Prom season is here. Teens around North Texas have started planning for prom, searching for the perfect prom dress or tux and carefully planning each detail of what they expect to be a memorable night.
As much fun as prom may be, it can also create unwelcome stress and anxiety for teens and their parents. Jasmine Ghannadpour, Ph.D., psychologist at Children’s Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, shares her advice for parents and teens to help manage stress that can accompany a major event like prom.
“Society has made prom a big deal in TV shows, movies, social media and even everyday conversations,” says Dr. Ghannadpour. “It’s the last big event before graduation, and teens want to experience a perfect night like they’ve seen in the movies.”
While some stress is normal leading up to a big event like prom, Dr. Ghannadpour cautions parents to keep an eye out for signs that their teen’s stress is interfering with his or her quality of life. Signs of excessive stress include:
- Constantly thinking and worrying about prom
- Having a difficult time concentrating at home or school
- Asking a lot of questions or expressing stress about prom
Whether your child is excited or nervous, Dr. Ghannadpour suggests that all parents should have an open conversation with their teen about expectations and safety before prom arrives.
Follow these six tips to ensure a memorable night:
1. Talk about worries
“One of the most effective ways parents and teens can manage their worries is to talk about them,” says Dr. Ghannadpour. “Being open and honest can help both parents and teens better understand each other and find ways to address their concerns.”
Dr. Ghannadpour also advises parents to actively listen in an effort to understand, not just listen to respond. “Parents should try to remember how they felt as teens before prom and share those experiences. Empathy and understanding can go a long way in connecting with and supporting your teen,” she says.
2. Reframe insecurities
“Social media plays a significant role in stress and creates even more pressure around prom,” Dr. Ghannadpour says. “Prom is a special event, however teens today have more exposure to other teens and that adds pressure and can make a teen feel like he or she has to live up to impossible standards.”
Those high standards can create insecurities, which in turn can sometimes lead to unhealthy choices – whether it’s trying to lose weight by making poor nutrition choices or even spending unnecessary money to create a picture-perfect night.
Dr. Ghannadpour suggests cutting off those thoughts right at the point of comparison. For example, instead of thinking “Her dress is nicer than mine,” encourage your teen to think, “That dress looks nice on her.” When teens can take themselves out of the comparison mindset, it helps them focus on what they do have and be happy and supportive of their friends.
3. Set rules and expectations together
Prom represents an opportunity for teens to experience the freedom they will have in college. Teens are excited to taste that freedom, while parents are often nervous about their teen out late at night and making the right choices. That tension can create conflict between teens and parents, so Dr. Ghannadpour suggests working together to come up with rules and expectations for prom night.
“Collaborating on rules about prom night doesn’t mean parents are giving teens free reign,” she says. “It means that parents and teens are working together to talk about concerns, and developing parameters that keep teens safe and helps them feel included.”
Talk about who is driving, each place they plan to go, and determine check-in points and curfew. Some schools host after-prom events that begin at midnight and end at 7am. If your teen is participating in after-prom, make sure to have an agreement that your teen does not leave that facility or, if it’s a must, then they need to call you to pick them up.
4. Talk about drugs, alcohol and sex
Parents should always make time to talk to teens about drugs, alcohol and sex, and particularly around prom season.
“Parents sometimes think they are encouraging or condoning bad behavior by talking about drugs, sex or alcohol, but that’s not the case at all,” says Dr. Ghannadpour. “It can be a tough conversation to tackle, but it’s important for parents to create an environment where their teen feels comfortable to ask questions and share information.”
Dr. Ghannadpour suggests:
- Using humor to make awkward and uncomfortable conversations a little easier
- Sharing a parent’s past experiences, when it’s appropriate
- Using stories in the news, movies or TV shows to ask questions about their perspectives or how they would handle certain situations
- Avoiding lectures. Being open and honest, without feeling judged, leads to conversations that are more productive.
5. Discuss possible scenarios and brainstorm responses together
Teens can face a wide range of situations on prom night, and it’s often those situations that can keep parents up at night. Parents and teens should discuss what situations they may face and come up with ways to respond.
“One of the best ways to prepare teens to face peer pressure or unsafe situations is role play,” says Dr. Ghannadpour. “It may seem awkward and embarrassing at first, but it’s a great way for teens to come up with a quick response that they can feel comfortable using when surrounded by friends.”
Dr. Ghannadpour also suggests parents and teens:
- Brainstorm possible scenarios teens could face on prom night, and how they can try to address or avoid those situations.
- Develop a plan ahead of time in case your child needs an out or is feeling uncomfortable in any situation.
6. Find ways for parents to enjoy prom night, too
Parents don’t need to live vicariously through their teens or show up at the big dance, but they can find ways to enjoy the evening as well.
“If parents are worried about prom, they should share their concerns with each other or talk to a close friend about those worries,” Dr. Ghannadpour suggests. “Try to find a distraction for prom night, like a movie night or girls night, or a special dinner with your spouse.”
Children’s Health psychologists and psychiatrists can help children and teens manage stress and anxiety when it begins to interfere with their daily life. Learn more about programs we offer to support mental, emotional and behavioral health.