Prom Fantasies

22. April, 2015

Dr John Mayer


Prom Fantasies

Ok, I’m going to offend a large percentage of people here. It’s the time of the year when I cringe over the one of the biggest wastes of resources in schools. I’m speaking here of these pre-prom demonstrations/assemblies, videos and various lectures, especially those by police officers that ‘warn’ teenagers of drinking/drugging on prom night, sexual acting out, and other illegal behaviors.

I’ve seen it all in my years of consulting for schools. The wrecked car parked on the lawn outside of the main entrance to school, simulated driving ranges in the school parking lot, dance performances decrying the need for sexual abstinence and the horror of date rape, alcohol awareness weeks cleverly timed during prom week. You name it. And, you bet, the vast majority of these efforts are incredible wastes of school resources. Yet they proliferate. Why?

They appear to be a win-win-win experience for all involved that’s why. Schools love them because they give the illusion that the school is being proactive about teenage acting out. And schools believe the students love them because of the feedback. But, students love them mainly because it gets them out of class and these festivals sardonically entertain teens. Parents love them because, like schools, “We are addressing the problems with our kids.” And of course those who provide such services love them because they get nice fat fees. Oh and such participants as the police or local mental health services love them because it fulfills their community outreach mandates. So everybody wins, right?


Wrong! The lose, lose, lose in this situation is that teens still will get drunk or high on prom night, they will have sex, they will damage property and some will get expelled from school as a result of their prom night revelry. These efforts of the ‘feel good events’ although entertaining and paradoxical are not effective prevention.

So, what does work? The answer is in the question, WORK. Wouldn’t it be nice if these one-shot, dog-and-pony shows prevented our kids from hurting themselves and others? But, they don’t and can’t. What works is a direct, strong orientation of the students on what we expect at proms and how they should act. Second, do the same type of orientation to the parents so that they are not paying for hotel rooms, buying alcohol for their kids or supporting acting out. These are actually the easier parts of what works. Now the work: Schools need to build a year round culture of prevention with every staff person and parent on board, with every activity on board, with the atmosphere of the school on board and with the very environment of the school on board to model and instill healthy lifestyle prevention every moment of every day at the school. Contact me, I’ll show you how.

This is not a fantasy and it is doable. And this is less of a fantasy than thinking these sad efforts mentioned above are actually making a difference.

Parents, influence your school to do away with these wasteful practices. Maybe I’m  a bit late for this year’s planning—but please remember this for next year.

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