Today’s high school students experience higher levels of stress and anxiety related to the big dance than their parents experienced, a behavioral health expert said.
Those pressures range from over-the-top “promposals” to financial stress over designer formal wear, limousine escorts and extravagant dinners. They also include life-altering temptations to drink alcohol, take drugs or engage in sexual behavior on prom night,
The prom tradition has become expensive – on average, a prom dress alone can cost in excess of $250 – and high pressure for teens competing with peers to have the most-perfect body or flashiest ride. All that pressure can lead to short-term physical and mental health issues.
“Parents can play an important role in how teens experience prom,” said Amber Olson, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of behavioral therapy services with Memorial Behavioral Health. “Ask your teen about what they want from their prom experience and then help shape healthy expectations for the evening.”
Olson offered these tips:
Set a realistic budget. Talk about the importance of budgeting and share with your teen what is affordable. Discuss renting versus buying, comparison-shopping and more inexpensive dining and car-pool options. Discourage extravagant “promposals.” Save the sky-writing, rhinestone-studded, pressure-packed proposals for another time.
Be alert to your teen trying crash diets or extreme workouts to lose weight or bulk up for prom. “These short-term gains can lay the groundwork for long-term unhealthy eating habits and poor body image,” said Olson.
Reassure your teen. Validate their feelings if a potential prom date declines their invitation or if they are not asked to be someone’s prom date. Encourage going with friends, which can help ensure a more relaxed atmosphere.
Help your teen manage expectations. “Role model for your teen the importance of being present in the moment and encourage them to stay mindful as they take in all the details of the evening,” said Olson. It’s difficult to be fully present if you are obsessed with peers’ social media pages or comparing their suit or dress to everyone else’s.
Engage openly with your teen about pressures to drink, do drugs or have sex on prom night (or anytime). Role model responsible behavior in these areas. Practice saying “no” with your teen. Try different phrases to decline drugs, alcohol or sex until your teen feels comfortable and natural saying “no.”
“Parents should always keep in mind realistic expectations for adolescent behavior,” said Olson. “Despite discussions with your teen about poor choices like unprotected sex or underage drinking, understand your teen may decide to engage in a risky behavior. Make sure they feel comfortable calling you if they find themselves in a compromised situation.”
Help your teen be prepared with a fully charged cellphone, emergency cash and the assurance you are available for a judgment-free ride home if they find themselves in an unsafe situation.