The Season of Endings and Beginnings

The season of endings and beginnings is upon us. Over the next number of weeks, thousands of young people will graduate from high school and college. Many of these seniors will participate in senior proms ...

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The season of endings and beginnings is upon us. Over the next number of weeks, thousands of young people will graduate from high school and college. Many of these seniors will participate in senior proms and banquets. It is truly a time of great celebration.

For many high school seniors, the prom is the beginning of their graduation rituals. It marks an important rite of passage.

Many communities have wonderful traditions around the senior prom. It is truly a community event that involves parents and community members.

Unfortunately, this time-honored celebration has gotten a little out of control. Initially, the senior prom was supposed to be a big senior party to celebrate one's high school years together.

It was a time to eat, dance and remember. The focus was on being together and sharing great memories of time spent with each other.

However, in recent times that end of high school dance has become for some seniors in some communities bigger and more expensive than an upscale wedding.
Take a moment to think of what is involved for many of our seniors: pictures, high priced gowns and tuxedos, flowers, limos, pre prom parties, post prom parties, and for some, an exclusive weekend away.

Prom bids, for many senior proms in our community, are in excess of a hundred dollars. By today's standards, that in and of itself may not be extravagant, but in the context of all the other expenses associated with senior life, such as graduation and going away to college, that is just one more expense that taps a well that for many is already dry.

In many communities, that prom bid does not only include the meal and music but oftentimes other little memory items that are not cheap. The sad part is that too often the wonderful meal and/or buffet for the most part goes wasted. The seniors are too excited to eat and/or they filled up on all the finger foods at the half dozen pre prom parties they stopped at before their big night formally began.

After all the expenses are calculated, many students this year will spend over a thousand dollars, on the low end, for their prom experience! Is all the fluff really worth it?

There are other issues regarding prom season that make it every parent's nightmare. Unfortunately, in recent times, the prom event has become a lost weekend. It starts in the early afternoon with pictures and pre prom parties. For a growing number of seniors, that is also when the drinking begins.

Most high schools have strong prohibitions on any alcohol consumption. Some school districts have been driven, because of poor decision making, to search limos and give suspicious parties breathalyzer tests.

What is troubling is that as I talk to parents and seniors, a growing number feel that many of us are overreacting to this issue. Some have been blunt enough to say that they see nothing wrong with responsible drinking, especially on this special occasion, even though it is against the law.

The landscape today makes it very difficult for senior class advisors and school administrators when dealing with social events like the senior prom, especially when all parents are not in concert with the law.

In recent months, we have been overwhelmed with teenage tragedies due to underage drinking. Reckless decision making in this area is potentially very lethal. It is unfortunate that schools have had to become like the police in this area. They have no choice because the safety of so many is at stake.

One private school became so troubled by the enabling behavior of parents that it banned all limos from the senior prom. The principal met with parents and indicated that prom goers had to be driven to the prom site by adults. Their names had to be submitted beforehand and the parents had to sign a statement that their son or daughter did not participate in pre prom drinking.

That same principal went a step further because this particular senior class had some drinking episodes on the senior trip. He said that if any senior was found to have liquor in their possession or was found to be drinking, they would not be permitted to participate in commencement. They would graduate, but not publicly. Their diploma would be mailed.

Needless to say, parents and seniors were not happy. It almost caused a revolution. This principal was known to be fair, but was also known to be a man of his word. Seniors knew that he meant business and that no one was going to be able to rescue them if they made a bad decision in this area. The school board president also indicated that the Board of Education unanimously supported the principal on this issue. That year, the prom was a joyful celebration without incident.

How many school administrators are willing to step up and step out on this issue? Most principals write a strong letter to senior parents every prom season. However, too often it is heavy on rhetoric, but light on action and direction.

Drinking is an on-going concern, not just in school, but in general. And what about the other social parameters of the prom experience?

Should high school seniors be allowed to have a lost weekend without supervision that starts on a Friday afternoon and oftentimes lasts till Monday morning?

It is important to define what one means by a lost weekend. Many senior prom goers have a great weekend of reasonable activities planned that involve going to a variety of places after the prom that are alcohol free. These activities are legal and have some form of adult supervision where it is appropriate. Cruises around Manhattan, a comedy club, the beach the day after the prom or Great Adventure are reasonable activities. Going to someone's home to hang out and have breakfast, when parents are home, is reasonable.

What is not reasonable and is potentially dangerous is the scenario where the prom goer leaves home on Friday at 3pm with his date and a vague itinerary and tells Mom and Dad "I'll see you Monday."

Some parents are fine with that. Is renting a condo or motel room for our children for the weekend with no supervision appropriate? Is it okay for them to sleep out on the beach all night, when the beach closes at dusk?

Can some high school seniors go away for a weekend and act respectfully and responsibly without supervision? Absolutely. However, the risk here is not the good kids, but the reality that circumstances like the ones I just mentioned spread like wildfire. What started out as just a few couples is now a full blown party beyond the control of those good kids.

As parents, we need to have the prom experience conversation sooner rather than later. We need to be clear as to what is acceptable and what is not acceptable regarding this experience. Being a parent is sometimes tough; however, our senior's livelihoods may literally depend on it!