Prom has always been the stuff of which teenage dreams are made. And while the excitement surrounding the occasion is nothing new, it's amped up like never before. Hundreds of phone calls and thousands of texts are exchanged in the months leading up to the event. Photos of gowns are posted on Facebook, and entire websites are devoted to finding the perfect dress or hairstyle.
To parents, the obsessive planning and grandiose expectations can seem over the top and out of control. But the emotional buildup is an inherent part of prom, one of our culture's few remaining rites of passage, says David Sabine, a clinical psychologist in Wichita Falls, Texas. "It's about teens moving from childhood to adulthood," he says. "They get to act like adults: dress up, ride in limos, and go to nice restaurants."
Kids may be counting down the hours to prom, but it's a bittersweet occasion for parents, seeing their children on the threshold of adulthood. "They share in the joy, but they also realize it won't be long before their kids will be leading their own lives," Sabine says. "Tensions rise because kids are trying to assert their independence while parents want to keep them safe by imposing rules." Suddenly everything becomes a conflict: budget, curfew, and post-prom plans.