Should I let my wallflower stay at home or nudge her to participate?

By Leigh-Ann Jackson
Photo by Nivek Neslo/Getty Images

Boys mill about on one side. Girls fidget and whisper on the other. An expanse of hardwood flooring and bleachers lies between the two groups. Within that demilitarized zone, there’s thrown-together décor, junk food-covered folding tables, and Top 40 music blaring from rented speakers.  

Even if armed with only the weakest imagination and the most cursory knowledge of American adolescent customs, this is the mental picture you’d likely conjure when you hear the words: School Dance.

I’m not talking biggies like homecoming or prom. I’m referring to the smattering of off-brand gatherings that faculties randomly sprinkle throughout the school year. These tween and teen convergences tend to be largely overrated, underwhelming (and occasionally, under-supervised!). Plus, unless you’re attending one of those flamboyant “Fame”-type schools, no one actually dances. But they’re rites of passage all the same. And that’s why I want my daughter to attend them. At least, I think I do!

Thanks to a round robin schedule compiled by the independent schools in our area, there’s a different grade-level dance nearly every month. That means plenty of opportunities for my daughter to socialize with kids outside her own bubble. That means fun outfit prep, trying out new hairstyles and (moderate amounts of) makeup, as well as piling into giggly, giddy carpools. That also means, month after month of my daughter flat-out refusing to participate.


After two meager attempts in her seventh-grade year, she claimed she was swearing them off for good. Too crowded, too clique-y, too much drama and too much cheesy music, she reported back. The girls were being too girly, the boys were behaving way too much like boys, and none of them were half as interesting as a Marvel movie marathon at home.

Do I let my sweet little introvert continue to hide out at home, or do I stir the nest?

To my mind, she’ll have more than enough time to park it on the sofa on a Friday night once she’s in her 40s. For now, I feel like she should join the ranks of her fellow eighth graders as they listlessly pace the gymnasium. That’s where valuable bonding happens and memories are made. You get to make style statements, have your first awkward coed exchanges, and start to exercise your own fledgling independence. You also get to witness first-hand all those hilarious, cringe-worthy and scandalous stories everyone will be buzzing about the next day in school.

At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what happens at school dances. I never went to a single one of them myself! Obviously, that’s part of the reason I want my kid to kick her asocial tendencies to the curb. I know what it feels like to regret those missed adolescent opportunities.

On the other hand, I’m well aware of the Pandora’s box I’m rattling here. Nighttime dances can swing from PG-rated merriment to more mature content in the blink of a chaperone’s eye. Bullying, sexual activity, underage drinking, drug use. Not that I have trust issues or anything, but my over-active imagination doesn’t have to entertain those kinds of parental horrors when my daughter’s pulling her wallflower routine in the living room.

One helpful stop-gap has emerged that’s allowed me to stall for time while I figure out this conundrum. It seems mine is not the only daughter who’s too socially anxious for the dance floor. A few of her classmates have started hosting so-called “anti-dance” events at their homes. While everyone else is converging upon packed gyms and rec centers, small clusters of girls are meeting up in dens and family rooms where their moms are ordering in pizzas and streaming movies.

It’s not exactly the transformative experience I imagined from all my years of watching couples sweetly slow dance on throwback teen rom-coms and primetime TV (sigh ... Kevin and Winnie 4ever!). But, hey, at least it buys my husband and me a couple of hours of alone time and gives those hard-suffering sofa cushions a brief respite.