Raining on a Prom Night
My new hero is Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland, Principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, New York (interestingly enough, we had thought about enrolling Natalie in Kellenberg but the price was a bit too steep for us to juggle with the new house).
"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake -- in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said, fed up with what he called the "bacchanalian aspects."
"Each year it gets worse -- becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he said."We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. [Kellenberg] is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy.
I want to walk right over to that school and hug this man and then implore my daughter's principal to take the same stance as Brother Hoagland. It's time to stop the nonsense.
The real problem is that half of the parents who are doing these things for their children - the lavish cocktail parties, the Hamptons rentals, the thousand dollar dresses - can barely afford it but do it to "keep up" with the other parents. It stops being about the kids at some point and becomes a) a way for parents to live vicariously through their teenagers and b) a way for parents to prove something to their kids and their friends, (i.e., that they are the "cool" parent) or c) evidence that some people think throwing money at your kids equals throwing love at them.
When Brother Hoagland says "orgy" he isn't talking about sex. He means the lavishness, the absolute decadent way in which parents turn prom night into an extravaganza worthy of Donald Trump. The sad part is, it's not just prom night. Have you seen the MTV show about Sweet 16s? It's enough to make you sick to your stomach. What is it with this generation of parents?
My prom night - over 25 years ago - cost, in today's terms, maybe a week's pay. My pay. Not my parent's. I bought my own dress. We chipped in for a limo, which only brought us to the prom, not home, because we couldn't afford to keep it all night. The after prom event was a party at a friend's house and breakfast cooked by his parents at 5am. That was as decadent as we got. And we had a blast.
In addition to the lack of financial responsibility being taught, there's the culture of permissiveness that often pervades the parent/child relationship. I am not a fan of adult-sponsored drinking parties. I don't subscribe to the "they're going to do it anyhow, they may as well do it supervised" school of thought. I'm more of a "let's teach them that they can have a good time without being fall-down drunk" person. And that puts me squarely in the minority. Why open this door for your kids? Why teach them that drinking is fun? Why let them engage in an activity that loosens your inhibitions and robs you of control over your actions? Parents who allow drinking parties to take place in their house (and the parents who allow their teenagers to attend) are setting their kids up for a disaster. That is not responsible parenting. Did I drink as a teenager? Yes, and worse. But we never did it with a parent's permission. It was unheard of back then. What is it about today's culture that makes this ok, that makes parents think it's just fine to have a group of drunk underage kids going wild in their house? I get into this discussion quite often with other parents (and some non-parents) and, for some reason, I'm always made out to be the bad guy because I think it's irresponsible to be so permissive.
Nor is it responsible parenting to spend $5,000 on a prom dress and thousands more to host a booze cruise for teenagers, in much the same way that I think it shows a lack of responsible parenting to buy your child a brand new car the day he turns seventeen or to turn your daughter's sweet sixteen into a mini-wedding, complete with white glove service.
Brother Hoagland sees all these problems and does not want to play host to them, and I applaud him for that. Kellenberg is a school that, as part of its mission, teaches moral responsibility and humility, among other things. That parents blatantly disregard the wishes of the principal of the school is astounding to me, considering they spend $6000 a year to send their kids to a "better" school. To disregard the basic tenets of that school in order to give their kids what amounts to very expensive drinking binges is almost laughable. Ask any of these parents and they'll tell you they send their children to a Catholic high school not just for the education, but to give them a solid moral and religious backdrop to their formative years. And then this. It's not just hypocritical, it's revolting.
Many parents (as well as students) in the many articles on this story expressed agreement with Brother Hoagland's stance. Obviously, those aren't the parents who are causing the problems in the first place. It's more about people like this:
Edward L., the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school. "This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."
Mr. L. fails to see that a) it's not just about the drinking and drugs and b) yes, they DO have a right to judge what goes on after the prom, because the prom has always been sponsored by the school. What one does after the Kellenberg prom is certainly a reflection on the school and its values; if something scandalous were to happen to Kellenberg students on prom night and it made the papers, people will associate the behavior with the school. The fact that this parent thinks that Brother Hoagland's action isn't the right thing to do speaks volumes about him and all the other mothers and fathers and kids who think some god-given right has been taken from them.
I know how hard is to raise teenagers in this time of over indulgence and rampant materialism. But my own mother and father gave me the best parenting lesson of all: Learn how to say NO. It's easy once you get the hang of it and your kids will be better people for it.