All over the United States, in virtually every high school in every city, the annual ritual occurs. Usually starts in mid-May, when the heat rises and the unrest before summer break begins. It’s a rite of passage, a rite of spring. And it has the potential to make or break a teen’s heart.
It is called prom.
The concept of prom originated in the Victorian era when young people would get dressed up and “promenade” in their finest clothing in front of their friends and peers. Through the years, promenade was abbreviated to “prom” and thus, the big deal began. Prom is paramount to most teens. All humans, especially young people, feel the need to be accepted by a group of their peers and prom plays into this dream of acceptance and belonging, throwing teenagers into a frenzy of taffeta and corsages.
To add to this illustrious dream, movies have influenced the illusion of the “perfect” prom night. “Pretty in Pink,” “10 Things I Hate About You,” “Never Been Kissed” and “She’s All That” have all romanticized prom, equating it to a Cinderella story in which, after prom, everyone lives happily ever after. With all the importance placed on this event, teens and their parents face great pressures for the night to live up to its grand expectations. Everything must be just right, regardless of the cost because, well, it’s prom. Days and months are dedicated to this one event, planning for one night of celebration.
It really should come as no surprise that girls, more so than boys, spend countless hours worrying about the big event. One must tread carefully when approaching a girl who’s preparing for her prom. Armed with thick magazines brimming with glossy pictures of dresses and makeup. She will most likely be frazzled and stressed. After watching prom movies over and over again, and studying magazines filled with seemingly flawless girls. The pressure builds for teenage girls to look a certain way.
The discussions are endless when it comes to dresses, shoes and hairstyles. But, in the end, it’s best to just smile and nod, because things can get scary fast.The expense can also be tremendous. Hair, dress, shoes, flowers, manicures, limos, prom tickets, dinner, photos and post-prom parties—the list goes on and the numbers quickly add up. With the recent economic downturn, finances are tight for many families, which can add to thee pressures of prom that many teens face during this time of year.
Boys also have a tremendous pressure on their shoulders, regardless of how it may seem. A teenage boy can be very aware of how he looks and wants to impress his date. The male side of prom is always downplayed. In reality, there’s a lot riding on their shoulders, such as the cost of dinner, tickets, the corsage and last, but certainly not least, the tux. In recent years, it’s become tradition for groups of couples to get together and share in the pre- and post-prom expenses.
A group of friends usually takes pictures together before prom and then goes out to dinner before the dance. Negotiations on where to dine and what to do afterwards can be as complicatedas a meeting of the United Nations. To add to it, parents tend to get into the act, helping plan venues, share expenses and divvy up the chaperoning.
What parents are most concerned with, of course, are the post-promcelebrations—which, more often than not, most teens attend. Most recently, however, the trend is to stretch the festivities through the weekend, with such ventures as a road trip to a beach house or a weekend stay at a hotel or resort. Many prom stories come from the after-party rather than the actual dance. The truth is, prom is actually very safe thanks to the vigilance by teachers and parent chaperons. It can be difficult to sneak in drugs or alcohol, although it isn’t unheard of to do so.
The real risks lie in the after hours, when students continue the party at a hotel room or beach house. Prom night may be the first time parents instill their complete trust in their teen, sometimes granting their child this one night to celebrate the four years of hard work they’ve given in school.
Unfortunately, this trust is oftentimes abused. Resulting in such situations as someone getting so intoxicated they blacked out or someone passing out on the beach. Alcohol poisoning and blacking out don’t even cross the minds of teens when they’re partying. Many teens think that it’s fun to get drunk or high, to act wild, and to laugh about it later. The next day, when they have a killer hangover, the joke isn’t that funny anymore.
In addition to drugs and alcohol, many teens may experiment with sex on prom night. In the movies and on TV, it’s implied that the couple ends the night with more than just a kiss. And that they go on to live happily every after, consequence free. The pressure to have sex is mainly about keeping up appearances and living up to the “expectations” of prom night.
Pop culture has already set these “requirements” in stone for teenagers. Boys feel pressured to be have sex on prom night because, in his mind, all his friends will be doing the same.They may feel forced to go through with it even if they’re not ready.
Girls, of course, are also under this pressure, but may simply go along to feel like a part of the group. It isn’t fair, but it’s what teenagers are exposed to these days. Subconsciously, what they see, they think is acceptable behavior. Sex is portrayed as a carefree activity. But, as parents know from their own teenage years, sex isn’t as trivial as teenagers make it seem. There are consequences to everything.
Not all students go to after-parties, drink and do drugs. Many teens go to a friend’s house to spend the night or simply go home. Some schools offer post-prom alternatives for students. They offer safe environments where they can enjoy the rest of the night with their friends. These types of post-prom celebrations are usually held at the school, where students are “locked in” for the night, playing games and enjoying themselves in a safe environment.
Then there are the student who decide to opt out of the whole prom craze. But that doesn’t mean they go by unnoticed. Teenagers who decide not to go to prom are ostracized, marked as outcasts and ignored. For some people, dancing, loud music and dressing up isn’t their cup of tea. They’d rather go to a movie, have dinner with friends or even put together a small get together at their house with a couple of friends. Or even just stay home and relax.
Not going to prom is seen as going against the grain. Teens who choose not to go can feel pressured to go by parents and by friends who believe prom is a rite of passage. As long as there are teenagers there will be peer pressure to do certain things. And as long as there are high schools, there will be proms. It is an integral part of the high school experience, whether a student attends or not. The pressures of prom come at teenagers from every direction and can be very overwhelming.
From the media and society, to friends and even family, a teen is constantly being pushed to act a certain way. Teenagers just have to remember that prom can be fun. That drugs, alcohol and sex are not requirements to have a good time. Prom is a big deal, but everyone needs to remember that the big deal is life after prom.
By// Natalie Naranjo