It is early in the morning and swarm of angry girls rush into the counseling office.  Apparently something traumatic happened to one of the girls and she is inconsolable. For the next three hours she sits in my office trying to work through the tragic situation that she experienced over the weekend.  In short, welcome to  Monday after prom!  Of course, you can tell this is one of my favorite days of the year (yes, I am being sarcastic). Every year, there always seems to be some sort of drama the week after prom from either a break up, a social media melt down, or a trip to jail.  I find that most of the issues from prom do not occur at the dance, but happen at the events following the formal.  So, the prom is not just not one affair, but it has become an elaborate series of occasions that begin way in advance of the dance.  Okay, let me break down the new prom culture for you…

Planning for the prom can start months in advance for both sexes.  For girls, their goal is to find the perfect dress which can cost in the thousands (compared to the tux which is around $100). For guys, they are under pressure to come up with the perfect promposal. Now if you haven’t experienced a promposal, they can be quite elaborate productions.  There have been tales of guys hiring sky writers, musicians, and messengers to
deliver the prom invitation while they stand anxiously in the background waiting for an answer.  I witnessed my first promposal last year when I was selling candy rings for Valentine’s Day.  A guy bought a ring and went over a table of girls where he got on one knee and asked one of the girls to the dance. The whole lunchroom exploded in applause while cellphones captured the moment on Vine.


Following the dress selection and promposal event, there is the preparation for prom.  Preparations for the big event can include the ride to the prom (party bus or limo), dinner reservations, finding the right group to hang out with during and after the prom, and deciding which after prom event(s) to attend.  According to Business Insider Magazine, the average family is now spending $1,139 on prom activities! 

Next, there are the day of prom preparations which can be especially busy for girls. A new trend for girls is to reserve a day at the spa for all their beauty treatments (nails, hair, tanning, and even massage). It is not only important for girls to look good  for the dance, but there is a lot of pressure to be camera ready for social media.  In fact, social media outlines the whole itinerary for prom events which are routinely discussed days after the prom.

Prom Selfie

When the dance is over, prom is just cranking up with the after prom activities.  Unfortunately, this is where the majority of the at risk behaviors happen that we hear about on Monday morning.  Regarding after prom parties, the ones that are most concerning for me are the ones where alcohol is freely available.  Surprisingly, there are parties held at hotels paid for by parents and parties sponsored by parents where alcohol is served.  These particular parties, where parents condone and supply alcohol, are known as social hosting parties.  According to Psychology Today, a social host is someone who furnishes alcohol without monetary gain, has no special relationship to the party guests, condones the consumption of alcohol on their property, and may be an adult or minor host. Many states have specific laws regarding social hosting and the liability that goes along with that responsibility.

As you can see,  prom culture has become a huge event that can cause a lot of social stress in schools.  So, where did this idea or phenomenon emerge?  Time Magazine identifies the history of the present day prom or promenade as having roots in the simple 19th century co-ed university graduation banquet. As the teenage culture emerged, these co-ed events were pushed back into the senior year of high school and were celebrated at dances.  After WWII, these teenage dances were taken out of the school gymnasiums and held at more sophisticated locations like country clubs and hotels. Eventually, the prom was seen as a rite of passage into underage drinking, staying out after curfew, and first time sexual encounters. Best selling author, Rachel Simmons, wrote a great article about the damaging messages that prom sends to teens.  

1.  You must have money to go to prom.  This is so true as many of our low income students feel that going to prom is unattainable due to the expense. 
2.  You must be beautiful to go to the prom.  Again, prom is all about fashion and preparation.  In my hometown, it is customary for the parents to gather together to watch the couples “promenade” to the dance.

Prom preparation is important!

All the pictures are posted on Face Book and people comment on the dresses, hairstyles, and chemistry of the couples.  The couples that get the most accolades are the ones who look like they have walked off the red carpet.
3.  Girls should wait to be asked to go to the prom. So, the promposal is the ultimate invitation and tends to be for the “popular” kids. Girls who do not have a invitation often scramble to find a last minute date.
4. All prom events should be broadcasted.  Prom has become a social event.  Not only is it an event for the teens, but it is a matter of pride and conversation for parents.  With American families shelling out big bucks, prom events are becoming like weddings!
5. Who you bring to the prom matters!  Going back to the event in my hometown…you bring the wrong type of person and you are toast on social media.  This can mean wrong social status, wrong gender, wrong ethnicity…you get my drift. Prom has become an event that encourages social stratification.

Okay, we now are aware of the pitfalls of prom: extreme pressure for perfection,  poor decision making, and social segregation of certain groups.  So, as school counselors, what can we do to help our students survive this coming of age event?

Here are some tips of how we can infiltrate the prom culture:

1.  Find sponsors for a prom closet asking alumni to donate their gently used dresses.  Also, ask for donations for students to get a free makeover, manicure, or tanning.  Check out Operation Prom as a resource.
2.  Provide resources for students and parents. For students, putting together a resource kit of prom essentials is a great idea for providing resources.  Of course this will take planning, but it is a neat idea.  

Kit can include:

  • Gum/breath mints
  • mini deodorant 
  • Chap stick for guys
  • Kleenex
  • Band aids for blisters
  • Double sided tape 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Safety pins
  • List of much need apps 

      1.  Plan’It Prom-helps students and parents plan for prom and stay on budget.

Circle of Six

      2.  Circle of Six-allows the student to send a message to six friends in case of an emergency.
      3.  Open Table-easily allows students to book a table during busy nights.
      4.  Pro Flowers-app that makes it easy to order that special corsage

  • Make a list of important phone numbers & important locations (police, cab companies, locations of nearest ATM machines).  You can create an app for students to download on Yapp with all local resources and emergency numbers.

Parent Guide to a Safe Prom
What Every Parent Should Know About the Prom  

 3.  Consider taking a group of students to dinner and to the prom.  When I was a younger teacher, my teacher buddies and I would always take students to the prom.  In the past, I have taken a group of socially isolated girls who did not have dates and went with a group of special education students. Needless to say those were memorable times!

After Prom Party Idea

4.  Host a Safe After Party. Since prom is strictly supervised, many kids leave to go after school parties to “cut loose”.  SADD has a helpful guide to putting together and safe after prom activities.

SADD Think About It
SADD After Party Ideas

So, when you have a student come into your office loosing it over something that happened from prom, please be a little patient with him or her. Prom is more than a dance…it is a high pressure rite of passage.

Desperate times call for desperate hashtags!

Additional Resources:

 How Kids Do It Now

Prom Playbook: How Schools Can Keep Teens Safe

Teen Life: After Prom Ideas

Power to the Parents: Prom Informational Brochure

Empower Your Teen With Refusal Skills

Dangers of Drinking on Prom Night

Risky Behavior Leads to Emergency Rooms

Drugs and Alcohol Defined

Stratification on the Dance Floor Prom Night in America


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