Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.
“It’s not like they’re asking you to dress like a nun or anything,” says Ellison Garrett a 17 year old junior at Lee County High School in Leesburg Georgia as schools across the country have started enforcing dress codes for prom. As the father of a daughter who will one day likely go to prom, I would like to disagree–there is a part of me that wishes schools would ask young women to dress like nuns. Sometimes that seems like a sensible solution. Given that prom is a school sponsored event, it would only make sense that it be governed by some semblance of a dress code–particularly given that dresses seem be losing more and more fabric. I would like to think the more strict such a dress code is, the less I have to worry as a parent. That is an overly convenient assumption.
The mere necessity of such rules makes me wonder whether this dance is worth the time, money, and energy so many parents and teens invest in it–the average family with a high school student spent $807 on prom last year. Perhaps I am tempted to feel this way because I still remember what it was like going to prom as a young man surrounded scantily clad young women. Or maybe I just dread promiscuous dresses being marketed to my daughter. And yet this is the world we find ourselves in isn’t it? One in which both prom and promiscuity are deeply ingrained in lives of young people.
We might sanctimoniously keep our child from going to prom but the event is so deeply ingrained in teenage culture that doing so could mean losing them altogether. We can only “protect” them from such things for so long. Once they hit their teen years, they are mere months away from a whole host of freedoms we will no longer be physically present to help them navigate. No matter how fastidiously we have instilled a healthy sense of self worth in our daughters, they are going to be tempted to show more skin than we are comfortable with. So what do we do when this day comes?
The easy answer would be to lay down the law–pick out an appropriate dress for you daughter if she cannot pick it out herself. I think this is far to easy and misses deeper issues . Paul warned fathers against this in Ephesisans 6:14, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” So the issue here is not merely one of right and wrong. As parents we are after the hearts of our children not just their behavior. If we feel we must speak into the lives of our children, if we hope to do them good with our words, we must speak to them in love. This means having the courtesy to involve them in the decisions you are making, explaining your concerns and making them feel like part of the process. After all, we will blink and they will be out in the world making similar decisions on their own.
Speaking the truth in love to teenagers means being able to articulate your concerns. It means cultivating a relationship of trust and respect. Certainly it may mean laying down the law on occasion but such occasions might be fewer and farther between than we tend to think. Cold, calculated parenting might win the obedience of teens but it won’t soften their hearts. I have at least 14 years or so before I have to worry about what my daughter might wear to prom, so I won’t pretend to have great advice for any of you facing this dilemma. I will tell you, however, that I am determined to maintain a relationship of open communication, love, and respect with my daughter.