The $700 Prom Dress
It’s that season again. Excitement about the prom is mounting… and so is the list of expenses, the largest of which is often the dress. Yikes! Could it really be a $700 prom dress? Are you surprised by this number? Some of you are (like me), and some of you aren’t. I haven’t had a child in high school for ten years, so this isn’t on my radar anymore. I almost fell out of my chair when I heard a mom talking about her daughter seeing the perfect dress, the $700 prom dress. From her tone, it was clear she was conflicted about it.
Here are a few responses that come to mind to the request for the dress:
Yes - I can afford it, so why not?
No - I can’t afford it. Period.
?? - I can afford it, but that sure is a lot of money for a one-event dress.
I had no idea about this family’s ability to purchase this dress, but the dollar amount really isn’t the issue. Looking at this from a parenting perspective as opposed to a financial decision, here are some things to consider. (These suggestions are offered with the dress in mind, and apply to other money matters as well.) And, as you read, remember that preparation is key.
What are the guidelines in your home about who pays for what? If your daughter is expected to pay for the dress but that number is making you crazy, what is your role? You can certainly lecture her about moderation and how many hours it takes to earn that kind of money, but it will likely fall on deaf ears. She wants what (she thinks) everybody else is getting, and boy, “that dress really is beautiful, and it may be the only prom I ever go to!”
What you can do is help her become aware that she is making a choice today that will affect her ability to spend later on. Choices. Making choices and living with the outcomes are important skills and lessons. Maybe she can handle it all, no problem. And maybe one day you will gently have to say, “I’m sorry you don’t have money for ABC. What can you do about that?”
Your kids are resourceful. If the money just isn’t there and she doesn’t have the time or opportunity to earn it soon enough, there are tons of options. She’s grown up with a smartphone in her hand, and she knows how to use it. Knock-offs, sales, thrift stores, make your own. You’ve probably thought about every work-around; however, it’s more effective to let her figure it out. Problem-solving 101 will serve her well today and years from now. When kids want something badly enough, they figure it out.
What expectations or limits have you discussed beforehand? This is the kind of talk that ideally takes place before any arrangements or purchases are made, but it’s never too late to have the talk. Your child will always do better when she knows what to expect. Even if she’s upset about the parameters, it gives her time and head space to find a solution.
Are you feeling pressure (internal and/or external) to give your child ‘the experience of a lifetime?”
Show me a parent who hasn’t felt that. And if you’re feeling that kind of pressure, it’s a signal. Dig deeper and explore it.
What are your values? What is your vision for the person she will be one day? Does your child appreciate what is done for her and given to her? If she has come to expect that you always have an ‘open-wallet’ policy, how is that showing up in her attitude and behavior? (Or is it?)
If saying ‘yes’ feels right because she’s on track, doing and being all those things you value, then say ‘yes’. Go, do, buy and enjoy. If you’re not thrilled about what you see, go back to the vision. Will saying ‘yes’ bring out the best in her, or more of that unproductive attitude?
I’m not suggesting that you make the decision about the dress (or any purchase) a battleground issue. This is not a fight for control. It’s an opportunity to teach your child. It’s an opportunity for you to learn, too… about preparation and integrity and your higher purpose as a parent.
If this is a concern for you, are you ready to do this? You might jump right in, or this may not be your best time to work on it. If not, I encourage you to come back to these points. Use them to help you prepare for the next time. It won’t be the $700 prom dress again, but you know there will be a next time.
(For more support and a free parent guide, “5 Powerful Steps to Get Your Teen to Talk”, visit www.fernweis.com.)
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