Prom night can be a big challenge for teenagers and for their parents and guardians as well. Proms are no longer in gymnasiums on even on school campuses, but in hotels and nightclubs. They entail limousines, five-course meals, expensive gowns and stylish tuxedos. An entire industry is dedicated to servicing the occasion and its participants.
It's a special night that many teenagers fantasize about for months before the event. What should I wear? Months of looking at dresses and suits in catalogues and shops. Who will I go with? Will I be able to get the limousine just this once in my life? Will the person I ask turn me down?
While teenagers are having those kinds of worries, parents and guardians are concerned about alcohol, drugs, sex and accidents before and after the prom. With all of that in mind, here are a few thoughts and reflections on this special night…
Drive with extra care and wear your seat belt. Despite ground rules and everyone agreeing to follow them, prom night nationwide ranks high statistically for motor vehicle accidents, many of them fatal. Wearing your seat belt not only is it the law; it reduces your risk of death and serious injury by 50 percent in an accident.
(I can share my own experience of having been side-swiped by two teenagers on the way to their prom in San Francisco. They did not want to call the police because it was a minor accident and they needed to catch a boat. I felt bad for them because I could remember how special prom night had been for me.
(But I had a legal obligation to report the accident. The officers who responded were equally sympathetic and did not want to make an issue of the accident. The father of the young man came on the scene to see if we could speed up the process, again because of how special the night was for these teens. Yet, a little caution might have avoided the accident, which must have dampened their spirits and given them much anxiety about possibly missing the entire evening.)
Be the person you really are. Some teenagers may think that prom night is a time to let down their guard. They may drink to "loosen up" so they'll feel comfortable dancing or not be embarrassed if they're not good dancers. Or to try to be "part of the crowd" or to please that special someone. For the same kinds of reasons, they may feel pressured to use drugs or have sex.
These are important personal decisions that should be well thought out. You should not drink, do drugs or have sex because you feel pressured, or because you want to be "in" with the group. Your prom night memories should be full of happiness, not of regrets.
The whole idea of a prom is to spend the night laughing and dancing and enjoying yourself and the company of your companions. This you can do successfully without alcohol, drugs or sex. You can have a blast on prom night without putting yourself or your date at risk. If you don't have a date, you can attend with a group of friends whom you feel comfortable with laughing and dancing the night away.
Head home safely. When it's time to leave the prom, make sure whoever drives has not had anything to drink. In fact, plan ahead to make sure this will be so. Have a parent or friend on stand-by to transport you home. Country Day School has had a program where adults are on call to pick up any youngsters attending the prom who need a ride home, "no questions asked." The parents volunteer to be available; they don't impose themselves. It is a great idea that can be used by any group. That way, both the parents and the teenagers feel comfortable in knowing that the youngsters have an emergency safety net if it's needed.
Prom night, fun and all, can be a lesson learned: Safety really can go hand it hand with having a good time.
Editor's note: Dr. Cora Christian is a physician in practice on St. Croix.