Five Conversations to Have Before the Prom

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As prom approaches, lots of planning is already underway. Not just by the prom committee, but by each and every student who aspires to go. We parents are bracing ourselves for all of the drama and expense. But in addition to bracing ourselves, if we are smart, we will be taking an active role so as to nip both the drama and the expense in their little buds!

The time leading up to prom and the very night can be exciting and magical for everyone with some planning and good communication. I am now down to my fourth child (third girl), who will attend her first prom. This means this year will mark my eighth prom season!

There are a number of conversations that can be had before the big night, and then there are some conversations that just must be had. Here are five must-haves:

1. Choosing a Date “Honey, if you are unsure about who to ask to the prom, I really only have one piece of advice: It’s better to go to the prom with a friend than with someone you really don’t know. So if you want to ask the object of your desire and you have never really spoken to her or him, make sure you ask early and get to know her or him before prom night. Prom is awkward enough without trying to deal with a stranger.”

The more we say about date choice, the more we risk our credibility. Be careful about endorsing a certain person as a date or a romantic partner. We parents never really know what another kid is like one-on-one. Just because your child's friend or acquaintance knows how to be charming around you and other adults doesn't mean they are a great date or suitable girlfriend or boyfriend. If they end up being a dud or a jerk, it'll be your fault!

2. Budget “Okay, Love, your dad and I will foot the bill for your outfit and all that you need to look beautiful, including hair, shoes and purse. Maybe we can find a dress to match those shoes you chose but never wore for that Christmas party. I would like to shop early so that you can have your pick of affordable dress and accessories.”

Lots of details go into prom preparation -- dress and tux, of course, plus special shoes, hair, jewelry, corsages, boutonnieres, transportation, dinner and possibly after-party expenses. Let you child know what your financial limitations are -- what you are willing to pay for and how much you are willing to pay. Be specific about what you will not cover! If you and your prom king or queen sit down and discuss a budget, then both of you know where you stand. You can avoid last-minute disappointments later. This is especially true if your financial situation is different than the last time this child attended a formal affair on your dime. I have a friend whose son fully expected to rent a stretch limo this year just as he did last year. Dad figured he didn’t need to tell his son there would be no limo this year. The whole family knew full well, after all, that Dad was laid off a few months prior. But no, the son assumed all was as it had been with regard to his prom allowances. Go figure!

3. Prom Night Whereabouts “Honey, I would like to know the details of your prom night plans. I want to know where you plan to be at all times. Why don’t you have your friends all meet here beforehand and go to dinner together. If you can rent a limo to take you all to the event, the group can share the cost. That way we parents can take some great pictures, and you won’t have to worry about driving.”

By the time your child is old enough to go to the prom, he or she might be super-independent. However, you as a parent of a minor have a right and responsibility to know where your child is going to be at all times, especially prom night, which almost always ends well past curfew. Lots of schools plan the entire evening in an effort to keep the participants safe and to save them from themselves. If this is not the case at your child’s school, help him or her make good decisions about his or her plans. Un-chaperoned pre- and post parties are really risky ideas, especially if they are in rented hotel rooms. If you child is with a group and they plan to meet at someone’s house beforehand or afterward, make sure you connect with the parents of that household. Their house rules and philosophies might be very different from yours.

4. Drinking/Drugs“Son, you know that buying and drinking alcohol at your age is illegal. You are a senior (or about to be a senior) in high school. Getting caught drinking, driving while under the influence, and/or driving with an open container of alcohol can land you in jail and with a record. That can seriously impact your graduation and your admission to college. I seriously hope you decide to bypass drinking tonight. I seriously hope you take your own future seriously enough not to jeopardize it by drinking alcohol and/or using drugs. But if you do decide to drink, please do not drive. Here is some money to call a cab. If you decide to call me instead of a cab, I will come and pick up you and your date. I promise to bring you home without wringing your neck!”

What are your rules about under-age drinking and illegal drugs? Have you made your rules crystal-clear? With teens, you have to strike a tricky balance between setting a high standard of expectation and making it safe for them to call you for a ride if they do decide to drink. Again, there are parents who feel that as long as their kids are drinking at home, it's okay, because they are safe. If that is not your philosophy, and if your kid is going to that parent’s household after prom, you should want to know. Remind your child about the dangers and illegality of under-aged drinking and the laws regarding open containers in cars. Also, discuss the stringency of the drinking and driving laws.

5. Sex “Dear Love, I know that the prom is a very special night and a sort of rite of passage into adulthood. This doesn’t mean that it is the appropriate time to have sex. Sex should be an act between two people who love and are seriously committed to each other. It should not be a macho display of manhood, an announcement of womanhood or something you do just because your date wants to. Sex before you are ready can be a devastating experience, and casual sex is almost never casual for both partners. Unprotected sex is utterly irresponsible and life-threatening. Use your head and protect yourself.”

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Gina is a Contributing Editor also blogging at Think Act: Proactive Black Parenting and  Tortured By Teenagers

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