- 2003 16 May
The prom scene in America has freaked out and it is time for a total overhaul. Without the use of their parents' credit card, students would have to take out a loan to finance the add-ons of recent years -- limos, dinners in upscale restaurants, etc. But the financial aspect is the least of parents' worries today. When it comes to the triple threat of prom night, parents' overwhelming concerns are the safety factors and the appalling sexualization of prom night.
Let's Look At The Cost Factor. No one wants to go back to the crepe-paper decorated gymnasiums of yesteryear, but the cost of the dresses, tuxes, and flowers is overshadowed by the cost of the sophisticated venues for proms, the expensive dinners and luxury transportation that are de rigueur in some social environments. One teenage advice columnist summed up a prevalent attitude: ''You've been building this night up for your whole life.'' Somehow a whole mythology has developed around the prom and teens will go to any expense for the possibility of a night of supposed ecstasy.
Then There Is The Safety Factor. Unfortunately, the mythology also includes excusing any type of behavior. With the unrealistic/unattainable expectation that prom night must be bigger than life, our teenagers are set up for big-time let down. By having unrealistic storybook fantasies about the prom, far too many teenagers turn prom night into a tragedy and end up with a lifetime of regret.
Although some progress has been made in educating young people about the dangers of alcohol, there is still a caché about drinking among some students. Tragically, every year there are numerous alcohol related accidents across the nation during the prom season. These car crashes leave too many students dead or seriously injured. Teen excuses for prom night misbehavior invariably include statements like this: ''We had lots of alcohol to get us through the night. We had a lot of hard liquor, but first we had a bottle of wine to have a nice toast'' or ''We started drinking, and after a few beers I was feeling kind of tipsy so me and my date started making out.''
By Far The Most Worrisome Factor Today Is The Sexualization One. Fathers suddenly see the four boys of American Pie -- remember those guys from the 1999 movie who were determined to lose their virginity before prom night? -- in a completely different light when their daughters are headed off to the prom. Fed by alcohol, and sometimes drugs, many high schoolers see prom night as the time to lose all inhibitions. It is not uncommon for teens to rent a hotel room for the night. The thrill of Drew Barrymore finally getting asked to the prom in Never Been Kissed is long gone. The sweet ''first love'' innocence of Freddie Prinze Jr. at the prom in the movie, She's All That, is passé. The mythology and fantasies about prom night have somehow morphed into peer pressure to ''lose'' virginity at the prom -- as though virginity is something undesirable that you ''get rid of'' as soon as possible instead of a gift that a couple gives to each other on their wedding night.
In keeping with continued cultural disintegration, the high school prom becomes foreplay when ''freaking'' is the dance of choice. Freak dancing -- the ''dirty'' dancing that is an affront to decency -- has been compared to lap dancing, where the couple bumps and grinds against each other in sexually provocative ways. In addition, a line-dance version of ''freaking'' has students bump and grind in an impersonal free-for-all that takes promiscuity to its extreme.
Parents must take back the parental role. Teachers, community leaders, and opinion leaders must take back the role of providing good counseling, role models and examples for young people. We cannot continue letting the teen magazine editors, movie and television producers, popular musicians and kids' peers determine morality and be the primary influencers of American culture. Young people deserve straight talk and clear direction rather than mixed messages and low expectations. It is not enough to tell teenagers to ''negotiate'' with their dates about the sexual limits before prom. It is not enough to advise ''safer sex'' and warn against health consequences. There are also psychological and moral consequences that must be addressed.
One author of teen advice wrote about prom night sex: ''Whether or not this is sweet and meaningful can depend upon the situation.'' Nonsense! There is no way alcohol-induced sex in prom-night circumstances can be ''sweet and meaningful.'' Nor is there any way that a ''situation'' can convey rightness to prom-night sex. It is time for adults to speak truth to teens. It is time to take back the prom, time to protect our teens and restore their dreams of romantic ''promise.''
Janice Shaw Crouse is a Senior Fellow at the Beverly LaHaye Institute. Dr. Crouse recently coauthored the book, A Different Kind of Strength, with Beverly LaHaye. She served as a university professor, debate coach and academic administrator before becoming a Bush Presidential Speech Writer. Visit the Beverly LaHaye Institute by clicking here.