“We see more stress and admissions for mental health concerns, including suicide gestures, these times of year,” said child and adolescent psychiatrist Laura Markley. “There tends to be a lot of stress related to the end of the school year, tests and changes in peer relationships. Prom can add to this. Some teens feel pressure related to inviting someone to the dance, being invited to the dance, and making it the ‘perfect’ night.”
Some experts believe social media and the popularity of elaborate, public and sometimes expensive dance invitations – known as “prom-proposals” – have only added to the stress.
Social media has created 24/7 dialogue about “who is going with who” and the expectation to post photos and videos of proposals involving a skit, scavenger hunt, flash mob or other clever stunt.
“Some parents assume their child would never be the one to get so stressed out by something like that, or their child would never attempt self-harm,” said Dr. Markley. “However, all teens are at risk. Teens are emotional and have the potential to be very impulsive because their brains are still developing.”
Teens are also at greater risk the night of these dances, as a result of alcohol consumption and distracted driving.
Statistics show an increased risk of an accident when many teens are in a car with a teen driver.
“Parents, grandparents and other relatives should be aware of this added stress in the lives of their teens,” Dr. Markley said. “Subtle changes in how adults talk to teens can make a difference.”
Dr. Markley gives 7 tips for talking to your teen about prom and high school dances:
- Take the focus off “romance” and put it on fun, friendship and school spirit.
- Reassure your teen it’s OK to go to the dance with a friend, even a same sex friend, or a group of friends, rather than a “boyfriend” or “girlfriend.”
- Avoid asking, “Who are you going to the dance with?” If you must, ask, “Are you planning to go to the dance?” instead.
- Avoid comments, such as, “Prom was the best night of my life,” as it sets up unrealistic pressure on your own child.
- Early on, discuss the costs associated with attending the dance (dress, shoes, suit/tux, hair and nails at a salon, tickets, flowers). Set a budget and state what you’ll cover and what your child needs to cover with her own money.
- Discuss the itinerary for the night, including transportation to and from the dance and who will be in your child’s group. Encourage your teen to attend his school’s “after prom” party, if available. It’s supervised and “locked-in” fun – keeping teens off the roads and away from private parties.
- Make a contract with your teen that if she’s unable to access safe transportation for any reason, you will come and there will be no consequences for contacting you. Teens are more likely to avoid a bad situation if they know they won’t get in trouble when asking for help.
In general, parents of teens should also lock up all pills, including over-the-counter medications, and firearms. Often the difference between an impulsive thought and an impulsive action is access to the means to harm one’s self.