By: Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC.
Prom season is right around the corner, and as I see photos and video clips of the dresses worn this year, a sympathetic grimace creeps over my face. I remember all too well the dilemma of finding the perfect prom dress. Proms are a 4 billion dollar a year industry, and advertisers and department stores are not about to lose money. The dresses are incredibly revealing this year, and that has nothing to do with fashion. What is hot in Italy right now is a more elegant, almost demure look on young women. The focus is on the face, not the body.
The dresses girls are choosing today, focus on sexualizing and objectifying young women. The girls who are buying the dresses to do not understand what is fashionable, rather they are trying to look attractive and “in” with their friends, who are also trying to look attractive and “in.” I am no longer sure who is “in,” but I am sure of one thing: this is a time parents must be “out” rather than be buddies with their child. They must be parents, ready to set a boundary and follow through with rules.
I do recommend moms shop with their daughter. Moms have watched their daughter’s body change and understand their style. Moms also usually control the pocket book, and setting limits with costs is a big part of shopping for anything, including a prom dress. It is important for girls to feel attractive and good about their choice of dress, so moms don’t need to make the decision. However, moms can provide insight. Moms should know the school requirements for prom dresses and be supportive of them. I would suggest that Moms dialogue with their daughter about the dress she chooses. The big picture is something many girls don’t see, so asking simple questions such as, “Can you dance or move in this dress?” is important. Moms also can have the foresight to question how her daughter’s date may feel about the dress, or even more so, what kind of a message is the dress sending to her date’s parents (who will no doubt want photos)? Being comfortable in your dress and not worrying something will show or hang out or over are questions moms should remember.
A prom is a rite of passage, but it is also a wonderful opportunity to teach your daughter the importance of making choices. We encourage our children to grow up and be able to make choices and learn from their mistakes. They need to practice this at home. Parents create the opportunity by setting clear boundaries, choices and follow through. Below are a few suggestions that can help you help your daughter learn from the consequences of their choices. Choosing a prom dress is a great place to practice this.
Tips for Choosing the Perfect Prom Dress:
1. Explain why a particular dress is inappropriate (it shows too much skin; it doesn’t flatter her body in a beautiful way, it makes her look as if she is trying to get sexual attention).
2. Explain why the behavior is inappropriate (rather than sexual attention, she may want attention in general). Explaining that if she wants to be respected, a different dress would help her attain that. Explain also that girls who wear explicit garments many times feel undesired and have a shallow self-esteem. They then attract people who will make them feel even more that way.
3. Give reasonable choices and consequences. When you give choices where your daughter can choose A or B (and both are still within your rules
as a parent), you are teaching her a lifelong lesson. This also limits acting out, and power struggles. Following through with consequences teaches them early that for every behavior there is a choice and consequences. The phrase “this isn’t fair” is used by a child whose parents have not followed through with choice consequences. Healthy parenting means the child knows and understands the choices at hand, and they also know the consequences of breaking a parental rule!
4. Allow time for your teen to think about their choice, as this helps them rationalize it in their mind, vent to a friend, and also helps them make the wiser choice.
5. Be prepared to enforce your consequences. Limit setting is silly if you want to be your child’s friend and not a parent. It’s tough work to be a parent, but you must follow through with the consequences of a poor choice.
Prom is a wonderful event, but left to the kids without parental guidance, it can turn into a nightmare. Your daughter wants to look beautiful and sexy, but some dresses send the wrong message. If you are a mom, you have such a voice and so much to offer your daughter during this special time in her life. Be supportive of her feelings, but keep the big picture in mind. Within a few short years, she will understand that what she chooses to wear affects peoples’ judgment forever. The part of parenting we often neglect is the most difficult. It’s the part that teaches choices, consequences,and following through. In the teen years, many times loving means saying, “NO, you are much too wonderful to stoop that low.” Love her enough to help her choose a prom dress, but don’t let her walk out of the house looking less than the beautiful child you held in your arms at birth.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mary Jo Rapini, MEd, LPC, is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever. Read more about the book at www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com
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