Homecoming season is upon us, and with two teens and a tween in my house, we’re all about dance preparations. There is shopping for new outfits, making hair appointments, arranging rides, deciding where to eat—and the biggest question of all: Who will they go with?
I remember homecoming as a happy and exciting time for my friends and me—something we started talking about on the first day of school. While I’m sure I didn’t enjoy every moment, overall, I have fond memories, and I want the same for my kids.
But I also want to teach them something else.
When it comes to selecting someone to go with, whether they opt to go with friends or bring a date, I will encourage them to stay true to themselves when it comes to accepting an invitation to attend the dance.
I’m not saying I’m teaching them it’s okay to say rude things like, “No, I would never go with you,” or be petty by saying, “I’m not going if she’s coming to dinner with us before the dance.” But what I want them to know is it’s okay to refuse an invitation from someone who wants to go to the dance with them, in a nice, appropriate way, which includes not spreading it around the school or making fun of them for having the courage to ask.
It’s okay to say “no,” and there certainly is a way to do it right.
I firmly believe that it is better to let someone down gently instead of saying “yes” to something, or someone, because you feel bad for them, or worse, don’t have the courage to decline.
In this day and age, we also have to consider the fact that many teens ask people to a dance in a very public way. Sometimes it’s an invitation on social media, or it can be a big, public display in a promposal-like form.
These sorts of public displays—when kids go to such extreme measures to invite someone to a dance—can be so challenging for a young person to handle. Although my kids have never experienced this, we’ve talked about how to say no to being asked out like this.
I’ve encouraged my kids to follow their hearts in this situation.
Of course, I think it’s better to be honest and tell the person who asks right then, instead of saying “yes” only for the entire school to find out they’ve changed their mind later; but if they feel like they just can’t do that (I’m not even sure I could, and I’m 43), it’s more than okay to agree to go, then have a private conversation about it later to let the person know they’ve changed their mind.
When this happens at the high school level, it seems like the truth always comes out in the end anyway, and leaves the person who asked feeling horrible after the fact. No one wants to score a date to the dance out of pity.
Kids need to be honest. There’s nothing wrong with saying they’d rather go to HoCo with their friends, or that they are waiting for someone else to ask them. But, we need to encourage our kids to end it with a “thank you,” and an “I’m flattered you asked.”
It’s also important to note that teens don’t need to follow up their response with an “I’m sorry,” since there’s nothing to be sorry about in their situation. They aren’t wrong for not wanting to go with someone–that’s like teaching them to be sorry for having feelings.
I think when we teach our teens that they should accept an offer to be nice, we are teaching them something dangerous.
Where does it end?
Are we teaching them if they are alone and someone wants to kiss them they should say “yes” lest they hurt their feelings and do things that might make them uncomfortable or put them in a compromising situation?
We may think they should know the difference, where the line is, but when they don’t practice standing up for themselves and saying “no” to the small things, like refusing a dance invitation, how can we expect them to be confident enough to say “no” to the bigger, scarier things in life?
Yes, it may be hurtful to refuse to go to the Homecoming dance with someone—this is a huge event, and it’s a big deal to our teens.
But we can teach our kids to say “no” with compassion, and encourage them to do it without malice or making light of the invitation. We can raise kids who simultaneously are aware of other’s feelings and stand up for the things they want in life. The two aren’t exclusive, and it’s important to start with these small life lessons no matter how big they feel to our kids.