Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
The hot topic in the local Catholic mommy groups this month is prom. A few families I know have had daughters invited to proms at some of the public high schools around here (some of the girls are students at the schools, others are homeschoolers who were invited by students), and it’s left the parents pondering the question: Is the typical modern prom an appropriate event for a young person striving for holiness?
My first reaction was to breathe a sigh of relief that I have over a decade until I’ll have to confront this question. But as the mother of four daughters, I’ve followed my friends’ discussions with interest. (Our friend Allen Hebert wrote a great piece detailing the discernment process that his family went through after his homeschooled daughter was invited to a big high school’s prom by a neighbor. Definitely worth reading.)
The reasons Catholic parents might not want to let their kids attend are obvious. At many high school proms today, some or all of the following are rampant:
- Immodest dress
- Dancing that looks like something out of a Snoop Dogg video
- Drugs and alcohol
- Pressure for sexual activity
- Music with immoral messages
Around this time last year, my husband and I happened to be at a hotel that was hosting a prom. When we passed the ballroom, a song was blaring about getting drunk and “hooking up,” and some of the girls were walking around in dresses fit for a Lady Gaga backup dancer. There was a distinct vibe in the place, and it wasn’t good. My knee-jerk reaction was to think: My kids are never going to a secular prom.
But maybe I overreacted. My friends who have come down in favor of prom point out that there are good arguments for letting your kids go, even in the cases where the atmosphere might not be everything a Catholic parent would hope for:
- Some proms are better than others; there are plenty of schools that take steps to prevent their proms from degenerating into moral cesspools.
- Prom-aged kids are almost legal adults; even if they are exposed to some questionable situations, it can be a good learning experience for it to happen while they’re still under their parents’ roofs.
- Proms aren’t the only place where a kid might encounter lewd behavior. Why nix that one activity when all a kid has to do is turn on the TV or look at a billboard to see even worse things than occur at the average prom?
- Plenty of holy people were exposed to less-than-holy situations at some point or another. Shielding yourself from all immorality is not a requirement for true devotion to the Lord.
- Perhaps our children can have a positive impact on the proms they attend, inspiring others to engage in wholesome forms of entertainment.
- If a kid has a strong relationship with God and with her parents, it is unlikely that one evening at even the most raucous prom is going to throw her off course morally.
Plus, the kids love it! It’s nice for them to have an opportunity to get dressed up, go to fancy dinners, bond with friends and celebrate the end of the school year.
I do love the idea of the more traditional proms like the one a local Christian homeschool group puts on: It’s hosted by the parents, the kids are required to take dance lessons before they attend, there’s no music with immoral messages, and everyone has a dance card, so nobody feels left out. That kind of setup carries all the traditional benefits of the annual prom: Kids get to take steps toward adult behavior, but they do so within clear boundaries set by their parents.
But what would I do if one of my daughters were asked to go to one of the public high school proms like the one I saw at the hotel that night? It would depend on her temperament, her date’s character, and a host of other factors, but the short answer is that I just don’t know. Again, I’m glad I have about 12 years to think about it. For those of you with high-school-aged kids, what do you think about prom? Do you let your kids go?