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Prom Pressure
Published Friday, May 12, 2017


Prom is a big deal for teens nurtured on celluloid fantasies. “I’ve been thinking about prom since I was a little kid watching ‘Pretty in Pink’,” says Sarah Mueller, a high school thespian in Durham, whose everyday garb is a baggy, black T-shirt and jeans. Prom is the first time she’ll wear a long dress, she says.

Many teens perceive the iconic high school dance through a lens of grand entrances, musical moments and happy endings. Through social media, that lens is magnified, says psychologist Laura Landerman of LaMora Psychological Associates in Nashua.  And amidst all the ballyhoo of flowers, limos and glam couture, not everyone’s story is magical.

Prom rituals haven’t changed much since the 1930s and 40s when they arrived on the high school scene as scaled-down versions of Victorian debutante balls. Yet despite modern efforts towards inclusiveness, says Landerman, proms shine a spotlight on who’s cool and who’s not. That leaves some teens ostracized, stressed and anxious. There’s a reason Stephen King’s prom night horror tale, Carrie, still endures.

Popularity contests are nothing new. But now, after kids and their families gather before the prom to take photos, they document these moments on social media. At this stage of adolescence, teens encounter immense pressure to fit in. If they’re not part of the group posted on Facebook or Snapchat sharing fun and laughs, they may harbor deep disappointment that their high school experiences don’t measure up.

Nevertheless, Landerman is encouraged that some norms have evolved. Students no longer need dates. They can go alone or with a group of unpaired friends. Dates can bring same-sex partners. And dressing down is acceptable, too.

More prom stories:
Prom on a Budget

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