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Not Going to Prom? It Really Is Okay if Your Kid Doesn’t Want to Go

When my oldest son started eleventh grade of high school, one of the first things I got excited about was the fact he could now ask someone to the junior/senior prom. I had watched all the adorable “prom proposals” and prom pictures on social media from friends for quite some time, and I couldn’t wait for it to be MY turn.

I envisioned that my son and I—together—would go tuxedo shopping, pick out the perfect corsage, decide what lovely restaurant he would take his date for dinner, and of course, we’d pour over viral YouTube clips of ingenious and creative prom proposals. And then I’d help him execute the perfect one. She’d say yes, and the prom planning party could officially begin.

So, when that following spring my son showed zero interest in the whole prom scene, I was shocked and saddened. Why didn’t he want to go? What was he afraid of? Doesn’t he know this is a big deal! He simply cannot miss this! Prom is the ultimate teenage rite of passage!

I thought he absolutely had to go, and I was prepared to force the issue because I’m the parent.

I know what’s best for him, and I know for a fact that later in life he will always regret NOT going to his high school prom. (Parent mistake #1—your regrets are not their regrets.)

I spent the weeks leading up to prom urging, prodding, and pleading with him to find a date and start making plans, all to no avail. He ignored my attempts at telling him what was best for him (go figure), but finally snagged a date at the last minute—albeit without the standard social media-worthy prom proposal.

He didn’t want to rent a tux but chose a basic suit instead, and I was the one who picked out the corsage.

And on the night of prom, he eschewed my request at letting me come to the home they were all meeting at for picture-taking before they headed off to the event. He wanted no chance of his picture gracing the pages of my Facebook feed.

The prom dance was officially over at 10:30 p.m. He promptly drove his date home and was back at our house before 11 p.m. Suffice it to say, prom was not his cup of tea. I’m pretty sure he only went through the motions to please me, get me off his back, or both.

That was a mistake I did not repeat with my second son when he became an upperclassman. I never brought up the “p’ word, nor did I ask him if he or any of his friends had plans to go. I made it a non-issue, and by doing so, allowed him to take the reins of his high school experience.

Because that is what it is—HIS high school experience. If he wanted to go I’d help—but only if asked. Other than that, it was his deal.

All too often, parents of high schoolers find themselves trying to ‘relive’ their own high school years through their children. It’s possible that we are the ones with regrets and what ifs, and in order to prevent our children from having the same, we think we have a chance at a do-over with our kids. But anyone with teenagers knows that forcing something on them that they are neither ready for nor open to is 100% an exercise in futility.

Because of the insanity that modern prom has become—as well as the way it’s portrayed on social media—it’s not surprising that many high schoolers shy away from it. Not going to prom has become an understandable choice. Boys have the added pressure of having to ask their date to prom in a very public and exceptionally creative way, which can lead to complete embarrassment if she says no.

And at many schools, prom dress shopping is now a socially shared experience, with girls posting their chosen dress on school accounts to stake “claim” to a certain dress. Add limo rides, rented hotel rooms for after parties, and five-course dinners, and some budget-conscious kids are wisely choosing to sit prom out.

My son—the one who was less than thrilled with the whole prom experience—is in college now and has no residual effects or regrets about not taking it over the top when he had the chance. He can say he took a few pictures and made an appearance at the dance, and both he and I ended up being content enough with that.

One night in fancy clothes does not a high school experience make, and prom is not the “end all be all” of experiences that we have propped it up to be. For many teens (my son included) there are many more memorable days and nights in high school than prom night, and not wanting to go is neither abnormal or uncommon.

Perhaps choosing to skip out on prom can be a new trend today’s teenagers ignite—at least until we can return prom to sane,  manageable, and dare I say, an old-fashioned level. That’s something both teens and their parents can get behind.

Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct faculty librarian. She is a mother of four sons and writes about modern motherhood and parenting teenagers. Find her at 4boysmother.com.