Saving the World One Teen at a Time - Column on Parenting Tweens and Teens

Senior Prom 2.0: Farewell to Being a Teen.

by Kristy Campbell


Senior Prom 2010 is a far cry from my Gunne Sax dress and dinner at The Ramada Inn. Of course, San Francisco is quite a distance from the middle of Pennsylvania, but I sense that all across the county, Senior Proms have amped up the crepe paper and punch bowls. Prom 2.0 is in full swing this spring. And, it’s more than just a dance.


This past weekend, my husband and I hosted 52 prom dates and their parents for appetizers and pictures before the luxury party bus arrived to take them to the dock for their cruise in the San Francisco Bay. When my daughter told me Prom would be a harbor cruise, I remembered that the only time I’d been on a harbor cruise was for a wedding reception. When my daughter showed me the Facebook page where all the girls were posting pictures of their dresses, I remarked that it seemed so Oscar-like. I still wasn’t quite clued in when my daughter asked if kids could come before the Prom for pictures. I immediately agreed. How bad could it be? 5 or 6 couples, their parents, some pictures, some cheese and wine…how fun. Only after I said yes and the invitation was posted on Facebook, did my daughter let me in on the fact that it would be a few thousand people descending upon our home. Thankfully, my daughter’s step-dad is a saint and wholeheartedly agreed to transform our house into a pre-Prom photo spot.


As the parents and kids started to arrive, I was really moved to see all these kids dressed up with corsages and boutonnières honoring the time-old tradition of Senior Prom. Of course, the dresses were more Red Carpet than off-the-rack mall wear. Bright colors, beautiful fabrics, plunging necklines with ample cleavage (yep, there are her parents…guess they know she is wearing that). The boys were very handsomely dressed in tuxes with vests and ties. There wasn’t a frilly shirt in the bunch or a wacky bowtie. Not even a pastel suit. All the kids were elegant and made every parent proud.


It’s a strange sight to watch these can’t-keep-their-room-clean teenagers morph into young adults, all of them using manners and cocktail napkins. They have had other formal dances before in their high school career, but you could tell that the enormity of this being their last dance together as a class had them all behaving reverently. My daughter admitted that she was excited and nervous but kind of sad about her Prom since when it’s over, it will be over. I knew what she meant, and as I scanned the group of kids, I could tell she wasn’t the only one feeling that way.


The families watched as the kids loaded on the bus and pulled away to the thump of the bass…ah, loud music…the great teenage universal. Some of the parents came back to the house so we could process together what had just happened. Many of us commented on how grown up these kids all seemed that night.



When I was a senior in high school, in the late '70's, prom was really no big deal. No one made much of a fuss. Girls didn't expect $500 dresses (or the equivalent of the times), there were no limos, or cruises, or party condos. People had one hell of a good time, but it wasn't taken particularly seriously. I attended an enormous suburban high school just outside of Chicago, one of the top ten public schools in the country at the time academically.

I'm not sure what you are talking about regarding street drugs, rape, depression, bullying and suicide not being an issue back then. They most assuredly were, perhaps more so than they are now, because they were not discussed openly, or dealt with, or explained. They were ignored...and those who were suffering did so in silence, alone and unsupported. There was no media coverage, no moral outrage, and no one sued schools when things went wrong.

Today's seniors are largely unprepared because so little is expected of them. Prom has been utterly outrageous for the last two decades. I worked in a youth oriented business for almost nine years, and I felt deeply for the young men who couldn't quite afford the limo, or the perfect corsage, or didn't want to go to the beach condo and drink and get laid. I hurt for the girls who were embarrassed because they were unable, or unwilling, to spend a fortune on a prom dress, make-over, shoes and an up-do. For a vast majority of kids, senior prom is not a night of grown-up fun and contemplation of more serious things to's a chance to get rowdy at their parents' expense, with their parents' approval, before they move on to college and still more irresponsible and just plain stupid behavior. It amazes me the way students behave at so many of the universities now. Yes, I went (on my own dime) and I partied, but I didn't pee on public property, photograph myself puking for posterity then display the shots for the world to see, riot just for the hell of it, disrespect everyone around me, get thrown in jail for public indecency and drunkenness and expect mommy and daddy to bail me out, wear lingerie to parties in the freaking street and destroy other people's property just because.

I have an 18 year old son. He went to prom this year, and the Project Prom afterward. He is autistic, and has serious behavioral issues. I, and his step-father, have worked very hard all of his life to help him, through love, affection, attention, consistency, the setting of boundaries and rules, be able to function in every day society. Three years ago, he decided he wanted to act out against us, because there were no such restrictions in his bio father's household. He now lives there, which almost lead to him being institutionalized. Thankfully, some of what we taught him has adhered, and prom went without a hitch. He is not grown-up, and does not really understand what lies ahead.

My neighbors' daughter wore a $15 dress she got at a thrift store, and zebra striped platform sneakers to prom. She went with a young man, and a group of friends with their dates. I saw no solemnity...only high-spirited, sweet, sensible young people who had a glorious good time. They looked lovely, and absolutely radiant...and they all seem fully aware that ahead of them lies an uncertain, but wide-open future. Most of these kids work part-time in the summer, and know that their parents work hard for them. They have no illusions, but they also have dreams. None of them were seemed sad at all.

And in all of that little group, not a hint of actual cleavage.