Adults steer teens from 'flier' parties

La Cañada High School parent Erin Meeker is putting the finishing touches on plans for this year's Grad Night celebration, a five-hour extravaganza to be held June 5 at Universal CityWalk.

"I really think it's an important thing to provide for the kids," Meeker said. "They deserve to have a party, because it's an important time in their lives and the last time they'll be able to be together."

There will be bowling, arcade games and a live deejay, in addition to henna tattoos, a photo booth and big ticket prizes. There will be shuttles to take kids from the high school to the event, and back home when the party's over at 3 a.m.

But there's only one more thing Meeker really hopes to see — students.

So far, despite numerous outreach efforts, fewer than half of La Cañada's 378 graduating seniors have purchased tickets to the alcohol-free event, which promises that students will not be able to arrive or leave throughout the duration.

That format is intended to prevent problems, namely uninvited guests showing up, or students leaving for other parties, where alcohol might be served, and then returning to the scene.

It's not that La Cañada high school students are especially prone to bad behavior at major end-of-the-year events like prom or graduation night, Meeker acknowledges. It's just a risk you run when dealing with teens in the partying spirit.

"We all remember what we were like when we were 18," she said. "We just want them to be safe and have a good time."

Grad Night is just one community effort undertaken in the past decade or so, in the wake of a tragic event, to make sure teens make it safely and healthfully through adolescence on their way to broader horizons.

SafeHomes, a program created by La Cañada's Community Prevention Council (CPC) provides parents a framework for negotiating rules around drinking, smoking and partying and having it be a family endeavor. It was created in 2003, as the result of a community meeting held for parents in response to a post-prom party shooting, in which a student was shot by someone from another school, according to CPC Chair William Moffitt.

Though the victim had not been drinking, the incident raised awareness in the community about the hidden dangers of "flier parties," where anyone and everyone is invited and parental supervision is lax or nonexistent.

Moffitt says the SafeHomes program helps parents create conversations and guidelines around parental supervision, alcohol consumption and attending events outside the home.

"Parents want to be cool, and they want to be pals. But your child does not need another pal — what they need is a parent," he said. "SafeHomes gives parents the ability, the right and the privilege to say, 'I'm going to keep in contact with the parents of the friends of my child, and they can contact me.'"

Some local parents have developed their own systems for communicating to their children about the dangers of drinking and driving, or being in situations that may become uncomfortable or potentially dangerous.

That's the case for Janice DaVolio and her husband, who have developed a set of rules for their two daughters. The youngest one, a senior at LCHS, will attend the school's Grad Night celebration.

"I say to my kids, 'If you're in a situation and you sense it's not right, call me and I'll pick you up — no questions asked," DaVolio said.

The idea is to keep kids safe when they're out with friends. Another house rule is to never drink and drive or let a friend do so, opting instead for a pick-up or a taxi.

The system has been a long time in the making, DaVolio admits. She started communicating openly with her daughters after attending the 2003 community meeting.

"That, for me, was a pivotal point," she recalls. "I remember clearly thinking, 'I do not want my children in that situation.'"

DaVolio's children were young at the time, but she felt if she wanted to educate them, it would help to start practicing at an early age.

When her daughters went anywhere, DaVolio made sure to call the supervising parent and get a list of attendees. At first, she'd feel a pit in her stomach making the call, but eventually it got easier.

"I never wanted to make people feel like their households weren't making good decisions," she said. "It was just that this was the decision for us."

Today, DaVolio suggests parents of young children start practicing rules and conversations now, so the routine is comfortable by high school. She also advises parents to get and stay involved in their kids' activities and communicate with other parents.

As for Meeker, she understands the unique concerns of a close-knit community like La Cañada but knows accidents can happen anywhere.

"It's just life, there's no avoiding it. You just have to be smart about it and help them through it," she said. "That's the whole point of Grad Night — have a party, and be safe."


Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.


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