Prom Pressure: Just Say No

By Liz Jorgensen, CADC

It’s prom season—the time of year when common sense goes out the window with teens and many parents, too. If you’re committed to your child’s popularity or keeping up with the Joneseswhen it comes to setting limits on teens, perhaps you should read no further. Although I sympathize with the temptation to give in to prom plans that you know are not safe, I am here to tell you after 5 proms that now is the time to say “no” or “not yet” to your darling’s demands of the season.

Underlying the advice I’m about to offer is this truth: Prom and all associated costs and events are a privilege and not a right! The main—and only point—is safety first and all requests should be filtered through the following few questions to ensure that outcome:

Is my child’s proposed prom plan safe? Is it reasonable?

Teens traveling alone, late at night to a vacation house that they will stay at unattended for a weekend is not safe or sane. Period. Parents serving alcohol, hiring party buses that allow alcohol to be consumed etc., is illegal and also not safe or sane. Parents getting tipsy or drunk at lavish pre-prom picture-taking events while young people get ready to leave is not safe, sane, or a smart message to be sending kids going off to party.

These are but a partial list of actual situations we have found ourselves in with our four kids. And yes, I was “the meanest, psycho mother who questioned these things and said “no”while offering safer, saner choices. All my kids survived, still have friends, and as young adults now realize how dumb the parents were who allowed all that nonsense.

Is this actually a plan that other parents have approved, or is my kid just telling me that?

I have to admit that sometimes my own kids were lying when they said”Everyone already has permission!”but, sadly, sometimes they were telling the truth. When I would call to verify, I actually had a few conversations that went like this:

Well, yes, we are not thrilled about the 20 teens going to our Vermont house alone, but our neighbors will keep an eye out. And besides, they are going to party all weekend anyway; if they are at our house it will be safer.

It is none of your business that we are serving alcohol. The teens are locked in. How dare you ask us to reconsider? You are so naïve—they all will get drunk anyway….

These are tough conversations to have, but you do need to check on your teens’ proposed plans, and when you make the calls you may have a delightful interaction such as the following: 

I am so glad you called. We were so worried too about this idea! I am not going to let my kid go either! That was a nutty plan. What can we do?

Luckily, I have had more connections with parents with common sense when it comes to safety, but it is also sad to hear from parents who want to make safer plans with their child but feel that they have no alternative but to give in to the parental peer pressure of a weekend blow-out.

Know what your own safety boundaries are, explain them to your teen and stick to them!

Your child may still choose to break the rules (“They are going to do it anyway.”) and then let them know what the consequences will be if they do lie and break the expectations.

What safe plans has the school created? 

Many high schools, PTAs, etc. spend a great deal of time and money creating amazing post-prom events that are poorly attended due to competing parties.  Try to get your child’s friends on board through positive parental pressure to attend the school and community-sponsored post-prom events.

Can we afford it? Even if we can, is this money well spent? 

I know this is a silly thing for some to read. I’ve witnessed dresses that cost $700-plus, stretch Hummer limos that cost thousands (versus a shared limo that costs all teens $100), all manner of stupid and conspicuous spending that is then often connected to unsafe plans. Many of the price tags connected to prom and graduation are appropriate for a small wedding rather than a school dance. Prom is a night, not a weekend; prom is an event, not a TV reality show!

Teach your child that staying within a budget is always a good idea and help them financially with only the parts of the plan that you feel are safe and reasonable. Again, don’t be too influenced by parental peer pressure.

In summary, when my husband and I had to say “no”to a proposed plan, we would always counter with a better option including help with the planning, financing, etc. for the better plan.  I can’t say that our kids always did what we thought was better, but the two times (out of about 20 proms) that the “plan” was broken, the teens did in fact agree that it was a dumb idea,after the fact of course.  And it didn’t take a full 15 years!!!

I wish you a safe and sane prom and graduation season!

Liz Jorgenson, CADC, is the Director of Insight Counselingand a nationally recognized expert in working with resistant teens.