Where we live our high schools host Junior Prom but you don't necessarily have to be a junior to partake of all the excitement. I know of seniors and even sophomores who attended our local Prom this past weekend. For me, the experience signified a few different emotions:
Pride: It was the first time I got to see my son in a tux! For those of you have yet to cross this bridge, I recommend you prepare yourself with some tissue. I'm not a crier, but in all honesty, it stirred some very real emotions in my heart to see my "baby boy" all dressed up. There's nothing that says "grown up" like a classy tuxedo!
Nostalgia: By reason of obvious correlation, Prom makes me wax a bit nostalgic. Of course I remember my own Prom. In only my wildest dreams did I dare imagine that the handsome young man who escorted me to the Prom would actually become the handsome man who escorts me through every event in my life.
Fear: Okay, maybe fear is a bit strong, but honestly, I can't think of a better emotion. Let me explain...
A handful of years ago my husband and I took a little trip to Baltimore, MD. We arrived in the city late in the evening, exhausted from a long day of travel but excited for the adventures that lay ahead of us. Among other things, our agenda included a visit to the historical Fort McHenry (where the Star Spangled Banner was written!) and a tour of Washington DC. Unbeknownst to the both of us, however, we were about to have a Prom experience!
A chill blew off the bay and onto my arms as I exited the rental car. As I rubbed warmth into my extremities, I noticed several groups of teenagers lingering around the downtown hotel entrance - the boys in tuxedos the girls barely clad with small slices of fabric. How were they not freezing? Most of their shoulders were bare and many of their dresses were barely long enough to cover their back-ends. We didn't pay much mind to them as we rolled our luggage into the lobby, but the reality of the situation hit as soon as we tried to check-in.
Though we had a reservation, the hotel had to scramble to find us a room. "It's Prom," the desk attendant shrugged as if that explained everything. Maybe it was the look of confusion on our faces or perhaps even our conservative looking attire, but she explained further. "Parent's rent their kids hotel rooms for Prom. We are overbooked." She may have even attached a "duh" to the end of her statement but I was too busy picking my chin up off the marble floor to have heard her.
So, here is were my fear comes in... Regardless of where we live, what religion we subscribe to, or our socioeconomic class, Prom seams to have earned the reputation as an event that excuses virtue, modesty, and ultimately chastity. It doesn't matter if you live in downtown Baltimore or rural Utah, to one extent or another, Prom is seen as an opportunity to exercise perceived maturity through drinking, drug use, or sexual activity.
I guess the big question is, WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? Okay, this would be a "parent" question, because honestly, teens probably aren't asking that. The question for teens is more likely, WHY DOES IT MATTER?... aka WHO CARES?
Let me attempt to answer both questions:
Why does virtue, modesty, chastity, or physical cleanliness (uh-hum, drinking or drugs) matter?
- Let's start with drugs and alcohol. Would you hop in the passenger seat and give the Devil the keys to your car? Facetiousness aside, I think the honest answer is NO. So, why then, would you give him the "keys" to your body, your mind, and your actions? Why would you willingly hand over your independence to someone who's primary mission is to destroy you? Drugs and alcohol impede your independence.
- We hear the words "recreational use" thrown around a lot, but lets be honest here: Why would you want to surrender your control for even a minute? And, where do you draw the line between "recreation" and "addiction?" I've never met an addict who's life goal was to be an addict. I've also never met an addict who is happy with the state of his/her life. A couple quick examples: I knew a kid who "recreationally" used various drugs. One night he thought he'd give Oxy a try... you know, just to see what it was like. Long story short, after a single dose, his body went into cardiac arrest and a 15 year old's body was lay to rest. I had a very close friend use, at first prescription, then eventually harder drugs to escape the stress of his home life. Eventually that crutch turned into recreational use, then addiction, and ultimately onto the death of a fun, smart, potential-filled person. He was only 19. I also know an adult who started "recreationally" using in high school. For a number of years her life went okay. She had a successful carrier, a happy marriage, and beautiful children... until, her addiction took over. Even though she was able to have a degree of success, it was short lived. Her drug use landed her in prison, took away her job and her family, and left her alone. These are just a few examples from my own personal experience. Unfortunately, I could list one example after the other of how drugs or alcohol have RUINED the lives of people I know and love! Ask yourself this: IS RECREATIONAL USE WORTH THE RISK?
Lets move on....
- Modesty - Let's face it, if you dress to draw attention to your body, you will draw attention to your body! Duh, right? But, maybe you should ask yourself what purpose that serves. Do you really think enticing someone to notice your body will actually make them notice the person inside? You are more than just a pretty face or an exposed neckline. You have purpose and value despite the physical appetites your body might induce. The way you dress actually serves as a means of advertising who you are. What does the way you dress say about you? And, what does it say about how you value yourself and what you are willing to do?
- Sex is not a RIGHT of adulthood. In fact, it's not a right at all. It is a PRIVILEGE reserved for the purpose of creating families and is an unselfish expression of love within marriage. When practiced outside of marriage, it serves one of three purposes: (1) fulfillment of your own selfish desire or (2) surrender to someone else's selfish desires, or (3) the temporary satisfaction of a craving for validation. There are very few times in life when SELFISHNESS, SURRENDER, and TEMPORARY FULFILLMENT aren't traits of weakness. VIRTUE is a desired trait. It is, essentially, the pinnacle of moral excellence. As the parent to modesty and chastity, our virtue defines the type of person we are, the type of person we want to be, and the quality of the relationships we have with others.
- Sex is more than physical pleasure. I recently read an article defending the "right" to casual sex. I'm not going to post a link to it, because, frankly, it made smoke shoot out my ears! The argument was, "Sex is nothing more than physical pleasure." Why then, if it's nothing more than physical, do hearts get so easily broken by infidelity? If there is no emotional connection, then the purpose of sex is purely selfish, and we've already defined that selfishness is weakness.
- So, what if I truly love someone? What if there is an emotional element?... To put it bluntly: If you love them, you will respect their virtue and they will respect yours. Sex is akin to letting a caged dog run free. Once you open the gate, you're going to have a heck of a time closing it again. Once you've surrendered your virginity, you cannot get it back. And, once you've experienced those pleasures, you will crave them. A dog who has run free is hard to put back in his cage. Keep those desires caged until you have a safe and appropriate "yard" for them to run in. The only "safe" place for sex - emotionally, physically (to avoid STDs, unplanned pregnancy, etc), and spiritually - is within the bonds of a healthy, loving marriage.
The bottom line: If you really want to exercise your independence and maturity, you will not surrender your control to anyone or anything!
What can I do about it?... Or, perhaps: How do I keep my kid from being a statistic?
- Aside from ballgowns, tuxedos, corsages, boutineers, and limos, we need to make sure that our teens have a healthy supply of self-worth when they walk out the door. Self-worth can't be purchased for any price. It comes primarily from supportive, attentive, expectant parents. It is nurtured in a loving home. Respect your children, have open, honest conversations with them, and - no matter what they do - love them! It's a really simple recipe, but it works. Validate your children and they won't have to look elsewhere for it.
- Be clear with what your guidelines are. Set your expectations and be prepared to explain your "whys." If you need suggestions for how to talk to your kids, click here for some tips. The LDS church puts out a fabulous pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth, that discusses drugs and alcohol, dating, dress, sexual purity, and a plethora of other topics. Whether you are Mormon or not, the information contained in this pamphlet may help you more clearly define what your personal guidelines and standards are.
Here's to a happy and successful Prom season of being mature, responsible, and above all: exercising self-respect! If you don't do anything you might regret, hey, you just saved yourself a lot of regret!