It's Time for the Prom Alternative

Originally published June 15, 2011.

Full Disclosure:  I hate prom.  I have since the ‘80s.  This is not new.  Many, many teenagers over the years have heard me pontificate on my hatred of prom.  My reasons:  It’s expensive; it’s overhyped; and for the majority of prom-attenders, the evening is either one of let down and/or regret.  Yet a lot of money, energy, and emotions are expended.  Too many silly distractions and emotions are spent on who is going to ask or do the ask, what dress to buy, can I afford the limo, what to do after the prom, etc.  And sadly, so few teens in reality have that dreamy prom night date and experience.  Too many dislike their dates, are uncomfortable in their shoes, are uncomfortable about what is happening in the limo, and wish the whole night would be over.  Only then to have to go to the after-prom plans which are even more uncomfortable.

 

I’m saddened that so many girls can’t wait to lose their virginity on prom night only to be heartbroken later.  But I also believe this is a Hollywood fairytale that too many girls fall for.  I can’t blame the prom-hype completely on this one.

There is also a lot of alcoholic-drinking on prom nights.  This goes back to the root of what prom was supposed to be.  It was a time for teens to dress up and promenade in front of adults to try out being adults.  With teens trying to be adults for one evening, alcohol quickly became a part of prom.  Isn’t that what adults do when they are dressed up?  Alcohol and prom historically go hand-in-hand.

Then there is the ultimate tragedy of prom–the lives lost on that dangerous driving night.

All of this pain, regret, shame, and possible death for the average price of $700+.  These are the averages from the 2011 prom season according to VISA’s 2011 prom spending survey

  • $542 – Average amount a family in the South will spend on prom
  • $667 – Average amount a family in the Northeast will spend on prom
  • $943 – Average amount a family in the Midwest will spend on prom
  • $1,073 – Average amount a family in the West will spend on prom
  • $778 – Average amount parents with a combined income of less than $50,000 will spend on prom
  • $916 – Average amount parents with a combined income of more than $50,000 will spend on prom  (Source)

I’ve never been one to use the argument that such money would better be spent on the summer mission trip.  But I know something better can be done with all that money.

Prom used to be something done in front of parents with lots of parental involvement.  The first proms came about as middle-class replications of the grand debutante balls. Parents in the middle class noticed and admired the poise of the debutantes and wished the same for their own young teens. Thus, proms were created as less expensive, less elaborate affairs where teenagers could meet in their finest clothes to share dinner–and sometimes dancing–while learning social etiquette together all put on by these parents. My how this has changed on so many levels.

Today most parents play one role and that is as the family photographer.  Some will be brave and chaperon at the actual prom but then that role is still rather small.  Some parents play a role of worrier such as they worry too much about whether their son or daughter will be asked to the prom and worry that if they are not asked or do not attend that something is wrong with their child.  What?

Prom has grown into something that is not just a promenade in front of parents.  It is the shopping and planning.  It is the dinner and limo beforehand.  It is making an appearance at the prom but leaving early to get a head start on the after-prom festivities.  All of these take more energy, time, and money than whatever thought is put towards the actual dance.

I’m still in full disclosure mode.  I did not go to my prom.  This was my choice.  I was asked but knew the situation would not be good for me.  I did go to a senior banquet, a safe and Christian alternative.  That was pretty lame but I did like feeling grown up for that evening.  I have no prom regrets of my own to taint my adult opinion.

More full disclosure:  In my 30-years of youth ministry I’ve seen firsthand the downside of prom.  I know of what I speak.

Since proms started becoming dangerous (coincided when parents removed themselves from the prom planning), churches have put on prom alternatives.  Often they were banquets since eating food together was okay and dancing together was not.  Often they were lame which is why they’ve never withstood the test of time and why many of you read the title “prom alternative” and rolled your eyes.

I believe now is a different season and the time is right for the church to bring prom back to what it was and what some teens want.  The school-based prom may never be able to offer this again as the pendulum may have swung too far to the dangerous side.  At the same time the varied budget issues schools face that have also changed prom.

With the help of your teens and your parents, a prom alternative is not a lot of work.  Finding a location is important.  It simply needs to feel special.  So your church gym may not work but one of the parents might have a lead on a grand location.  The room also needs to be spectacularly decorated.  Surely you’ve got parents and other volunteers who are gifted in this area.

You also need to find a good deejay.  It’s hard to define a good deejay but a bad deejay is easily noted from other people’s experiences.  Ask around and you’ll find out who’s bad and maybe who’s good.  Booking early will ensure that you get the better deejay over any school prom date or wedding date.

You will need to have dancing at your prom.  That is pretty essential to a prom.  Most churches have come to accept dancing as an okay part of the teen experience.  The good thing about hiring your own deejay is you get to have a say in the music.  Secular music will need to be played but you can mix in some good dancing Christian music. (I know that sounds oxymoronic but dig, you can find it.)  You must also have “The Electric Slide,” “Macarena” and other group dances.  You must.  There is so much music now, particularly good music, you can create a dance mix that is not raunchy but festive and will please the teens and the parents.  (Though you should ban the parents from doing “The Electric Slide!”)

Another big deal about prom is the pictures.  Again with parent help, you can come up with some creative backdrops to provide wonderful photographic memories without the cost that the school photographer companies offer.

The rest is up to your teens.  They are the ones who will or will not excitedly promote this prom to the rest of their friends.  Why would other teens go to this prom?

  • Because people will actually dance at this prom.  This is a prom for those teens who want this prom experience.  The school prom can then be for those who want the before and after and spend the brief time at the actual prom.
  • Because the location may actually be special.  Some schools are cutting prom budgets (a good budget move since the actual prom is so shortly attended, in my opinion) so the location and/or decorations are not what they once were.
  • Because this will be safe fun.  Most of us, especially Wild Frontier-thinking youth workers, are not for safe youth ministry.  I’m not talking about that kind of safe.  I’m talking about recapturing what prom once was.

The prominence of prom and prom themes in popular literature and films attests to its importance to high school teens. And middle school teens as they dream of the day they can go to their prom.  Prom is not going to go away.  Despite my dramatic tirade to each of my youth about why I hate prom, they still go.

We have a niche here for teens that the Church can fill. This may not be an evangelistic event and the gospel will probably not be preached.  A Chris Brown song may become the theme of the night over a Chris Tomlin song.  But these efforts would put this rite of passage back in front of the parents and church family and that is certainly a desired outcome.  As long as it doesn’t become corny, your teens will be there.