Minimizing Prom Stress: A guide for parents and teens
It's that time of year again. Social media posts of "prom-posals" begin. Young folks and their families start to discuss buying fancy dresses or what sort of pre-prom date they want. Limos are reserved. Picture locations are secured. From the outside, these plans seem fun and exciting, and they often are; however, prom can cause stress for families and teens in various ways. Social and financial stress as well as questions of maturity and expectations all play a role in how teens and their families approach and experience prom. Here are a few tips for keeping the stress manageable and focusing on the fun of what is often considered a teenage milestone experience.
Talk to Your Teen
It's always a good idea to talk to your teen about what is going on in their life. Who are their friends? What sorts of things do they like doing? Showing genuine interest in your teen and listening to what they tell you goes a long way toward keeping their trust and increases the likelihood that they will come to you with real issues. When it comes to prom, finding out if they plan to go, if they have any prospects for a date, if they plan to ask someone or wait to be asked, and what expectations they may have for wardrobe and activities are important conversation topics.
You may have a vision of a prom experience that is perfectly in line with theirs, but you may be far off base from their plans. Ask them what their plans are with no judgment. Frame it in terms of "wish list" or "wants" rather than a definite "must have." Negotiation will happen, of course, but go into a conversation with an open mind. If you "listen" with the sole purpose of waiting until your teen finishes talking to tell them what you think, you aren't really listening. It is highly likely that they will have thought through their ideas before they mention them, so if you shoot them down from the beginning, they may clam up.
Leading up to prom time, have open and frequent discussions about pressures they might feel to drink, use drugs, or engage in sexual activity or other risky behaviors. Let them know your feelings about these topics without being overly concerned. Generally, if you have talked with your teen throughout their lives about what you expect of them, they already know your thoughts and wishes for their behavior; however, the "bigness" of prom can sometimes increase pressures. Help them plan how they may deal with these pressures and give them options for how to respond safely and to protect themselves including how to leave an uncomfortable or unsafe situation.
Set (and Stick To) a Realistic Budget
One way to limit stress is to set a budget. If you expect your teen to pay for everything they do, they should know that far enough in advance to save enough to cover their expenses. If you plan to pay (or supplement), consider what you can realistically afford and what would cause stress. Prom-posals, prom dresses, corsages, tux rentals, limos, eating out ahead of time, buying pictures or other souvenirs adds up quickly. If you and your teen have very different ideas, it may cause conflict that makes the experience stressful instead of fun.
If your budget is small or you wish to limit it, local social media yardsale pages often fill up with formal dresses around prom season. Another option is organizing a dress swap with other families. Be creative and think about what skills you have. If you are a good photographer or have a nice looking backyard or are handy with flowers you may be able to trade services with another family. If you can't afford a limo, you may let your teen borrow a family car for the evening.
If your budget is larger it is still worth considering what is worth the money and what is not. Although prom can feel like the most important moment of your teen's life to this point, it is still one night. Overdoing it can set expectations to unattainable heights for other events such as graduations, birthdays, or weddings, and it can also oversell the importance of the event making anything that goes differently than expected, like a sick date, a breakup, or a broken shoe, feel even bigger.
Watch for Signs of Stress
If your teen seems to be more worried than excited about prom, talk with them. Ask what they're worried about. They may not know specifically, but they may have something they are concerned about, and talking about it may help calm their fears or give them a plan to address it. Be prepared to say no or put the breaks on something that is against your wishes, your budget, or has the potential to cause stress or other problems.
Girls may be especially prone to stress regarding their appearance, so watch for changes in eating or exercise behaviors. If you are concerned that your teen may be engaging in unhealthy weightloss or exercise behaviors, talk to them about it (understanding that they may deny or become defensive). Offer healthy options for meals and snacks, and help them understand the dangers of fad diets or drastic weightloss. Model healthy behaviors, refrain from self-criticism, avoid encouraging them in dangerous health behaviors. These strategies are most effective in leading to long-term healthy behavior.
Being a teen is difficult enough without over-stressing prom. Setting boundaries and expectations for your teen while allowing them to have their own boundaries and expectations offers balance and can keep the event in perspective for both you and your teen.