Prom Night

Rupa Gawle, NY

It was movie night and we all finally agreed on the movie of the evening. Even though we had seen it earlier when it came out in theaters, we decided on American Pie which seemed to be the unanimous choice. The movie was hysterical. We could relate to a lot of things in it (even though we were brought up the Indian way). The main characters in the movie focused on the big topic of 'sex' and it was a hilarious journey though foolish actions with silly motives. This was a topic none of us grew up around or talked about but were definitely exposed to. We laughed like hell at the naivete of the characters about their sexuality and their eagerness to 'grow up'. While it was all funny I realized that long gone are those simple days of 'ignorance is bliss' while growing up. I grew up in NYC but I was still very sheltered. Most of the friends I grew up around were very sheltered as well and while we all were as curious as any average teenager would be, the topics that affected the 'American' kids didn't apply to our lives. One of those topics is the prom.

Last Saturday I went shopping with my friend Rashmi and her sister Ruchi for Ruchi's prom. Her mom was 'conveniently' left out. Rashmi's mom is cool - Rashmi has a very good relationship with her so I wanted to know why her mom wasn't there for an event such as this. Ruchi was quick to snap, "If I brought mom along she'll buy me a burkha!" We laughed but it was probably true. Rashmi is my age, a successful lawyer and quite progressive herself and while she never went to her prom much like myself, I knew it had been 10 years since. I asked her why she hadn't talked to her mom about the prom.

"Are you kidding me?" she said. “I had to coax and cajole and manipulate her into allowing Ruchi to go.”

She had asked for things that she never could have asked her mother as an adolescent, but she did for Ruchi. It had been a long journey. I know a lot of kids go through hell with parents about their proms. It wasn't recognized in my house when I went to high school but in time my brother got to go to his prom and even his friend's prom.

Funny how a decade later the whole experience is a blur if you were to ask anyone 20 and over about their high school prom. Most don't care and don't even want to remember and it now seems like such a silly liturgy. Yet at seventeen it is the one rite of passage that helps a teenager 'belong' and that's why it is the center of his/her world. Nothing seems quite right without going to the senior prom. Most of our parents didn't have any such event and who would blame parents for holding on to their children's childhood for a little longer. I realize that perhaps kids who were born here or have grown up here all their life might have it a little easier with the topic of the prom with their parents but it is a very difficult and confusing issue for new immigrant parents. The prom shouldn't have to be so stressful for Indian parents.

What is the prom in the most 'American' term?

I'd compare it to something like the 'send off' in India. I remember when I attended school in India, every year we'd watch the kids in their final year get all dressed up for a formal event that was their final farewell to each other as they went on to college and adulthood. The prom is very similar to that. It is a rite of passage. An evening dedicated to celebrating with friends and bidding them a final farewell as one goes onto bigger and better things, college and adulthood. It necessitates getting dressed up (as an adult would) and going out to a social dance and dinner with friends. A lot of schools have the event in the auditorium, most big city schools boast of proms being held at grand restaurant venues. Mine was held at the 'Windows of the World'. I was the class vice president on the prom committee and I cried the night I didn't get to go to the 'beautiful' 'Windows of the World'. Little did I know that the view is just mediocre on clear days, the bar scene sucks, the drinks are overpriced and the crowd is stuffy.

An average prom-going student has a date but many have been known to go solo or with a group of friends. If you are uncomfortable with your son or daughter taking a date, discuss it with them. If all his/her friends are taking dates it will be a difficult battle to win. No one wants to be left alone without a dance partner at a social. For a seventeen-year-old it is humiliating. If your child insists on taking a date, encourage him/her to bring their date to meet you first so you know what kind of person he/she is. Whether your child is going in a group or with a date, it is perfectly normal to coordinate the evening with the other parents whose kids are with your kid. Building relationships with your kid's friends' parents starts years before the prom.

Prom preparation entails shopping for the perfect dress (for girls) or tux (for guys). Get involved and go along. Don't criticize your child, especially girls (Indian parents tend to over-protect their girls) for picking out something revealing. It helps to pick up fashion magazines during those periods because they offer tons of tips and feature lots of great outfits and accessories. Being fashionable doesn't necessarily mean showing skin. Do encourage your girls to dress fashionably and agree on what is a reasonably sexy outfit for her.

Going to the prom is also a big event in itself. Most kids rent limousines or chauffeured cars for the evening. This is actually a good idea. You can monitor their activities and know exactly where they are if you arrange for a car to take them to the prom, remain there and then bring them back. You can also pick a Limo company that does not carry alcohol and does not allow anyone to bring any alcohol on board.

Prom expenses can add up. Allow your kids to splurge. The first year of college is extremely stressful. Allow them this last enjoyment before they move to adulthood. However if you cannot afford it and it will pinch your pockets there is nothing wrong with encouraging your kids to take up an after-school job for a couple of days a week for a few weeks before the prom so they have enough money to cover their expenses.

There are a couple of myths about the prom and are probably true. Some of them are:
(1) People have sex on prom night and a lot of kids lose their virginity.
(2) A lot of kids get drunk and do stupid things during prom night.

While these are very valid and extremely scary issues for parents to deal with, these are issues that are going to come up more often in life now, than they did before and the best way to tackle them is to deal with them.

High schools are liable for the safety of your kids and their actions while at the prom so your kids aren't going to be running around amuck without anyone watching over them. There are always chaperones arranged for by the school, as well as parents who volunteer to be chaperones that are around to help out and keep an eye on the kids. It is an excellent idea to volunteer as a chaperone.

Preventing your children from getting involved in sexual activity on prom night or falling into pressures to 'no longer be a virgin' starts years before the prom. It means talking to your kids about their sexuality and raising them to be responsible adults. It also means teaching them the value of abstinence till appropriate. Most Indian parents don't talk about it because they assume that 'we are conservative' so our kids wouldn't think about doing anything 'unnatural'. But what is unnatural to the parents may not be to the kids. After all, American or not, most kids growing up together are alike and have the same curiosities. Instill the values that are important to you in your kids' years before the prom ever becomes an issue.

The same rules apply to drinking. Instilling healthy habits in your kids should start years before and should start at home. Schools have strict policies about the prom regarding alcohol. Whether held in the auditorium or at a fancy place, kids will get thrown out or sent home and sometimes even expelled from school for bringing alcohol to the prom or showing up drunk. Share your concerns with your kids. Don't assume that they always would know and understand. Expectations should be made clear. Prom nights have some of the highest car-accident fatalities in most states. Talk to your kids about the hazards of drinking and driving. But above all, don't allow them the opportunity to drive that night and be prepared with a backup plan.

Most proms end at around 12 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. because almost everyone going to the prom is a minor and most cities have curfew rules for minors staying out too late. For example in Denver, anyone under the age of 18 cannot be outside after midnight and will be escorted home by the police. Almost all kids will go to 'After Prom' parties, which can range from going to a club or to a house party. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about where your kids will end up afterwards, why not have an 'After Prom' party at your house? This way you know whom they are with, what they are doing and where they are. It is perfectly okay to coordinate the entire evening as well as 'After Prom' parties with the other parents.

In the end it's always good to have a curfew. Most Indian parents have a curfew of 9:00 p.m. or 10:00 p.m. on regular nights. Know that this is the night you will need to put your trust in your children and trust in yourself for raising them well. They are entering adulthood and maybe going away to college. Don't leave them resentful. Allow them to stay out longer. A 1:00 a.m. curfew may be resisted against but is not unreasonable, 2:00 a.m. is perfectly reasonable and 3:00 a.m. if you are completely comfortable with your kids being out that late at night and you are aware of what they are doing and where they are.

A high school prom is a wonderful experience for kids. An event most teenagers wait for all their high school life. Sit down and talk about the rules and build compromises with your children but don't say a firm “No” like the one I got. Don't be afraid to discuss your own personal insecurities and concerns with your kids. One will be very surprised to know that kids are very sensitive to parents' concerns. It's just a matter of discussing those concerns. This is going to be the beginning of a lot of 'difference in opinion topics' for parents. The best thing you can do is deal with it head-on. This could also be the beginning of building a stronger bond, greater than love -- the bond of trust.

I truly encourage your comments on this topic and will be happy to point out any Web sites or information portals out there about proms.