Wednesday, October 19, 2005

No Prom

I'm sure many of you have heard about the high school in New York that decided to cancel their prom. Now I realize this is certainly not a tragedy on the scale of - for example - a hurricane. And certainly no one is promised prom when they go to high school - they are promised education. However, this incident (for lack of a better word) raised some interesting things for me.
I work as an Adult Advisor to high school age youth, so have had some interesting conversations both with teens and adults about youth empowerment. Like so many things I can see a number of sides here, so if you came here for the definitive answer, you can stop reading right now.
First - the school administration absolutely has the right to make this decision. Second, it is my understanding that they sent a letter to parents in March reviewing their concerns and indicating they were seriously considering moving the date of prom or canceling it, so this is not completely out of the blue for parents and students. (Unless entering students and parents didn't get this letter - which is possible).
Second - I went to a high school that made it very clear to us that the school takes on a huge liability hosting an event that has a high probability of underage drinking. If a student gets caught drunk and/or injured as a result of their drinking even if it is before or after the event, the school still can be held partially responsible since these events are considered to be tangential to the one that they held.
Also, my senior year - after a drinking incident associated with a fall ball - they considered canceling prom. The students mobilized and signed a pledge to not drink or ingest other illegal substances before, during or after prom. (Yes - this was a tad silly since we were already not supposed to participate in those behaviors - both from a legal standpoint and because it was also a campus rule, but I think they appreciated our better understanding of our need to do this. Or to not get caught.)
But I have a number of concerns. To start with, in the March letter that the school sent, they recommended parents watch "American Pie" as a movie that explained the current teen culture. I consider that ridiculous. There have always been movies that depict certain 'youth culture' behaviors, and some of those movies become 'classics' because they have some resonance with the generation and certainly "American Pie" might fit into that category. And while there are a number of characters in the movie one can identify with, I don't think anyone considers the movie as a whole to be a true to life depiction. Certainly there are incidents and pieces within it that are very believable, but like a lot of comedy, each storyline goes more for hyperbole that documentary. And teenagers know this. They are not dumb.
Now the school said it has several principles that it is trying to instill in these kids and the culture of excess, the pressure (even if rooted in myth) to have sex, and the lack of responsibility that has come to surround prom, makes them feel it is no longer an event they can support. But here is my question, what is taking it away teaching them?
If there is pressure to outdo classmates, wouldn't that permeate everyday life as well. Certainly a fancy dress event might contain better opportunities for expenditure (and I do understand that the school can't hold the event and then monitor expenditure) but there are cars and purses and and sneakers and cell phones and televisions. There are plenty of ways to spend money and prom is only one.
If there is pressure to have sex (and let me just tell you I went to prom and didn't have sex) - isn't that part of the values they should have already been talking to the kids about. (It's a Catholic school.) And let's face it, people of all ages have sex when they want to. It's often easier to do it when not in fancy dress, if you ask me.
And if responsibility is an issue, how does taking away an event due to behaviors of preceding classes teach responsibility? Let em tell you - it doesn't. It teaches teens - yet again - that people in power can make judgments about your ability to handle something, without knowing you. Without giving you an opportunity to understand their concerns and address them. And I know a letter went out - but it went to parents. And I may be wrong, but I get the impression there was no attempt to meet with this years seniors and give them an opportunity to address these concerns. So instead of teaching them empowerment, we have taught them the opposite.
It is my understanding that some of the seniors and parents are mobilizing to look into holding their own prom or having an alternate event that the school would be willing to sponsor. I wish them luck.