Column, "Prom," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (6/2/11)
It’s nearly the end of the school year, and for high school students, that means one thing: prom! Teens, understandably, get excited: the dress, the tux, the music, the date. But for parents, this excitement comes with a fear: that our children will end up having sex, or making bad decisions.
My own Puerto Rican mother was extremely protective, and as a result I missed both my middle- and high-school proms. Her reasons were usually hinted at – I couldn’t go because there would be boys there. It wasn’t me she didn’t trust, it was them.
I know her intentions were good. As mothers and fathers, we want to shelter our children, and protect them from as much as we can. But fear is not the answer: we cannot keep our sons and daughters in a bubble, and the more we bar them from their social life, the more we prevent them from developing the social skills they will need to deal with peer pressure and navigate tricky situations.
So what’s the solution? Talk to your children. Give them the skills they need to make safe, healthy decisions. How do you do that? Here are seven easy steps:
1) Start the conversation. Asking open-ended questions like, "What are you most looking forward to about the prom?" or "How do you feel about your date?" or "Do kids in your school feel pressure to have sex because it's prom night?" opens the door to listen to your child first, and understand what he or she is experiencing.
2) Communicate. Believe it or not, study after study shows that kids rate their parents’ values about sex and sexuality as the most influential when it comes to making decisions in their own lives. Yet our children won’t know what our values and expectations are unless we tell them. Once you’ve asked your children how they feel about prom, take this time to communicate your own thoughts and expectations, and make sure they have the facts about sex and sexuality.
3) Share protective messages. This is also a good time to communicate additional protective messages, such as encouraging your child to avoid alcohol and drug use because it can impair healthy sexual decision making. You may also want to check-in and discuss whether he/she feels any pressure to engage in sex or sexual activity because it is prom night and to emphasize that he/she should not engage in sexual activity if it's not desired, or mutual, or protected, or because of any social/partner pressure.
4) Keep having the conversation. This doesn’t have to be a one-time conversation. You can keep talking about prom with your children throughout the time leading up to prom. This takes the pressure off, and gives them the chance to come to you with something they may not have at first felt comfortable with. Remember to listen to your child, and never judge. Doing so helps your children to feel they can turn to you, and talk to you, which in turn keeps them safe.
5) Connect. Maintaining your emotional bond with your children is one of the best ways you can keep them safe. Talk with your children, listen to them, and participate in or host the pre-prom activities. It can even be fun, such as dress or tuxedo shopping!
6) Monitor. Know your child’s friends, meet their parents, have their phone numbers. Ask your children what their prom plan is, where they’ll be, how they’re getting there, and who they’ll be with. Know who you can call in case they stay out too late. All of this helps to ensure your child won’t get into a bad situation.
7) It’s not just girls. Our first instinct can be to place the burden of making good decisions on girls alone, but our boys need us just as much. They get just as confused, and can make just as bad decisions. Talk to your children, no matter what their gender. Though it might at first be awkward, they will be thankful, and it will help keep them safe.