Ah spring, that magical time of year when even the most dedicated teachers secretly hang paper-chain countdowns across their living room ceilings, waiting for school to let out. Dress code violations. Classrooms in the 90s. Senioritis. And prom.
I remember my prom, more than two decades ago. I drove to pick up my date in my white Oldsmobile Cutlass Sierra—blue vinyl top polished to a high shine—and together with our friends, we pilgrimaged across lawns to satisfying the photographic needs of the parental paparazzi. Then we danced the night away, awkwardly but unabashedly thrashing around the wooden dance floor. The fancy dress and formal meal did little to mask our adolescent longings to near the transition into adulthood.
Almost a quarter of a century later, I am tasked with chaperoning this fancy dance. Now I am the one who must help guide a new generation through the rite of passage that marks the beginning of the end for high school seniors.
If you’re also on prom chaperone duty, here are a few tips to make the most of your experience.
1. Do bring a date.
My wife and I are in the throes of parenting two young boys, ages 10 and 6. We don’t get out as much as we used to. What some see as a school obligation, we see as a date night—fancy venue, sit-down meal, formal attire, dancing—paid for by our students.
2. Do practice your dance moves.
It is a time-honored tradition for a prom chaperone to shake it to the hoots and hollers of their high school charges. The juxtaposition of their old-head teacher and their new-wave dance is always a crowd pleaser. Show ’em how you Nae Nae. Dab.
3. Don’t dance.
Yes, I see the contradiction here, but this may be the best advice I have to offer. We have all seen that prom chaperone who acts like this is his/her prom. It’s not. So dance only when forced to by the overwhelming majority of the senior class. Otherwise, stay along the walls acting like the slightly curmudgeonly prom chaperone you are supposed to be.
4. Don’t overdress.
I have similar advice for clothes. Go for simple over extravagant. For women, a simple black cocktail dress is always a good choice. For the guys, do a suit, not a tux. Let the teenagers wear tuxes. Dress like it is a funeral. Death of innocence? Of the school year? Of dancing the way you knew it? It’s okay to wear a slightly more festive tie.
5. Do know how to take pictures on all the latest smartphones.
Wander around the room and offer to take shots of student tables, teammates, best friends and new loves. Do not put yourself in any of those pictures.
6. Don’t take selfies and post them to social media.
Do not take selfies at all. It is weird for a grown adult to take pictures of him- or herself at a high school dance. Weirder still if there are any students in those pictures.
7. Do order the chicken.
Don’t be lured into the trap of high school prom filet mignon.
8. Do look the other way, a little.
I am talking here about dance moves that belong more on HBO than ABC. In seventh grade dances, one must intervene, but these “kids” are mostly legal adults. As long as their clothes are on and everyone is a willing participant, then follow Beyonce’s advice and stop interrupting their grindin’.
9. Do interrupt the things that need an interruption.
Hopefully, none of this will happen, but know that there are abusive students out there who might grab a date forcefully. There are kids out there who might be sneaking drinks. There might be kids out there who came to prom stoned. Never let any of that slide.
10. Do remind them early and often to be careful on prom night.
This should happen long before the actual night. Give students talks about the consequences of driving drunk, about prom houses with way too much alcohol and about safe sex. Make sure that when the night is under way, your nagging voice is in their head helping them make responsible choices.
Flowers are blooming, college choices are being finalized, seniors are planning how to bedazzle their mortar boards and prom chaperone duty is upon us. If you’re on duty, take some time to sit back and look at these fledgling adults you have helped raise. Wander with your colleagues down memory lane, trading stories of your own senior proms. Hold your date’s hand and try to harness a little of the magic of youth that fills the room like the thumping bass.
And bring some aspirin.