Stepping Up To Parent

It's hard to believe that the snow is still on the ground and high school seniors across the Island are already talking about their senior prom-and their post- prom weekend. What is amazing, if you ...

Print Email

It's hard to believe that the snow is still on the ground and high school seniors across the Island are already talking about their senior prom-and their post- prom weekend. What is amazing, if you listen to some of these conversations, is that they sound more like plans for a wedding than a high school prom.

In many high school communities, the senior prom is grounded in tradition. For example, some high schools will have the prom on their high school campus. They will transform the gym or cafeteria into an elegant dining room with a specific theme. Oftentimes that theme is a secret, and the parents meet for almost entire school year planning on what and how they will celebrate the theme. Other high schools have a tradition with local catering halls and members of the senior class have the opportunity to decorate that space as they wish. A small group of high schools choose a catering hall at random and rotate each year.

In recent times, a growing group of high schools have decided to cancel the prom because of a growing number of behavioral issues. These high schools have elected to have a senior banquet/dance on campus to celebrate the end of four years of being together.

Whatever the tradition for high school seniors regarding an end to the year celebration, it is becoming more stressful for seniors, for parents and for school administrators. The simple prom at the end of senior year of 25 years ago is dead!

The new prom experience is no longer an evening of fun and frolic with close high school friends, but rather a lost weekend that costs a ridiculous amount of money. There is the pre-prom party, the extravagant picture taking and the videography. There is the prom and the prom transportation. The new phenomenon is the post prom experience. That could range from breakfast after the prom, to going to Great Adventure, to renting hotel rooms and houses in the Hamptons.

Unfortunately, many of these new prom activities present new challenges for supervision and holding high school students accountable. The prom was originally developed as a social experience to celebrate the end of one s high school years with other high school seniors. It was never intended to be an extravaganza that eliminated certain students because of finances.

Not too long ago, the senior prom was a formal dinner dance, where participants dressed up, had a great meal, a lot of laughs and took pictures with their own cameras. After the dance, depending on where they lived, they would possibly go to a local club, breakfast and then home. The next day, they would possibly go to the ocean and/or Great Adventure. There were no limousines, no tuxedos or expensive evening dresses, no videos or professional photography. There were flowers and parents taking pictures. Prom bids were under $25. It was a great night to remember but didn't put anyone in the poor house.

Unfortunately, today the prom experience is overdone with extravagance and ridiculous expense for limousines, party buses, pre-prom parties, professional photography and digital videography. Most prom bids today are over $125 per person. By the time many seniors arrive at the prom, they have eaten so much junk that the wonderful gourmet meals prepared and paid for go to waste.

The once simple night to remember and celebrate one's high school years is out of control. It's not just about the tremendous amount of money spent on a high school event. What has become increasingly troubling in recent years are the other social choices seniors are making and too many parents are tolerating or enabling.

The drinking issue in recent times is out of control. A growing number of pre-prom parties serve alcohol. Many parents will take the position that alcohol is not permitted at their gathering. So, prom goers will drink before they get to the party or drink in their cars. Then, there are those parents who see nothing wrong with a beer or two, or a cocktail before the prom. They take the position that the prom is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, that it's supervised and that the participants are not driving, but being driven. Their postscript is that they're going to do it anyway, so let's keep them safe!

There are a number of problems with that kind of thinking. First, it's reckless and irresponsible. Secondly, if the young people in question are under 21, it's illegal. As parents, we have to ask the question: what kind of message are we giving our seniors by not holding them accountable?

This senior experience has become more stressful for high school administrators because of supervision. For too long, many high schools were lax in enforcing the school s code of conduct at the prom. If any student was found with alcohol, it was confiscated. He/she was allowed to continue to participate in the evening s activities. If a student was found drunk at the prom, the student's parents were called and the student was sent home.

In a former time, these social circumstances were minimal. Unfortunately, today they are escalating to a dangerous level. Schools have hired security personnel to screen limousines as they arrive to make sure there's no alcohol stashed in the vehicle. Students are then screened before entering the prom. During the evening, security personnel discreetly mix and mingle, and check the bathrooms throughout the evening. Normally, students are not allowed to leave the prom and then return. If they leave before the event is finished, they are not welcome back.

More and more school principals are having senior assemblies before the prom, outlining very clearly what is expected and what social behavior will not be tolerated. They are also very clear about the consequences, if someone is found in noncompliance. This outline of expectations and consequences is signed by both senior prom goers and their parents.

The major consequence for noncompliance is not being permitted to walk with your class at graduation. Students will be given their diploma by mail after graduation. That is a pretty tough consequence. One would think that no senior would risk participation in commencement for the sake of an evening of drinking. There are always students who think they are invincible and think they can get over any system, especially if their parents cover for them.

A number of high school communities have tried to enforce this consequence. Unfortunately, many have caved in to the pressures of parents and other voices, who thought the consequence was too stiff. However, one principal had the courage to stick to the signed agreement. A senior boy, who was a scholar athlete and very popular, got drunk at the prom. He was not permitted to walk with his class. There was a tremendous outcry when word got out. The principal felt for the student, but also felt compelled to enforce the consequence. She said just because he's a good student and well-liked by many is not justification to excuse him from being accountable for his poor decision-making.

The new challenge for high school administrators is what to say and do about post prom activities. More and more senior classes are sponsoring weekends in the Hamptons. Parents are helping students to rent hotel rooms and beach houses. Adult supervision, at best, is poor or nonexistent. If there is supervision, the supervisors often turn a blind eye to drinking. Too often, the alcohol consumption, as well as drug use, is out of control. Students will deny hard-core drug use, but do not see a problem with recreational pot smoking or the use of prescription drugs among friends.

In an ideal world, high school seniors should be able to go away for a weekend with minimal supervision, have a great time and make all the right social decisions. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world, but rather a very narcissistic world, where social decision-making is oftentimes impaired. Too many good kids can be victimized by the destructive decisions of others.

How many more teenagers need to die senselessly because of the reckless decision-making of others, before we, as parents, step up and parent?