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KNOXVILLE — A hard line from parents helps keep teens out of trouble on prom night, a University of Tennessee professor said Friday.

Dr. Charles Thompson, professor of counseling in UT’s College of Education, said high school proms raise peer pressures that can lead to trouble for teens.

Thompson said well-defined limits set by parents — even if their children object — can reduce risky behavior by helping teens withstand peer pressure.

“Teenagers appreciate knowing where the limits are. It gives them security and an excuse not to go along with a peer group,” Thompson said.

“When peer pressure starts, these teens will say, ‘My parents have this no drinking rule and I have to follow it.'”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported about 360 traffic fatalities each prom weekend in May — one of the highest rates of any holiday period.

The statistics show about 2,104 persons aged 16-20 died in alcohol-related crashes in 1998.

Thompson suggested that parents negotiate a signed contract with their teens to establish staunch but fair rules.

“Just write out rules that both parties can live with,” Thompson said. “Tell your teen that he or she is the most important investment you have and that you must have a contract you feel safe with.”

Thompson co-authored the popular college textbook “Counseling Children” with Linda Rudolph, a UT graduate now on the Tennessee Higher Education Commission. It includes new information on counseling teens about violence, gangs, diversity and other topics.

“Parents’ greatest prom night fear is of kids out of control that results in drinking, car crashes, teen pregnancy or other problems,” Thompson said. “Some parents may be timid about setting strict boundaries on prom behavior, but setting these limits does their children a favor.”