You've made it to the end of high school. Well, not you, but your kids have made it, and you -- er, they -- are almost home free.
But not before prom. Prom, one of the seminal events of high school, the last big hurrah before graduation -- and what a hurrah teens hope it'll be.
The dress, the tux, the hair, the limo, the friends, the date, the photos, the party, the after-party, the coed sleepover that everyone's going to, the parents (you?) who are so unfair.
"If I had only one thing to say to parents, it would be to start talking to their teens three to four weeks ahead of time," said Robyn Mehlenbeck, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University Medical School. "Waiting until the day or week of prom sets parents and teens up to argue and be in conflict because teens are likely to be more emotional."
Talking, mind you, means listening, not lecturing. An 18-year-old prom-goer about to fly the coop may bristle at being told what to do.
But teens still need limits, so parents should feel free to set some rules, Mehlenbeck said. The key is to make it a conversation, to welcome suggestions and convey trust that your teen is as interested in making it a safe, responsible night as you are.
"Let's imagine there are 100 units of worry around prom," said Mike Riera, author of "Staying Connected to Your Teenager" and head of Redwood Day School in Oakland, Calif. "The last thing parents need to be doing is carrying around 99 units of that worry. The kids should take some of them."
Here's a guide to how parents might tackle some common prom dramas.
The bottom line
Money is tight, but there's no way your teen is missing prom. Tickets alone cost $80, and then there's the dress, tuxedo, limo and pressure to keep up with the Joneses. Last year, girls spent, on average, $537 on their prom night experience, according to a survey by Seventeen magazine.
What to do: Make your teen responsible for devising a budget that should be consistent with the family's values about money, Riera said. Discuss who is expected to pay for what: For example, suggest that you'll pay for the dress or tux if your teen pays for the prom tickets, or vice versa. Riera said kids should cover at least part of the expenses because "it's important for kids to learn delayed gratification."
You're wearing that?
Your daughter has found the perfect dress -- with a neckline that plunges to her bellybutton.
What to do: Vampy prom attire is in: Heels are high, hemlines are short and spandex is tight. So girls feel pressure. Go dress-shopping as a fun parent-daughter outing so that you can weigh in and find a mutually acceptable outfit, Mehlenbeck said. If you offer to pay for the dress, your opinion should have even more leverage.
The vanishing date
Your moping son confesses, after some prodding, that the girl he wanted to take as his date has turned him down. Now he's considering skipping prom altogether.
What to do: First, remind your teen that it's perfectly fine to go with a friend. In fact, most kids who end up going with friends have a better time, Mehlenbeck said.
This also is an opportunity to recognize that your teen's greatest prom concerns (finding a date, looking his best, having the time of his life) often are different from yours (making sure he gets back in one piece).
Lend a friendly ear: Ask what he hopes to get out of prom and how he wants it to be memorable. If he says something that makes you anxious, just keep listening.
"You're showing them that you're much more than a cop," Riera said. "If you become their sounding board, your relationship gets better."
Prom is shaping up to be the most magical night of your daughter's life -- until she wakes up with a zit, has a fight with her best friend, regrets her updo and discovers that Prince Charming can't manage to get a decent corsage, let alone dance.
What to do: Be aware of your teen's impossibly high prom expectations, which, combined with raging hormones and a penchant for drama, can result in severe disappointment. Even if things go smoothly, the quest to have the best night ever drives some teens to push the limits of booze or sex to make it more "special," Riera said.
Remind your teen it's just one night, and talk to her about her expectations. By talking it out, teens often realize that what they're really seeking from prom is quality time with friends and a taste of feeling like a grown-up.
After the prom, everyone's going to Sherry's house for the all-night after-party.
What to do: Say, "Great! You won't mind if I call Sherry's folks." Call to make sure the parents will be there, let them know you're paying attention and find out about the eating, drinking and sleeping arrangements.
Still not comfortable? Tell your teen it's not something you want him to be exposed to, making clear that it's not your teen you don't trust; you just don't trust the situation, Mehlenbeck said. Most teens will respect rules that are based on love and care, she said.
If you are ruining your teen's life by not allowing him to attend the party of the century (a likely argument), consider a compromise. Request that he call you every couple of hours -- at 1 a.m., 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., say -- and agree that if he misses a check, you will pick him up, Mehlenbeck said.
Sex and drugs
Your teen's classmates are a boozy crowd; you're concerned that kids will be drinking. Not to mention sex.
What to do: Broach the drinking conversation like this, Riera suggests: "There's a decent chance kids will be irresponsible during prom. How will you be responsible about being irresponsible?" Tell them if they find themselves in a sticky situation, they can call you for help with no fear of consequences.
The sex conversation should be ongoing, but if you feel prom night poses additional risks, talk to your teen again.
They may end up having sex with a date they don't know that well because they're seeking some ultimate emotional experience, Riera said. Explain the difference between sex and intimacy, and tell a cautionary tale about prom-sex regret if you feel it would help. "You don't have much control, but you do have a lot of influence," Riera said.
Your teen isn't going to prom, either because she doesn't want to, can't afford it or doesn't have anyone to go with.
What to do: Who needs prom? Plan a family night on prom night, and have your kid invite a friend over who also is not going, Mehlenbeck said. You're giving them an activity to look forward to and sending the message that they're not the only one ditching prom.