For high school students, prom night is something of a step out of childhood and into the adult world. Prom night provides an opportunity for teenagers and their closest friends to dress up in perhaps the finest clothes they have ever worn and go out on the town on their own for one of the most memorable evenings of their young lives.
By its very nature, the prom tradition is one marked by transition. Soon, these young men and women will be off to college and living on their own for the first time where they will be expected to conduct themselves responsibly while navigating the pitfalls and dilemmas that come with the privilege of being an adult.
Recently, the Sag Harbor School district’s Nutrition/Wellness/Health and Safety Committee put forth a tentative plan to eliminate one of the traditions of Pierson’s prom night — the private limousine to and from the dance. Instead, the committee proposes that students be required to meet at the school where they will board school buses that will transport them to and from the prom.
The rationale is not unfounded. Last year, there was evidence of teens drinking on the way to the prom and by providing buses, the committee feels it can head off a lot of bad behavior that may be going on in transit.
But, as was put forth by two students who spoke on the topic at this week’s school board meeting, to punish the whole student body based on the actions of a few students who may not even be in the school anymore is patently unfair.
We tend to agree with them — not because we feel the measure punishes the wrong students, but because it sends the wrong message.
As our children approach the end of their high school career and prepare to take the next step to college and beyond, there is a certain letting go that must inevitably accompany that process. One way parents are able to confidently send their children into the next phase of their lives is developing a sense of mutual trust and respect while they are still in their care. It’s important that kids are given an ever longer leash throughout their teenage years to test the waters, so to speak. It is only through experience that any of us learn how to handle difficult ethical and moral situations.
We can all remember as teens the one crazy friend we had who always went out of control when he or she was away from parents’ scrutiny. Daring and risky behavior was the thing, and often it seemed ironic, because these were the kids who came from the strictest homes. But as we often realized, these kids who had no sense of judgment were the same kids who had also been given very little freedom to make responsible decisions and rarely shared their innermost thoughts and concerns with their parents.
While we appreciate the effort to stem drinking and other unacceptable behavior on prom night, the fact is, boarding a bunch of teens on the verge of adulthood onto school buses for a trip to the prom is inviting exactly what the move seeks to mitigate. It clearly takes the romance out of the evening. How many kids will see the authoritarian intervention as a challenge to sneak as much contraband onto the bus as possible? How many will try to “pre game” the system without getting caught? And how many of those kids will be driving home from the school when the bus drops them there after the prom?
And what about students who bring non-Pierson dates to prom? Kids who maybe attend other high schools, for example, or perhaps those who date college students? We imagine there would be liability issues for the school to transport non-Pierson students.
Beyond that, we also find the move invasive. This is a party that takes place after school hours and off school premises. Dictating how students may get to such an event seems Draconian. There is also the tradition of pre-prom photos, pooling with best friends to rent a limo and the fact it offers door to door transportation — a far better alternative than the old days when we all drove ourselves to the prom.
Perhaps there is some middle ground to be found here. Maybe the school can draw up a contract with students and the limousine companies specifying what is expected and clarifying if any additional stops can be made going to or coming home from the prom. Many limo drivers are just as wary of having drunk teens in their car as are parents and administrators — after all, who wants to clean up after a night of teenage debauchery?
But in the end, the fact is today’s Pierson seniors are tomorrow’s adults. They need to be given the opportunity to show they are mature enough to handle themselves properly, and be held accountable for their actions when they don’t.