson, Texas, mother who has organized post-prom parties. "With these kinds of parties, at least we know, on that one night, they're safe."