Whether your teenager has been planning their perfect prom night since freshman year or totally couldn’t care less about the big dance, we should all be talking to our kids about the American cultural icon that is prom night. It goes without saying that you want your children to be able to enjoy themselves and have a great night on the town, but there are also very legitimate concerns all parents have about the event. Check out these five tips for talking to your teenager about prom night.
Let them know they can call. If things get out of hand and your children end up in situations that are uncomfortable or beyond the scope of their unending teenage expertise, you want them to feel safe reaching out to you. According to LoveProm, our kids want to lean on us in those situations, but they have to believe you’ve confronted similar challenges and won’t completely freak out should they need you. Don’t assume your children know they can call you if no one at the afterparty is able to drive home; remind them of it frequently. Let them know you don’t expect perfection, but you do expect responsibility and accountability. Show them you respect them and trust them to make good choices, up to and including, making a tough call if they have to.
It’s okay to be uncomfortable. If you honestly expect your children to step up to the plate and reach out to you if they need to, you have to have already shown them that it’s okay to be uncomfortable. Teenagers feel awkward and self-conscious enough as it is; they need you to model learning to confront uncomfortable situations. As Maura Mahoney notes, “ideally, you and your child have been talking about drinking, drugs and sex intermittently throughout high school,” but if you haven’t already been having those conversations it’s time to start right now. “Think little chats -- not one big marathon.” It might not be easy, but it will greatly increase the odds your teenager will risk the uncomfortable late-night phone call to you.
Manage expectations. The above points are not to say that you should authorize or accept that your teenagers will participate in activities you don’t approve of. Part of having these conversations is setting boundaries and expectations, but don’t get caught in lecture-mode. Try to listen to what your kids are telling you about their own expectations for the big dance; the mythology of prom and its impact on a teenager’s life is a pop culture phenomenon in America. We all know that expectations don’t always match reality, so help your kids manage their excitement. Emphasize that prom is really just about a fun, fancy night on the town with friends. Team up with other parents, especially those of your teen’s closest friends, to help establish and manage expectations and keep your kids safe.
Set a budget. One big part of managing those expectations is setting a clear budget from the start. There’s nothing wrong with wanting prom to be a night to remember; you and your kids can decide what is reasonable and what is extravagant for the event, but you can only do what you can do. This is another opportunity for you to have one of those hard chats with your child; let them know what you can realistically afford. With the variety of resources available online, it should be easy enough to keep the conversation positive and keep your kids excited about their budget-friendly options. Check out online stores like Azazie and Taft for snazzy prom threads.
Don’t overshare. Yes, you want to be open and honest with your kids as much as possible. More importantly, though, you should be listening -- and listening much more than you talk. You should trust your kids, and hopefully you do, but you don’t need to overshare with them or tip your hand. You don’t have to let them know until right before you leave that you will be dropping off any backpacks or sleepover bags (and checking them twice for any hidden contraband). If kids are planning to come back to your house, you don’t have to share that you’ll be checking bags, bushes, or vehicles for alcohol or drugs. You’re still the parent, and you make the rules. It’s not about catching them doing something wrong; it’s just about covering all your bases.
First and foremost, you want to let your teenager know that you love and support them and completely share in their excitement for the big dance. Part of your show of support, though, is having some of those difficult conversations with your child. Nothing is more important than your child’s safety, so make sure it’s crystal clear they can lean on you if they need anything, and don’t feel bad about any steps you take to ensure your teen comes home happy and healthy at the end of the night.
What are you doing to prepare your teenager for prom night? Share in the comments below!