Fort Mill Times

Plan now for safe proms

Local high school students are well into planning the annual rite known as prom. For many teens, it's their first truly formal affair. Young ladies, in particular, invest much time and money into their gowns, hair and makeup. For seniors, it's a celebration of friendships, the final four years of a long, public education. The graduation ceremony that follows represents passage into independence and adulthood.

Some parents may be unaware there are students who plan to make prom the ultimate party experience. The actual event itself it typically well chaperoned and kept free of alcohol and other drugs. It's the after prom scene, that time when couples or clusters of close friends plan for the real fun to begin.

Some parents who otherwise wouldn't let their kids stay out all night make an exception in this case, agreeing with teens' argument that it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience capped by seeing the sun come up. It's a tradition, they say, and for the most part, that's true. Nostalgic parents will recall their own proms and after parties and for many, it was innocent fun. So, they give their consent.

We'd like to believe all parents know their teenaged children well enough that such trust is not misguided. But we can't. Temptation is too strong a lure for young men and women at this stage of life. Even those teens who have never indulged in illicit behavior, including sex, are likely to venture into that new world around this time. Some even plan it that way, and anyone who doesn't believe that alcohol and loss of virginity on prom night go hand-in-hand is terribly in denial.

In our township, the alcohol culture is already rooted. As we reported last week, a local mom is accused of hosting a party attended by several underage people, including her 16 year-old daughter. Thanks to a partnership between Keystone, a rehab center that provides an array of substance abuse prevention programs, and the York County Sheriff's Office, those convicted of serving alcohol to people under the age of 21 face substantial penalties. Keystone and law enforcement, with programs such as DARE, also work with local schools to educate elementary and middle school students about the dangers of substance abuse.

However, by the time the students reach high school, those lessons are sometimes forgotten. Combine that with peer pressure, a lack of social opportunities and the universal desire of teens to want to act like adults, and substance abuse becomes a fact of life.

There's much we can do to facilitate change. Public grants are available to expand partnerships between law enforcement and organizations such as Keystone. Parents need to be encouraged to participate in prevention programs and there should be some thought about creating more safe environments for teens to gather. Those planning Fort Mill's downtown revitalization, for example, should give some thought to encouraging a business owner to open an alcohol-free teen lounge that features live music. Maybe one of the new commercial centers opening in Tega Cay could be a good location for such a club. There's one in Charlotte local teens frequent and it would be great if they had something like that here at home.

In the meantime, parents have several weeks to send the message to their teens that illicit behavior on prom night - and any other time - is unacceptable. We encourage parents to demand an itinerary, set curfews and make sure they can reach their teens by cell phone or landline and have them check in periodically. It may seem like an imposition, but later in life, your children will realize you were just looking out for them. Some may even thank you for it.

Tainted food was an isolated incident

Every year, the Tega Cay Volunteer Fire Department hosts a spring barbecue sale to raise money for several charitable causes and to help offset some of its expenses. It's become a major social event for the city and this year's was no exception as a few thousand people turned out to show their support on what was a cold, drizzly day.

Unfortunately, approximately 70 people who ate the barbecue later became sick and three were even hospitalized. All had similar symptoms of severe stomach cramps and bouts of diarrhea, which points to possible food poisoning. The fire department is working with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to trace the source of the illness. Early speculation is the pork served may have become tainted sometime after it was purchased, possibly during preparation or serving. No one is more upset about this than Fire Chief Scott Szymanski and his firefighters. Most people we heard from who became sick went out of their way to express their continued support for the fire department. That was good to hear.

Because this is South Carolina, selling barbecue is one of the most popular vehicles for raising money for causes, from individuals in need to helping local schools purchase band equipment. Hopefully, this isolated incident won't make people think twice about attending future sales.

On the bright side, once DHEC pinpoints the exact cause of the illnesses, it will help those in charge of barbecue sales take greater precautions in handling food. We're sure everyone will be much more careful from now on.