Photo by Lorianne DiSabato.
This guest post is by Matt Overton, Associate Pastor for Youth and Family Ministry at Columbia Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, Washington. Matt is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and has been doing youth ministry for 15 years in California, New Jersey, and Washington State. This post has been adapted from the original, which appeared on the CPC family website in Spring 2014.
It's that time of year again. Teenagers everywhere are thinking about who they’ll ask to prom.
I remember the feeling of sitting in my room, preparing to grab the now-archaic landline phone to call THAT girl. Prom was a big deal in my community. Students often rented limos, and the venue had to be top-notch. Some students, with the financial backing of their parents, rented hotel rooms for the night. It was a bit of a spectacle.
Looking back at my own phone calls (and slightly more creative moments), those invitations pale in comparison to what I see from students in my community today.
Last spring CNN posted an article on the pressure some students feel when it comes to "promposals". It also explores the added pressure that electronic media adds to this dynamic. Try saying "No" when someone just spent four late-night hours decorating your lawn and car with all sorts of creativity. Or refusing an invite when someone just asked over the P.A. system during lunch and lined up three of their besties to help. It's liable to make a student appear heartless.
So how can parents and mentors help?
1. Help them talk about it. Teenagers are still developing at a whole bunch of different levels. But today’s teenagers in particular tend to have trouble with interpersonal communication and conflict resolution. This may be an unfortunate byproduct of their use of electronic communcation or it might be the result of our stellar parenting. They will need some listening ears and measured advice as they think through this. Trust the fact that whether your teen admits it or not, they need your input and presence. You might call and talk to another adult of influence in their life who can help them think through some of their choices.
2. The Asking. Talk them through how their method of invitation might make the other person feel. How well do they know this person? You might want to help them weigh out how much pressure a big invitation might put on the whole night. Do they really want to raise expectations? Will they have to outdo themselves the next time? Walk them through how to react if the person says "No". It's possible that too much pressure might cause the one they are asking to refuse.
3. The Rejecting. If your student is likely to be asked to prom, talk them through how to say "No" if asked by someone they truly don't want to go with. This might be especially true for your daughters. Empower them to know that they can turn someone down. Many girls feel the gender role pressure of not wanting to appear "mean". Help them push through this and be as assertive as they need to be. If they are assertive in the easy relationship stuff, then they may feel empowered in more difficult situations.
4. The “Good Enough" Proposal. One of our parents also pointed out that sometimes in "long-term" teen relationships, students are told their promposals are "not good enough.” Even in teen relationships, power dynamics and materialism are present. I have known married adults who have never learned to assert themselves when "nothing is good enough" for their spouse. It might be important to help your teen understand how to avoid being a victim or a perpetrator of the "nothing is good enough for me" scenario. You might help them avoid a life sentence of being dissatisfied with every nice thing their future spouse does, or the recipient of that dissatisfaction.
5. The Aftermath. Help your kids learn the importance of reconciliation or mending fences after the fact. It's possible that someone they ask could say yes in public only to need to say no in private later. Help your teen understand why this might be, and how to respond if it happens. Many students will do their best to dodge direct conversation with the other person if they reject a promposal or are themselves rejected. Reconciliation is an important practice in the Christian life, and generally it occurs most meaningfully when it happens face to face. Give them tips on ways to try to heal wounds. Help them hear the other person out if they have hurt somebody's feelings.
6. The Posting. Posting online is another trend attached to promposals. It might be wise to help your teen think through how they might do this without hurting a fellow friend who has not been asked or may have interests in the same person. This is fertile ground to help our students think about how to "love your neighbor." (This same advice could be applied to postings on college acceptances.)
7. Support Counterculture. Keeping things simple might also offer your students a chance to go against the grain. More often than not, the gospel calls certain values of our culture into question when most adolescents just want to blend in. Prom and "promposals" might be just the time for your teen to celebrate being different. Invite them to be different. Challenge them to find someone who is more interested in them than in the white noise of creative ideas they ripped off from a Google search! My senior year I rented a bus with 15 other couples for $10 each. It was cheaper, safer, and it was a great way to thumb our noses at the money culture of our community.
Promposals may be a hormonal hassle for most parents, but they also provide great learning opportunities and teachable moments. Promposals are not necessarily bad, but they can be tricky.
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