Parenting Opportunities During Prom Season

“Prom-posal” pictures filled my social media this morning, reminding me that prom season is upon us. If prom-posal is an unfamiliar term to you, I’m referring to the big to-do that comes with popping the question: “Will you go to prom with me?” (In some cases, the originality and expense is nearly on par with a marriage proposal). Then, in a few weeks, my feed will display rainbows of dresses adorning beautiful girls who stand next to handsome boys in color-coordinated bowties. Between now and then, as excitement and expectation builds, teenagers’ conversations will swirl continuously around the coming event and all surrounding plans – the dinner, bus or limo?, the after-party, and even the after-after (all night) party.

For the parent, it’s a different story; at least for me it is.

I dread prom weekend.  I went through it twice with my daughter and, thankfully, I have a couple of years before my sons will attend their own proms. It’s not that I’m a fun-hater or even anti-prom. I loved seeing my daughter and her friends dressed up! But with all the parenting issues that come with prom, the weeks in between “the ask” and the actual event were anxiety-ridden and conflict-filled. The Sunday after prom could not have come more quickly for me.

I’m positive I’m not alone in feeling this way, but it sure felt like it when my daughter was in high school. While I laid awake agonizing over what my husband and I would permit or prohibit, it seemed other parents were unfazed by the plans being tossed out by their teens.  Instead of seeking solidarity among other families making similar decisions about curfew, co-ed spend-the-nights, and drinking, my husband and I found ourselves parenting upstream, and very much alone.

When it comes to weekends like prom – times when our teens need us to speak into the situation – my observation is that parents tend to either abdicate their authority (allowing their teen to run with whatever plans they wish), or they abstain from speaking out (even though they may take issue with their children’s plans). The root of these two responses lies in parents caring too much about what others will think about them, or worrying their kid might be left out.

I admit, I often struggle with my own parenting decisions because of these very concerns. I care what others will think, and how my teen might respond or rebel against me. Sometimes my own ruling idols trump goodness and truth. But I try to see this as the sin it is and repent, because bending to the world’s way of thinking is not for my teens’ best, nor is it truly loving.

We must not be naïve of the temptation to sin, coupled with the heightened emotion of prom, even for our “good” Christian teens. Being behind-the-scenes in ministry has exposed me to the daily reality of the sin and brokenness that is in all of us. So, while my daughter never gave us reason to distrust her, why would I haphazardly hand her over to opportunities for extra temptation and lack of protection just because it was prom?

The truth is, none of us – not even our precious children – are above doing things we never thought we would do. We can have pure intentions and absolute resolve yet still fall to temptation. Whether we love Jesus or not, we are all prone to wander when something other than Christ becomes more desirable, making us easy prey to Satan’s relentless pursuit of us.

I don’t believe sheltering our kids from all the things of the world is the answer either. After all, sin comes from within us and not outside of us.

What our teens need (though they likely believe otherwise) when it comes to events like prom is for us to help them evaluate their choices and hearts through the lens of the gospel. We need to talk honestly about the temptations, potential dangers, and the reality of our hearts as we consider what is best when it comes to prom night (and everything else). Challenging events like this then become opportunities for us to shape and inform our teen’s decision-making grid, before they are faced with the free-for-all weekends ahead of them in college.

The only way I was able to successfully navigate prom with my daughter was to look at the whole event, alongside her, under a gospel umbrella. This helped shape both of our understanding for how we would evaluate whether or not she was allowed to go to prom on the bus or in a limo, to attend the after-party, what dress to wear, and everything in between. By God’s grace, through the open dialogue, my daughter came to see the boundaries we instilled as loving protection.

In Paul Tripp’s book, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional, he describes boundaries well by saying, “It may seem constricting that the train always has to ride on those tracks, but try driving it in a meadow and all motion stops.”  Abiding within the boundaries of God’s grace and provision actually enables our kids (and us) to be freest. As appealing as it seems for our kids to be “free” to do whatever, anything outside of God’s bounds will enslave them to their own desires and expose them to Satan’s snares.

Jesus says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).

Let’s prepare kids who can swim upstream by shepherding them in awareness and wisdom of the lurking evil – not just in the world – but in their own hearts. Simultaneously, we might set loving perimeters to help them remain pure. To do so, we must also be willing to swim upstream from popular opinion, new cultural norms, and fear of our fellow man. Our post-Christian culture (and even increasingly permissive Christian culture) is hard and lonely, but by God’s grace I will continue caring more about making disciples of my children than being cool. Will you join me in swimming against the tide?


Kristen Hatton holds a master’s in counseling and works primarily with teen girls, parents and families. She is the author of Parenting AheadThe Gospel-Centered Life in Exodus for StudentsFace Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World, and Get Your Story Straight. Kristen and her pastor husband reside in Dallas, Texas and are the parents of three young adults and a son-in-law. Learn more by visiting her website at

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