Opinion: Proms Should Not Include Dates

Filed under: Opinions


As a court considers on Monday a lesbian teen's petition to have her prom reinstated, here's an idea that could keep everyone in the same boat without canceling the party: Ban all dating at prom.

And, no, I'm not kidding. Call it hyped-up teen anxiety, but back when I was in high school in Mississippi, there was almost nothing that scared me as much as the thought of a school dance. I wanted to attend, but there was considerable pressure to go with a date. And not being an experienced dating sort, this looming expectation led to all kinds of stress from the implied romantic nature of what should've simply been a fun school event.

Back then, here were our choices: If you didn't have a special someone in your life, you (1) Went without a date and envisioned those big L's over your forehead; (2) Attended with a sort of manufactured date and risked unwanted hand-holding and the dreaded possibility of a very awkward slow dance; or (3) Skipped the prom altogether. A lot of kids didn't go because of that reason, plain and simple.

This all came back to me recently as I read reports of the controversy surrounding high-school senior Constance McMillen's request to attend her Fulton, Miss., prom with a female date. In the midst of the flap that ensued, the local powers-that-be decided to cancel the prom. And now, said teenager has sued for reinstatement of the party.

My question is, now that I'm a mom of three with a little more perspective, why didn't the school board consider a no-date solution, which may have actually garnered a favorable reception because of its equity, its propriety and -- get this, parents -- its cost-saving potential?

While we know kids can and will do what they want before or after the prom, schools have the prerogative to set guidelines covering a range of things they want to discourage at their events -- things such as grinding, see-through evening gowns and the stray 25-year-old boyfriend who shows up in a tux.

I don't know whether school officials can legally dictate the gender of one's date, but I'd think the school could prohibit all dates -- or at least eliminate the trappings that make a date a date. And in the process, this just might fend off a whole host of both expected and unexpected issues that can come from sanctioned dating within the realm of an educational institution.

How would the no-date prom look? You could still have a dress-up dinner and a commemorative program, followed by a dance. But no limos, no corsages/boutonnieres and no formal photos of couples sort of hugging sideways. It also means keeping the DJ song list limited to up-tempo numbers, and, by all means, keeping the lights bright. It would certainly mean prohibiting public displays of affection.

This might not sit well with high-schoolers who are going steady and looking forward to a -- parental gulp here -- "very special night." And most likely, even with these boundaries in place, some prom-goers may, nevertheless, declare that they're still on a date.

But by that point, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we avoided having to legislate on teen dating.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.