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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.

Comments

I didn't go to my high school prom in '79 because a) I thought and still think that tuxedoes are dumb b) The girl who insisted that I take her had left town c) You want HOW much for dinner? Bite me. I'd been to the Playboy Club (yes, with bunnies) with my parents and their dinner wasn't worth THAT unless the bunnies were going down on everyone.

I hit post too fast.

I forgot to add wolf whistles and applause for your main points. I spoil Boyo to a point since he's our only son...but some things are just "NO" and he gets better at accepting no for an answer each time we do it. Some folks just don't want to deal with the fight.

Boy, do I ever agree - I cannot fathom these parents who won't say no to their kids or set limits. It is SO out of hand....have you seen the show (MTV or VH1, can't remember which) called "My Super Sweet Sixteen"? Parents are throwing parties for their daughters that cost thousands and thousands of dollars, and all because they had a birthday.

For God's sake, people. Get a grip.

Bravo, michele! I'm not usually one to yell words of encouragement to computer screens, but I found myself yelling "YEAH!" quite a few times whilst reading this.

In 2002, my family lost everything, EVERYTHING to a house fire. Going through something like that changes you forever. We got so used to buying clothes at Goodwill, we still do today, even though we can now afford "mall" clothes. Even so, I can still feel materialism creeping back into my life - it may be the strongest temptation in the US today.

This essay goes into my "Highest Honor Parenting Essays" with Sarah Hinkley's "Subversive Virginity".

I have some people looking at me strangely because my kids don't have a television and DVD player in their room, and that they're only allowed to play video games and be on the computer (for fun) on the weekends, and then only an hour at a time (one each on Fri, Sat, and Sun).

It's an all too common occurence. So many parents are of this mindset that giving their kids whatever they want is a way to their hearts. So, spending $20K for a house in the Hampton's is no big deal as long as it makes their son or daughter 'happy.'

Either that, or they are parents who've virtually ignored their kids throughout their youth, and now they attempt to re-connect with them through their wallet. This I know of personally. My brother in law never spent time with his kids when they were younger. Yeah, he had the birthday parties, and he remembered holidays and such, but he never took them out to play catch. He didn't take them fishing. He never took the family to an amusement park. Etc. etc. Suddenly, his two sons and his daughter grew up. Now, he tries to buy their love. One needs $250 for tires. Done. Another needs a new transmission for his fiance's car. He buys it for $1500, spends $375 on an engine/transmission lift and does the work himself. But there's no closeness between him and his sons.

My sister in law is no better. She plays the part of the Mom that's 'cool' as Michele talks about. She'll laugh at things that shouldn't be laughed at by a mother. She talks about how she "loves" Snoop Dogg when she probably couldn't point out a single one of his songs by name.

I cannot understand it. Time is the most precious commodity we have with our kids. Problem is, we can never get back the time we've lost, and at a certain point, the lack of time we spend with our kids equals the amount of time they want to spend with us as they get older, which is not a lot. Sending them on a 'booze cruise' and thousands on their proms won't help.

My first prom dress cost $60 (this was 1995, so prices weren't that much different than today). My date picked me up in his parents' car. We went to dinner at the Macaroni Grille, and after the dance we went to the school-sponsored After-Prom. The next day, we went canoeing. Overall, it was cheaper than a fun-filled weekend with my husband might be today. And I had a BLAST.

I'm totally with you, Michele. Kids today get what they want WAY too often. It makes me cringe whenever I'm at the store and I see a little kid throwing a tantrum because he wants a toy, and the parent buys it just to shut her up. That same kid is the one who's going to want a thousand-dollar dress and fully stocked limo on prom night. Parents today need to grow some balls and start taking some responsibility.

New to the blog-world here ... hope you don't mind me joining into the conversation.
Just wanted to say that I agree with many of your points: the parents in question do indeed seem to be going overboard - WAY overboard - in their indulgences of their children.
However, I myself am the mother of a 16 year old and a 9 year old and I'll be the first to admit that even I am guilty of spoiling ... just not to such extremes.
But therein lies the problem: at what point does it become TOO much? And who gets to decide where that line is drawn?
Is it okay for me to purchase TVs and DVD players for my children's rooms but not okay for me to have provided a truck, albeit used, for my son when he turned 16?
Like I said: I am guilty as charged when it comes to spoiling my children. But I am also a stay-at-home mom who spends a lot of time with her children. So an indulgent parent is not always a case of trying to "buy" a child's love.
And as for the apparent multi-millionaires referred to in the article, it's easy for me to point a finger at them simply because they "spoil" their children more than I do mine ... but the bottom line is that it's really none of my business how or on what they spend their money.

These people are not multi millionaires. They probably have gone into debt to give their children parties like this.

When is it too much? When you hand your children money and material possessions and don't expect them to work for it. Or when you spend $5000 to throw a liquor-fueled party for 16 year olds in your home. Or when you abandon any sense of rules, regulations, propriety or responsible parenting in order to please your kids.

(I don't think that a kid having a tv in their bedroom is spoiling them, as long as there are rules to go with it and the rules are followed)

(I don't think that a kid having a tv in their bedroom is spoiling them, as long as there are rules to go with it and the rules are followed)

Don't get me wrong. Neither do I. We just don't have them in their rooms, yet some people, for whatever reason, think it's weird.

We also don't have our kids signed up for every activity under the sun which also seems to be something that "has" to be done.

I grew up in a "keepin' up with the Joneses" type town - everyone had to have the latest thing, everything was very trend driven, very superficial.

My father was a college professor (read: not poor but not able to spend extravagantly), my mom stayed at home with my brother and me.

Our needs were taken care of abundantly. We had good clothes, enough food, our own rooms, plenty of books and toys. We didn't have designer jeans (this was the first time they were a big deal - early 80s), televisions in our rooms, ski vacations, that kind of thing. One thing we did learn was that substance was more important than style.

My parents sent me to the local prep school - ironically enough, because the PUBLIC high school was so image-driven and so into "having the latest" that they wanted to insulate me from that (and they also knew I'd be miserable in that atmosphere). One of the saddest things I ever saw - and one of the things that woke me up to the fact that the grass is not always greener - is that one of the girls I knew, a dorm student, received six pairs of Guess jeans from her mom - as a "bribe" to not come home for a visit on a given weekend.

After that, I was happy to wear whatever clothes my parents provided, because I knew they were happy to see me when I came home at the end of the day.

I didn't go to my prom, either - partly because none of my friends wanted to go (two were going to other schools' proms with boyfriend/longtime guy friends, and the other good friend was anti-prom) and partly because the very day I got up the courage to ask the guy I wanted to go with, I witnessed another girl walk up to him and ask him - and he accepted - first.

I don't think I missed much, frankly, based on what I heard in gossip afterwards. (Besides - if I want someone to hurl on my good shoes? I can go to a bar and have that happen for free).

My prom was only a decade ago, and I went to a not-inexpensive private school. A couple of girls wore dresses that cost as much as my parents' first house, a couple of other kids got use of their parents' ski lodge for partying.

But for the vast majority of us, it was splitting a limo among a dozen people, trying to get a dress on sale, and after-parties at someone's house.

My circle of friends and I managed to get through both Junior and Senior proms without drinking. And I know this makes me sound terribly hokey, but we just didn't care about drinking. We danced and had fun at the prom. We were so excited to be up all night at the after-party that it didn't matter that it was just movies and junk food.

We weren't dorks - most of us went happily on to set boozing records in college - but man, the prom just wasn't about being as fucking decadent as humanly possible. And we enjoyed it. I don't see what was wrong with this model that recent parents had to mess with it.

Hey Michelle,

It's not just the prom. It costs you at least $40K to do a wedding on the cheap these days in NJ. I'm sure it's the same in LI. There goes the downpayment on a new house and any investments in your kids' education...

The funny thing is, whether wedding or prom or "sweet 16," enough people are willing to pay, which makes it impossible for anyone who can't.

And I wouldn't say it's just the parents living vicariously through their kids: does it not seem like kids are becoming more spoiled with time?

Damn - when did I get old?! :)

I raised two kids who are now in their early twenties and I agree with everything you said here, Michele. Materialistic expectations were bad enough then but I think it's gotten much worse since they were teens.

I've also seen that Sweet 16 show and it is just sickening to watch.

The same mentality extends to weddings, too. People borrowing money and going into major debt so they can show off with a lavish wedding, either for themselves or their kids.

It's very hard for me to understand the mentality of spending so much money for a single celebration . Even if one is extremely wealthy; isn't there a better way to use their money than throwing it away on such eleborate over-the-top frivolousness? It simply makes no sense to me.

I have nothing against planning and spending for nice parties; whether it's for graduation or a wedding or prom. Have fun, buy enough for the guests to have a good time, decorate, but there is just no NEED to spend so much money! All you need is food, music and a festive atmostphere to have a good time. Really; I've gone to lavish parties and simple ones and the amount of fun I had was never about the way it was put together.

It was about the people and how comfortable and welcome I was made to feel.

You've got that right, Amber.

I've been to ritzy weddings and I've been to cheap ones, but hands down, the BEST wedding I've ever been to was at a rundown Knights of Columbus Hall. The food was pot-luck, the decorations were handmade, and the drinks were served in plastic cups.

But there was a dance floor (one of the bride's friends played DJ surprisingly well), and the tequilla and cheap champagne flowed liberally. The whole shebang probably cost them a couple thousand bucks, tops, but because this was clearly a heartfelt celebration with people who really cared about each other and wanted to be there...it was wonderful!

Dang. My prom (in 1984) was nothing like this. I knew a few kids who rented a limo. I didn't. I spent my money having my mom's car detailed. I have no idea what my date's dress cost. It was a nice dress, but I don't think it was extravagent. There was an after-prom event at the local Jewish Community Center, and then after that we hung out at a friend's place until morning. It was fun, but it was hardly an orgy of affluence-flaunting, and I can't imagine why anyone would want it to be.

Q: Is it okay if the girls return their expensive dress after wearing them only once?

A: For ten Hail Marys and an Our Father, you bet.

I keed! I keed!

My son is in a public 6th grade middle school and will attend his first school sanctioned dance this Friday after schhol. It's from 4:00 to 5:30 and involves ice cream at the end.

We've no plans to invite his friends over for a Ben and Jerry's binge afterwards.

The boy did ask if I could drop him off for the party.

I explained that I had already made arrangements for him to be picked up by a 45' vehicle earlier in the day and driven by a professional driver to school, but that I'd be glad to pick him up afterwards.

That's just nuts. People need to be parents, not their kid's friend. I just don't get it. Maybe they don't have any real friends? I have no idea.

I went to two proms (junior year and senior year). Each involved a dress that cost less than $100. No limo -- the first one was in an old beatup diesel truck, the other in an old used car my boyrfiend picked up. After the first one, I went home and played cards. After the second, we just drove around the city, talking. Dinner was with friends, at the Macaroni Grill or something similar.

My wedding was in my in-laws backyard. We had BBQ catered. People wore shorts and jeans. I played frisbee in the mud with the neighbor's dog. It was awesome!

In don't have kids yet myself, but my mother adhered to the little to no spoiling principle. For example, I threw a fit when I wanted the Lego pirate ship, but she still refused to buy it for me. Even though I was throwing a tantrum in the store, she didn't give in to me. I think it made me a better person than some of my college friends whose mother still gives them allowances even though they have full time jobs.
I also felt really offended when I recieved this awesome Russian camera for Christmas last year, and my mom told me her co-worker has sneered that her children must be really spoiled for my mom to pay that much for a plastic lomographic camera. My mom spoils at the right times, and says no at the right times, a method I'll use for my future children. It really helps me appreciate everything my mom does for me.

Brother Hoagland deserves a high five. Proms now ARE ultra-decadent. I didn't go, but my sister did. She ended up spending close to $1,000 [of her own money though], and only about $250 was on the dress, shoes, purse, jewelry, etc. When I picked her up from the "after-party" , she was so glad to get out of there because of all the debauchery going on. There was underage girls running around in their underwear, people drunk out in the street, just asking to get hit by a car. And lots and lots of drunken sex. It rivaled a college party, for sure. The whole thing made me sick to my stomach.

I wish more schools would take that stance that school is.

I immediately thought of ASV when I read that article this morning.

It's amazing to me that these ultra-permissive parents can't seem to comprehend that they're harming their own kids just as much as other kids are harmed by the hardcore, emotionally crippled disciplinarians they despise. Excellent post, Michele.

My daughter's wedding ran around $12,000 for almost 100 guests and was probably one of the more expensive ones in this middle class family. How can people spend $5000 on a dress? That's a third of a new Honda Civic, tuition and books for a year at a state university or a vacation abroad. My kids didn't spend any where near that money on a prom - NOBODY did. How pathetic to spend that kind of money to attempt to impress your children's peers.

The Brother has some excellent points about grandiose opulence, but from my perspective, I just can't stand the slutty dresses the girls pick to wear these days to something that's supposed be a formal event which underscores the essence of being demure and feminine.

Heck they should just call it Halloween and go as prostitutes.

Which is WAY cooler!!

A very heartfelt round of applause and standing ovation to Brother Hoagland. I also went to a Catholic all girls College Prep school. It was a combo Junior/Senior Prom as the classes were too small to afford seperate proms. We had bake sales, auctions and garage sales to raise money for the ballroom. I went with a blind date plus 5 friends of mine and their dates. We had dinner at one house that we cooked ourselves, went to the prom in a VW van, went back to the house for monopoly and breakfast cooked by the parents, and finally home @ 6:30 AM to collapse in a absolutely HAPPY bone-tired coma. Dress, shoes and hairdo cost $55 and we also chipped in for gas for the van. The next year I passed on the Senoir Prom at the co-ed Catholic HS that I went to as it seemed way too extravagant (limo's and such) and showed promise of degrading into something not good. And that one was held on school property!
I talked to my sister about her Prom a decade later and the excess was already in full swing in the 80's and she had absolutley horrid b-o-r-i-n-g time.

I read all your stances on the prom. But with all do respect you would have needed to attend Kellenberg to know the whole story. They rain down there dictatorship on everyone. The treat you like you are a nobody. Including the parents. It is a great school for those who need discipline, but they go way too far. They are taking something away from these children. It is like arresting you for murder with NO reason. These children are convicted before even committing a wrongful act. I agree that UN moral things might happen at a prom. But believe me if they are happening at the prom they are happening outside of the prom. The responsibility of raising children lies with parents. While a church can provide influence it ultimately comes down to the parents.
The prom was canceled after the students agreed to attend the school and after they singed the rules book. This is wrong. What happened to trust, love and faith? It is not present at Kellenberg. The brothers there treat you like you are evil and it is there job to treat you like that. The whole while if you are a good student as I was they try to recruit you. All of the brothers there are megalomaniacs strung up on power. They are canceling the prom because of what MIGHT happen after it. Come on does that sound ridiculous. Imagine getting a speeding ticket while you are in your drive way, and the police man says you have a nice car and might speed someday. Right after that he might tell you he learned this type of precrime ticket writing at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

I get a collection envolop from them all of the time and I have been pretty successful. Instead of giving to the school I am going to help sponsor a private prom.

I hope you do not take this as an angry rant. I respect your opinion I just thought that you should have another view by someone that has been behind the sceens. The parents don't even know what happens to there childern at that school.

Come on, the people that attend Kellenberg are NOT poor. They hit you up for money and donations all the time. I am sure if you donated $5000 they would take it and not compain that it is too much. THEY ARE A BUNCH OF HIPOCRITS.

I read all your stances on the prom. But with all do respect you would have needed to attend Kellenberg to know the whole story. They rain down there dictatorship on everyone. The treat you like you are a nobody. Including the parents. It is a great school for those who need discipline, but they go way too far. They are taking something away from these children. It is like arresting you for murder with NO reason. These children are convicted before even committing a wrongful act. I agree that UN moral things might happen at a prom. But believe me if they are happening at the prom they are happening outside of the prom. The responsibility of raising children lies with parents. While a church can provide influence it ultimately comes down to the parents.
The prom was canceled after the students agreed to attend the school and after they singed the rules book. This is wrong. What happened to trust, love and faith? It is not present at Kellenberg. The brothers there treat you like you are evil and it is there job to treat you like that. The whole while if you are a good student as I was they try to recruit you. All of the brothers there are megalomaniacs strung up on power. They are canceling the prom because of what MIGHT happen after it. Come on does that sound ridiculous. Imagine getting a speeding ticket while you are in your drive way, and the police man says you have a nice car and might speed someday. Right after that he might tell you he learned this type of precrime ticket writing at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

I get a collection envolop from them all of the time and I have been pretty successful. Instead of giving to the school I am going to help sponsor a private prom.

I hope you do not take this as an angry rant. I respect your opinion I just thought that you should have another view by someone that has been behind the sceens. The parents don't even know what happens to there childern at that school.

Come on, the people that attend Kellenberg are NOT poor. They hit you up for money and donations all the time. I am sure if you donated $5000 they would take it and not compain that it is too much. THEY ARE A BUNCH OF HIPOCRITS.

I read all your stances on the prom. But with all do respect you would have needed to attend Kellenberg to know the whole story. They rain down there dictatorship on everyone. The treat you like you are a nobody. Including the parents. It is a great school for those who need discipline, but they go way too far. They are taking something away from these children. It is like arresting you for murder with NO reason. These children are convicted before even committing a wrongful act. I agree that UN moral things might happen at a prom. But believe me if they are happening at the prom they are happening outside of the prom. The responsibility of raising children lies with parents. While a church can provide influence it ultimately comes down to the parents.
The prom was canceled after the students agreed to attend the school and after they singed the rules book. This is wrong. What happened to trust, love and faith? It is not present at Kellenberg. The brothers there treat you like you are evil and it is there job to treat you like that. The whole while if you are a good student as I was they try to recruit you. All of the brothers there are megalomaniacs strung up on power. They are canceling the prom because of what MIGHT happen after it. Come on does that sound ridiculous. Imagine getting a speeding ticket while you are in your drive way, and the police man says you have a nice car and might speed someday. Right after that he might tell you he learned this type of precrime ticket writing at Kellenberg Memorial High School.

I get a collection envolop from them all of the time and I have been pretty successful. Instead of giving to the school I am going to help sponsor a private prom.

I hope you do not take this as an angry rant. I respect your opinion I just thought that you should have another view by someone that has been behind the sceens. The parents don't even know what happens to there childern at that school.

Come on, the people that attend Kellenberg are NOT poor. They hit you up for money and donations all the time. I am sure if you donated $5000 they would take it and not compain that it is too much. THEY ARE A BUNCH OF HIPOCRITS.

I'm trying to remember if I got any financial assistance from my folks for a prom (mid-80s). They might have chipped in on a tux rental.

The competitive-affluence problem starts a lot earlier than Sweet 16 parties. There's a great This American Life segment about birthday parties spiraling out of control in grade school, for cryin' out loud.

Sorry Rich, I am not buying your nonsense. I was educated by these same brothers (Bro. Hoagland was my 9th grade religion teacher) and they are not egotistical at all. They are great guys and Kellenberg and Chaminade are strict, but fun and excellent schools. The atmosphere is excellent and you appreciate what you got there as you age. One thing that many parents appreciate is that these two schools will not nickel and dime you to death the way most private schools do. They do not constantly ask for donations.

Thanks for holding the line against stupidity in parenting...