people having fun at theme parks

Sober Theme Park Grad Nights

Posted on June 5th, 2014
Posted in Teens

Grad night celebrations are a staple of the senior year experience at high schools across the United States. After 12 frequently stressful years in school, it’s understandable that graduating teenagers feel the need to celebrate their achievements. Unfortunately, these celebrations have historically involved a significant amount of underage drinking and research has found that prom night and graduation night are the two worst nights of the year when it comes to underage drinking in most places nationwide.

Drinking and Driving a Major Problem Among Young People

Drinking and driving remains a major problem among teenagers, and as many as 3 million people between the ages of 18 and 24 will drink alcohol and get behind the wheel each year. Spring is the most notorious season for drunk driving; in 2001, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that nearly one-third of all alcohol-related fatalities among people 21 years of age and younger occurred during prom and graduation season.

In the 1980s, many high schools and communities began to host their own alcohol-free grad night parties as a way to provide students with a fun and safe place to celebrate. They try to provide enough fun and excitement to occupy graduating students all night long, and help them avoid the temptation to celebrate in riskier ways.

Grad nights can take various forms, and some schools even opt to have graduation celebrations in the form of trips to popular travel destinations like Hawaii or Europe, or to theme parks like Disneyland, Six Flags or Universal Studios. Theme park grad nights have become particularly popular in recent years, and they offer some distinct advantages when it comes to providing students with a great experience as well as keeping them out of trouble.

Appeal of Theme Parks

One challenge of the grad night format is convincing students—particularly those who might be inclined to engage in riskier activities—to attend a supervised party hosted by parents, teachers and school officials. Theme parks provide the promise of an extra-special experience and have such a strong appeal that most students don’t mind the fact that these trips are at least partly intended to lure them away from drinking.

Theme parks also provide deceptively controlled environments in which students can celebrate. Although most schools will permit groups of students to roam entire parks without direct chaperoning, the reality is that supervision is everywhere with the many theme park employees. Students get to enjoy a sense of relative freedom, while their opportunities to misbehave are extremely limited in a crowded theme park environment.

Theme parks also provide schools with entirely alcohol- and smoke-free locations. Some theme parks are alcohol-free all the time, while others make alcohol unavailable during grad night hours. The fact that alcohol prohibition is park policy means that parents and school employees don’t have to play the “bad guy” and enforce the no-alcohol rules on their own. Many theme parks search bags as a matter of routine to help ensure the safety of all of their guests. Students are less likely to resent this privacy intrusion when it is standard theme park procedure rather than suspicion on the part of parents or teachers.

Downsides to Theme Parks

Theme park grad nights are not possible for every community and school, and cost is one major limiting factor. There are definitely cheaper options when it comes to hosting a party for graduating students, and not every school is willing or able to come up with the funds to provide such an experience for their graduating classes. Even schools in easy driving distance of a popular theme park will likely spend more on special grad night admission for each student than they would throwing a party. And schools that have to drive or fly students to a park and provide them with overnight lodging increase their costs significantly.

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