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I try to stay out of my son’s personal non-academic life. Particularly his romantic life. For the parents of a teenager a certain amount of willful ignorance and plausible deniability is bliss. But as certain rites of passage roll around, it’s hard not to engage in a certain level of vicarious voyeurism.
One of the biggest milestones is prom. For months we would discretely inquire if he had made prom arrangements, particularly whether or not he had a date yet. After weeks of vague replies it became apparent that he was going to end up going stag. As regular readers will know, my son has a lot more going for him than I did at that age. But he still wasn’t able to close the deal for this year. Part of his reluctance may because he is gun shy. His date to last year’s prom ended up passing out on the dance floor from exhaustion (My son had fed her a full dinner beforehand and no alcohol had been consumed) and had to be rushed to the emergency room. That made the rest of the evening rather awkward.
This year, he blames his condition on his own choosiness and the protectiveness of the parents of the girls he knows. His school is nearly one-quarter Asian and the level of the classes he takes tends to skew that percentage even higher. In his Calculus BC class last year, there were only a couple of kids of entirely European heritage. Many of his fellow students are Generation 1 or 1.5 immigrants, meaning they were either born in the US or moved here as small children. They have been raised as Americans with all the cultural adaptations thereunto, but their parents were born and educated abroad and have brought with them a lot of old world attitudes. They are very protective of their daughters, which troubles me with what it reveals of how women are treated in their native culture. Keeping your little girl from going to prom with a guy is unnecessarily strict and in complete defiance of decades of American tradition.
But American mass-media bears some responsibility for enhancing these parents’ paranoia. Teen movies before and since John Hughes have focused on prom as the centerpiece of the high school experience. This is the night where all the drama, conflict, and romance of the school year culminate. At movie proms, if there is not a catfight, a romantic clinch, or a baby being delivered, it just hasn’t been a real party.
A recent Washington Post article noted the disturbing trend that girls’ expectations for prom invitation have come to exceed the effort most guys put into a marriage proposal. Fueled by silly MTV shows, guys are now expected to come up with unique and romantic methods of asking for a date which puts a lot on the line. If the approach crashes and burns, the guy is now totally exposed and out of the running for discretely moving onto his second choice. No girl wants to be somebody’s back-up plan. It becomes an all-or-nothing proposition.
Likewise, guys’ expectations for prom night have also been raised to traditional wedding night levels. Prom has become National Get Lucky Night. Even back in my day there were always rumors of rented motel rooms and all night beach parties where clothes and inhibitions were bound to be abandoned. But today that expectation has risen to ridiculous levels. Since girls don’t even pretend to wait until the wedding night anymore, prom has now become the focal point for even the most demure girls that haven’t crossed the bridge into sexual activity already.
In order to fight the perceived perils of prom night many schools are now organizing very elaborate after-prom parties to keep these hormonally charged kids busy until daylight when presumably the risk of procreative activity subsides. I know of one private school that gives away a sports car as a door prize. Never mind that the winner usually has something as good or better in his garage already.
Last week we got a mass e-mail from the principal asking parents to not host private after-prom parties since the PTA goes to a lot of trouble and expense to rent out a local mega-fitness center. That’s not my son’s idea of a good time. Instead, he is having a half-dozen (or maybe more) of his equally unlucky in love friends over for a massive video game extravaganza. We are temporarily moving all the available audio-visual outlets to the living room so we can have multiple rounds of Smash Brothers running at once.
And isn’t having a good time with your friends to mark a milestone in your high school career what prom night should really be about?
BlatantCommentWhoring™: Is prom completely out of control, or am I a victim of fuddy-duddiness? How did your prom compare to the modern version?