The high school prom is getting to be a strange ritual.
Traditionally, it involved juniors and seniors dressing up in gowns and rented tuxedos, being photographed by their parents and then traveling to the decorated school gymnasium for a dance.
Now it is so much more.
Here are a few differences.
-- Boys issue "promposals" to potential dates. These can take the form of huge signs placed in high school hallways, food gifts in boxes labeled "Prom?", drive-by a capella groups singing invitations on family porches and even romantic young men riding up on white horses to read pleading proclamations.
One young promposer in Ada County, Idaho, apparently is in trouble with the local sheriff this year for his promposal, which was given to a young woman named Destiny via spray paint on a prominent local rock. Hmm.
-- Girls plan their attire with the kind of care movie stars give to what they wear for the red carpet on Oscar night. There are reports of young women organizing collaborative websites for posting prom gown photos to be sure no two of them (shudder) show up in the same dress. Some stores selling such gowns guarantee they will sell only a single copy of a particular dress to one girl at each high school.
-- Costs have gone through the roof. In 2013, the Visa credit card people estimated that teenagers and their families would spend more than $1,100 on prom attire, dinners, hair styling, corsages, other sundries and prom tickets. The number was knocked back this year, to less than $1,000 per couple, which is still a lot to spend on a high school dance. (This is especially true if you consider that, four years after "prom," many of these celebrants will have saddled themselves with tens of thousands of dollars in college debt.)
Not to be a crank here. High school students look forward to these dances, and parents want to indulge their children.
In fact, the biggest changes I see to "prom" (it's not called "the prom" these days) are different ones. They cluster around a single theme.
I may be showing my age here, but my recollection of prom from my high school years was that it was seen as the first big social event of young adulthood.
No more. Parents, high schools and local police departments have erected careful barriers to make sure that Nothing Bad Happens before, during or after prom.
Where, in the past, young couples would be photographed by their families before they drove to the party, now promgoers are driven by their mommies and daddies to "pre-functions." These events involve parents and children alike and are mainly opportunities to take photographs like the one below.
Once the teenagers arrive at the party venue, they are greeted by a phalanx of teachers, chaperones and police officers whose job is to make sure no one has been or will be drinking alcohol or using drugs.
Then comes prom. This is a dance, a tradition pretty much unchanged except that it has newer music and many more adults patrolling to make sure nobody smokes, drinks, has sex or ducks out for any of these activities. Police cruisers are stationed around the outer perimeter to form a second cordon of protection.
When prom ends, the buses and limos return to take the merrymakers to "after" events. These can include well-chaperoned parties or sleepovers followed by post-prom breakfasts. After the post events, parents pick up their children and drive them safely home.
There are other twists, depending on the school. Now some schools are issuing prom dress specifications to young women, which, given some of the costumes I've seen in news photos, may not be a bad idea.
Other schools have taken to scheduling prom on inconvenient evenings, like, say, a Thursday before a Friday school day. This happens often in New Jersey to keep teenagers from escaping and going to unchaperoned after-parties or to spend the weekend at homes or motels along the Jersey Shore, where drinking, drug use or sex may take place. This may not be a bad idea either.
But still. All this adult hovering makes "prom" seem less like teenagers' first grown-up experience than the last gasp of helicopter parentdom.
Think about it: Many of the seniors who have been so carefully shepherded through their proms will be in college just a few months later, without adult supervision and exposed to raucus drinking parties, recreational drug use and casual sex in many varieties. Will they be ready?
Tomorrow: Prom in the News