Removing the stress from prom – advice for parents

Prom season doesn’t have to come with pressure if parents provide the appropriate focus and perspective.

Prom season is upon us. In the next few weeks,prom group high school students will be getting dressed up in anticipation of a magical time at the big dance. However, it’s not just a big dance anymore. Over time, prom has morphed into an over-the-top extravaganza that causes an immense amount of stress and pressure for teens and their families. The focus has shifted from having fun and making memories with friends to having the most expensive dress, the flashiest car, buffest body or biggest hangover. The emphasis on these things has become unbelievably exaggerated and shifted the focus away from the experience. With all this pressure to look good, fit in and financially afford it all, the stress can become overwhelming, which may lead to short-term health and mental health complications.

 Here are some of the reasons teens and their families are stressing:

  • Who will the teen go with or will they be asked at all?
  • How will they size up when compared to their peers? Will the suit or dress be expensive enough? Stylish enough? The right color?
  • How much will everything cost and how is it being afforded?
  • Will the teen be pressured to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking, drugs and/or having sex on prom night?

These worries start months in advance of prom season. Michigan State University Extension indicates that parents can help alleviate some of the stress and pressure by providing the appropriate focus and perspective. Contributing to your teen’s self-esteem and positive self-image will be the by-product. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Set a realistic budget for the event and don’t let your teen get caught up in the expensive hairstyles and dresses. Transportation can be as easy as the family car. Find less expensive options for all these things and talk to your teen about the importance of saving for other important impending events, such as college. Most importantly, don’t allow your teen to make comparisons to peers. Share with your child what you can afford and your expectations for how they should look.
  • Reassure your teen that they look good regardless of how much their suit or dress cost, or what kind of car they arrive to the prom in. Explain to them that the dress, car, suit or hairstyle does not define who they are, but it is how they feel about themselves on the inside that matters.
  • Build their feelings of self-worth by reassuring them that it’s okay if they are rejected by the person they hope to attend prom with, or if they aren’t asked at all. The focus should be on going with someone – a date or a friend with whom they’ll have fun and enjoy the experience with.
  • Talk to your teen about what they want to get out of the night – is it to wear the most expensive dress or rent the flashiest car, or is it to dance, mingle and have fun with their friends? Parents can role model for their teens the importance of being present in the moment and taking it all in. Encourage your teen to absorb the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the evening – things they can’t focus on if they’re too busy wondering if their suit or dress is better than everyone else’s.
  • Discourage your teen from going on crash diets to lose weight for the big day. If your teen struggles with an unhealthy weight, talk to him or her about the importance of healthy eating and physical fitness habits now and throughout the rest of their life. Extreme weight loss and work-out fads lead to failure and can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits and poor body-image. It can also be another reason for your teen to feel bad about themselves.
  • Have open and frequent discussions with your teen months in advance about the pressure they might feel to drink, do drugs or have sex on prom night. Peer pressure is real and can be very intense. Your teen needs to feel secure in making healthy, responsible decisions that you can help empower by talking about the consequences and dangers of underage drinking, substance abuse and unprotected sex. Role model responsible behavior in these areas and practice saying “no” with your teen.

Prom can be, and should be the fun event that most teens look forward to in high school. The stress and pressures are optional. Parents can help by guiding their teens to focus on the experience of prom with friends, making shared memories that will last a lifetime. The misguided focus on having expensive dresses and suits or looking a certain way can take the joy out of it, and even worse, contribute to feelings of low self-worth.

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