By Jane St. Clair
Many seniors feel liberated during the final weeks of their high school careers. The pressure to perform on AP and SAT tests is over. The tension of not knowing where they’re going to college has ended. It’s spring and seniors feel wild and free, especially because their high school now holds little power over them.
This “cutting loose” energy culminates on prom night – one of the last nights they’ll be together with their friends as a class, and the big night of celebration that everyone is supposed to remember forever.
Parents can worry over this new mood of liberation, and develop concerns over prom night, including ones like these:
I don’t want my son to get into underage drinking on prom night …
I’m worried that my daughter won’t let me meet her date …
My son wants to drive himself, but I want him to hire a professional driver …
My daughter’s group wants to party all night in a hotel room …
My son is spending too much on flowers, photographers, and fancy restaurants – money he needs for college …
My daughter wants to wear a dress that’s too sexy for her …
According to the editors of Seventeen magazine, these concerns are natural. A majority of parents are particularly (and understandably) worried about their children's safety and the possibility of automobile crashes on a night when seniors may drink too much on roads filled with inexperienced drivers. They also worry that their children might take sexual risks.
This year parents are reporting another concern -- that their children are spending too much money on prom at a time when families have to cut back because of the national recession.
When it comes to prom (and most other teen activities), safety issues are always paramount. Many parents become so concerned about the potential for problems on prom and graduation nights that they literally “lock” their children up.
Supervised overnight “lock-down” parties at high schools or other venues began to gain in popularity a decade or so ago in California, and are now becoming commonplace throughout the nation. Attendees usually have to agree to stay at the event all night. If they leave or do not show up, then chaperones notify their parents.
SAFETY TIP: If you child's school is hosting a "lock-down" or other chaperoned post-prom party, make sure that your child attends this event instead of an unsupervised party. If no "official" post-prom event exists, make sure that you understand and are comfortable with your child's plans before granting your permission.
Staying Safe on the Road
Some parents insist that their prom-going children sign contracts not to drink alcohol and not to drive with anyone who has been drinking or doing any kind of drugs. Others control the situation by driving the prom-goers themselves or hiring limousines.
SAFETY TIP: If your will be driving to the prom, accompany the young driver on "practice runs" to and from the prom venue, and limit the number of passengers that your child will be allowed to transport.
Easing the Financial Pinch
Money concerns are almost universal this year. To help keep costs down, some schools are holding “no frills” proms at the school or at less-expensive venues.
SAFETY TIP: One way to keep your expenses low is to simply set a dollar amount budget for the entire prom and to allow your child to spend it as she wants. She can have a more expensive dress if she styles her own hair, or he can go to a better restaurant if he skips the professional photos. You can offer to host the pre- or after-prom party at your house not only as a way of saving money, but of making sure there is adult supervision.
Ensuring Appropriate Appearance & Behavior
Some schools have dress codes and standards of dancing. In May 2009, chaperones at a San Francisco bay area high school prom actually turned off the music when the students would not stop dancing in a sexually suggestive way. At other schools, girls have been sent home to change dresses that are too sexy.
Every high school has its own set of traditions for prom, and your child can clue you in on what is popular in your area. At some high schools, seniors ordinarily “play hooky” on prom day. Some classes do not take prom seriously, and seniors show up in Halloween style costumes instead of dresses and tuxes. In some parts of the country, it is customary to stay out all night and then go to the zoo or beach the next day.
SAFETY TIP: Find out if your school has behavior and appearance codes, and stay involved with your child's pre-prom preparations to lessen the likelihood that anything will violate school policy (or your personal standards). If any prom-week “tradition” offends you or your pocketbook, sit down with your child to explain your objections and discuss alternatives.
Adapting to Additional Freedom
As senior year draws to a close and prom time nears, many children argue for additional freedom by bringing up the fact that next year they may be on their own, living away from home at college or entering the workforce. There is something to this point, and parents can use this impending increase in freedom to encourage their children to make good decisions and to be prepared to face the consequences of not-so-good decisions.
SAFETY TIP: If you have been consistent over the years in establishing and enforcing your standards, and have developed a sense of honesty and trust between you and your child, then the odds are much greater that your child will live up to your expectations, and will have a safe and happy prom experience.