Why High School Dances Have Gotten So Out of Control

woman with elaborate braid in formal gown

Photo by Getty Images

Photo by Getty Images

With school back in session and homecoming dances and events right around the corner, parents of high school students seem to be bracing themselves for the over-the-top to-do that dances have turned into for our children.

Long gone are the days of getting asked to the dance over the phone, in the hallway, or having a friend ask for you. Borrowing a friend's dress or shopping with your mom for something on sale, and doing each other’s hair on the bedroom floor have been replaced by expensive gowns, $200+ tuxedo rentals, and professional hair and makeup sessions.

These days "promposals" (prom proposals, get it?) are all the rage. They are elaborate invitations in which kids publicly ask each other to the dance—and I'm not talking about asking at the cafeteria table during lunchtime, either.

These invitations are lavish, expensive and leave a lot of parents feeling a bit perplexed. And by that I mean many of us think they are ridiculous, unnecessary, and put a huge amount of pressure on everyone, especially our kids. Check out one of thousands of examples below:

Promposals started as something kids only did before prom, but it seems it's a thing to do before every dance—for example, now there are hocos (for homecoming dances).

What do moms think of the trend?

While lots of moms surely encourage and relish the pageantry of it all—one must admit it does look like fun—the moms I talked to seemed to be of the opposite opinion. Here's what a few of them said:

"Here, it seems that asking someone to homecoming is on the level of the promposal, which is also ridiculous. If you want to take someone to a dance, why can't you just ask him or her? Dresses, suits, dinner, rides, etc. are expensive enough without the over-the-top, expensive, Pinterest- and other social-media inspired baloney."

Another said:

"The thing I don’t understand about the whole promposal thing is that it seems like the more 'serious' a couple is, the bigger it has to be. At the risk of sounding very old, back in my day, it was kinda sad to be waiting to have someone ask you to a dance. All of the cool kids knew who they were going to go with, and the more serious you were, the more it was just a foregone conclusion. Makes no sense to me."

Another mom got right to the point with, "The proposals are ridiculous."

Many parents feel like if our kids are going through such lengths at the high school level just for a dance, what do they have to look forward to later in life? Not only that, is it all just for show? If you are dating someone do you really need to put on a skit in front of your peers and prove yourself in that way?

How many of our teens are doing this because they think they have to, and as a result, are putting unnecessary pressure on themselves?

I talked to a woman who said the proposals put "too much pressure on the girls who worry about getting asked, and way, WAY too much pressure on the boys to come up with over-the-top ideas."

I agree. If my sons are going to be stressed about something, I certainly don't want it to be because they are afraid their dance proposal can't measure up.

And the clothes!

Another thing that has gone off the rails is the clothing at dances. One woman said the dresses the girls are wearing are "crazy expensive" and some even purchase wedding dresses for a high school dance.

Even for a special event like prom, it seems like way too much. "I’m not even going to entertain the idea of spending more on a dress than my wedding dress cost," said a fellow mom.

One woman said she doesn’t care for the dresses at all. "Honestly? I find the girls dress like they are attending the AVN [Adult Video News] Awards. Head to toe. Bums me out. Most pictures on social media during dance season make me cringe," she said.

But the extravaganza doesn't end at the proposal and the dresses. Many kids are going for expensive dinners, limousines, and their parents are hosting before- and after-dance parties.

What we can do about it

The difficult part about all this is we want our teenagers to have fun and be able to join in with their friends without feeling like an outcast. If everyone is buying expensive dresses and getting over-the-top proposals, and our child isn't, that does come with some feeling of guilt and wondering if you are doing the right thing.

Some parents are feeling fed up with it all, and with the way other parents are treating the whole dance experience.  It seems a lot of parents agree things have gotten out of control and while we can't control everything—like if your kid is going to ask someone to a dance through a song they have written while rose pedals are being thrown about—there's nothing wrong with setting a clothing budget you are comfortable with an opting out of throwing a party after the dance.

Katie Bingham-Smith lives in Maine and is a full-time freelance writer. She's writes about all things parenting, food, and fashion.