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Managing Prom Expectations

April 2nd, 2015     By Laura Buddenberg, Manager Training and Community Outreach, Mother of two

dating, Prom, Teens

This post first appeared on Photo courtesy of

Prom season is right around the corner. Nothing can create a rift between parents and their daughters quite like that annual rite of passage.

There’s nothing like a high school formal to push every possible teenage dating issue to the forefront, sending everyone into hysterics as they search for perfection — the perfect dress, the perfect date, the perfect hair, the perfect shoes, the perfect ride, the perfect dinner, the perfect after party, etc.

Girls can obsess (for months) over finding a one-of-a-kind dress, with accessories to match everything from their hair to their heels.

Boys can work hard to find dates, and once found, worry how they’re going to arrive in style (dad’s car, a regular limo or stretch SUV?).

Teens focus on the details that matter to them. It’s the parents who are left to deal with the fallout when the expenses and expectations soar beyond what’s reasonable or attainable.

Prom is a billion-dollar industry because marketers, teens, and many parents have given this high school dance the same reverence as a wedding, with a price tag to match.

There are websites and magazines devoted entirely to “helping” teens experience the “ideal” prom. All of this is the set up for big expenditure, big stress, and big frustration when reality doesn’t match the hype.

Maybe you know parents who spring for luxury limos and other perks for their children’s prom. Maybe you know girls who spend several hundred, even a thousand, dollars for designer dresses. Maybe you’ve already lived through a daughter’s prom and went along with her wishes in spite of your unease about its extravagance.

Maybe you secretly hope your daughter’s school will cancel prom so you won’t have to deal with any of it.

As appealing as that may sound, there will always be another homecoming, winter formal, or spring fling to test your patience and your son’s or daughter’s perspective. The good news is that there are a lot of things you can do to combat the crush of marketing and materialism.

The whole purpose of prom, or any school-sponsored formal, is to give young people the chance to try out their social skills at a fancy event.

Somehow that always gets forgotten.

That’s why it’s important to remind your daughter (or your son) that prom is really an opportunity to practice social behaviors that will come in handy later in life.

She needs to learn how to walk, talk, dress, and act appropriately in formal situations. It also is a time to enjoy friends and make great memories—memories free of sorrow and disappointment.

The more you can help your daughter understand the purpose of prom, the less likely she is to inflate prom into something it was never meant to be.

A good way to start your discussion is to ask, “What do you want to remember?” We’ve posed that question to hundreds of girls.

While they all say they want to have fun and be “seen,” most talk about wanting to remember their friends and not having any regrets. That’s a great goal!

Prom should be about social relationships, not social status.

If your child throws tantrums or makes demands that will blow prom way out of proportion, remember this:

If they can’t have a reasonable response or accept “No” for an answer in a conversation about going to prom, then your child probably doesn’t have the skills or the maturity to attend prom in the first place.

With some guidance and creativity, not to mention lots of communication, you and your high schooler both can stay sane and enjoy prom season!

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