Prom-a-palooza

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake - in a word, financial decadence."

- Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland, principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, N.Y., which held its last senior prom in 2005. Quoted in a May 2009 New York Times blog entry: "Prom excesses, indignities and flashbacks"

With the longer lingering light of every winter's day, we creep closer and closer to prom season.

And, just as when prom season approaches every year, we are beginning to hear anxious murmurs from parents worried about having to shell out hundreds of dollars - sometimes thousands - for dresses and tuxes and all the accoutrements.

We all know what's involved - pre-parties, post-parties, hair, nails, corsages, dresses, tuxes - an almost endless list of things many graduating teens just have to have.

Frankly, it's getting out of hand.

Our son will graduate this year, and at his school they're collecting donated dresses for girls who can't afford to buy their own.

This is laudable and applaudable, and his school is not the first to do it. I'd encourage any students, parents and teachers who can come up with ways to curb the high costs of prom to try and do so.

But I wonder with a sinking heart how much uptake there will be.

Because teens keep raising the bar on what prom should be; influenced by Hollywood's red carpet glamour, they raise their expectations to the point where they are practically unachievable.

And in doing so, they exclude an awful lot of students who can't afford to get in the game.

Successfully finishing high school is an accomplishment, no doubt. But for many kids there will be bigger ones in the future: graduating from college or university; getting that first real job; marriage; buying a home.

Sure, prom is a fun night for kids to celebrate their academic achievement and create lasting memories of their school years together. But does it have to put financial and time constraints on themselves and their parents in the bargain?

And does it need to last a week?

Do we really need to host pre-prom receptions and hire professional photographers? Do graduates need to have not-necessarily-safe-grad events in hotel rooms the night after safe grad? Are stretch limos really a prerequisite?

Widespread concern

I'm far from alone in these concerns. Try Googling "ways to save on prom costs" and you'll get 1.64 million results.

It's not that our kids aren't worth the hoopla. It's that prom spending has gotten out of control, and parents and students who can afford to rent a tux and shoes and pay for corsages are making life more difficult for parents and students who cannot.

Prom season should be a source of pride, not shame. It is not a human failing if you can't afford to shell out $700 for a dress that will be worn just once or $300 for a chauffered drive around town. That's especially true when you consider greater costs are just around the corner, like tuition fees and books.

Spend less

Every grad can be a prince or princess for a night without having access to the royal jewels.

There are all kinds of websites schools can access that suggest cheaper alternatives to today's over-the-top glitz-fests.

Grads can get together for a pizza party instead of having fancy and expensive dinners for them and their parents at a hotel.

Borrow a dress, shop vintage stores or look for discounts online. Decorate the gym for the dance and have someone who's good at DJing play the music and someone who's camera savvy take the pictures.

Have parents with vans drop kids off at the school instead of renting a limo or party bus.

Hold proms with retro themes so that everyone can go in borrowed finery.

Friends can do each other's makeup and nails.

Host post-prom picnics or laid-back barbecues for grads instead of elaborate open houses or receptions.

Would you want your teenager to miss out on prom just because they can't keep up with the $100 up-dos or because you can't afford to host a fancy party on their behalf?

It's time to put the brakes on, folks. The prom train has gone off the rails.

As Matt F. of Wilmington, Delaware, writes in a blog called teenink.com, "Every high school junior and senior dreams of attending the prom - the glamour, the glitz, the dressing up and the memories - but the prom is becoming more and more expensive. Is this four or five hours worth the cost?"

If even one high school graduate - or their parent - feels a shred of inadequacy because of the outrageous spending we convince ourselves is normal, I'd say the cost is way too high.

Pam Frampton is a columnist and The Telegram's associate managing editor. She can be reached by email at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

Organizations: Kellenberg Memorial High School, New York Times

Geographic location: Uniondale, Hollywood, Wilmington, Delaware

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Recent comments

  • Question for Values Instilled
    February 29, 2012 - 17:32

    How will yor kids learn that "those who work hard get to reap the rewards" if yor the one that's gonna shell out the 3000 bucks to pay for the cost of their prom? Unless maybe yor planning to make them work it off over their summer holidays slinging burgers at one of yor Micky Ds?

    • Answer
      March 05, 2012 - 08:20

      Firstly, its gonna cost more that $3000....like I said, I get my kids the best. Secondly, my kids will not be working in summer jobs to pay off anything. My kids will be volunteering overseas in an effort to pad their resume and secure many of the prestigous scholarships that are available for students. Sure, we don't need the money, but getting the scholarships would be nice on paper, and volunteering overseas with well known organizations is a great way for my kids to get an edge up on the other kids.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    February 28, 2012 - 16:30

    @ Values Instilled I am in a state of slack-jawed, ashen-faced shock, and consternation. Utter consternation. What kind of parent… I ask you, what kind of a parent could claim to be so comfortably well-off, so affluent, yet would presumably force their hapless children to endure the dreadful ignominy of attending (shudder) the public school system, right alongside the rest of the common, snotty-nosed, dirty-arsed rabble and riffraff? Surely the reason couldn't be that by attending elite private schools their kids, and by extension themselves, would be placed in the same arena as those who have similar or even superior levels of wealth, thereby depriving such parents of any twisted sense of gloatingly smug delight they may derive from shamelessly flaunting the garish, decadent excesses showered upon their own kids in comparison to that provided by the inadequate, incapable parents of their poor, unfortunate, wretched public-schoolmates? It could not possibly be that now, could it?? Perish the thought. Notwithstanding the fact, of course, that if the kids of any such parents did happen to attend elite private schools, these parents should know enough to realize that the prom activities of such inherently socio-economically upscale institutions probably lays outside the scope of Ms. Frampton's commentary, thus is not relevant to this discussion.

  • sealcove
    February 27, 2012 - 09:21

    Not everyone works in the oil industry

  • W Bagg
    February 27, 2012 - 08:21

    making a big deal outa high school grad. a bit much.........ya can't get a job at Micky D's without High School, I wouldn' celebrate too much anymore for that BIG accomplishment.

  • Skeptical Cynic
    February 26, 2012 - 18:19

    Amen to that Herb. Hopefully Second Post hasn't instilled her conceitedly shallow and self-centered attitudes upon her "lucky" kids. What an onerous handicap to have to carry into the real world.

    • The values I have instilled are...
      February 28, 2012 - 00:06

      I have instilled a solid work ethic and common sense business mentaility upon my kids. I have shown them that those who work hard get to reap the rewards. I have shown them that they have no reason to feel guilty about others having less....yes, we all have a duty to help the less fortunate, but we also have the right to enjoy our wealth. I have shown them that as a business owner, I can close down one of my Canadian McDonald's franchises and open TWO McDonald's in the USA, pay the workers far less and put more in my pocket. I have shown my kids that saving your money and keeping capital liquid will allow them to snap up foreclosed homes and make huge profits in the real estate market. I have shown my kids that competition is key, and that leverage is important in negotiations. Even though I ran a profitable office in Canada, I was able to secure tax incentives and grants (free money) from US states in exchange for relocating my office there. I have shown them that no matter how much we may have, there is still a need to be competitive and seek improvement. Most importantly, I have shown then that family is most important, and sometimes business decisions that are in the best interests of the family may be detrimental to others. And I have also shown them that helping others in war torn countries can have a greater impact than helping Canadian...So we donate so much more to internation causes because the help is greater. What have you shown your kids? that those who have less have the right to restrict those who can afford luxuries. That it is okay to hold others back. Good luck with that. Prom can cost close to $3000, and I am okay with that. It is a small price to pay for my children. I am happy to pay it and would love to shell out more cash for the latest prom fad.

  • Anon
    February 26, 2012 - 18:00

    Great article.

  • Herb Morrison
    February 26, 2012 - 15:52

    Dear Second Post. It would appear that you are fortunate enough to be able to provide your kids with everything and money can buy. Well bully for you. Your egotistical, judgemental rant, posted while cowering behind anonymity, reeking as it does with ill-concealed conceit, not to mention a poorly concealed contempt for those less fortunate, provides proof positive that all the money in the world cannot buy backbone, integrity or the heart you so vehemently profess to possess.

  • A second post
    February 26, 2012 - 12:28

    FROM THE ARTICLE: "Our son will graduate this year, and at his school they're collecting donated dresses for girls who can't afford to buy their own. This is laudable and applaudable, and his school is not the first to do it. I'd encourage any students, parents and teachers who can come up with ways to curb the high costs of prom to try and do so." .......................I just re-read the article, and would like to add to my post. Please post the name of the school(s) that are collecting used clothes. I would be happy to donate and help other out. That said, I will do NOTHING to try an curb the costs. My kids deserve the best, and if anything, they want to go above and beyond anything that has been done before. I am fortunate to be able to afford the best of the best for my kids, so I will be sure to get them whatever they want. No expense will be spared for my kids. I resent the suggest of the article that we should all try to spend less....I counter that those parents who cannot afford the best for their kids should place them blame where it is due...ON THEMSELVES for not being able to afford the best for the kids. How you explain to your kid that you cannot afford a limo, but I can afford a party bus. How do you explain that your life choices have resulted in this situation. Kids just want to have the best possible time, so please don't try to hold back those of us who can afford everythings that our kids deserve because YOU cannot afford it. That all said, I have a heart, and would be happy to donate anything I can to help others, while on the way to buying the best of the best for my kids. Life is short...we all should do you best to give our loved one the best. I know I will be come prom season.

  • Anna
    February 25, 2012 - 16:43

    Every year this topic is raised, CBC did a program on it last year. Unless the school boards eliminate the grads it will only get worse. I have a friend who took a part time job along with her full time job so her daughter could get the dress she wanted. I blame the parents, no one has the guts to say no to their little darlings. It is such a farce as the students don't even know if they have passed. Where are all the independent females I wonder? Why don't they take a stand and say enough is enough.

  • gerry
    February 25, 2012 - 14:10

    Time for the various school boards to show some guts and get rid of these costly ventures These are only causing more stress on families--most of which just can't afford it. The same for " Safe grad " Thousands of dollars are spent on this for one night-- then the next night the real partying begins--it's a joke. Wake up people!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!