Prom Commandments

As the mom of a teenage daughter, I occasionally feel like I am parenting on a separate planet from my friends who have teenage sons.  At Lisa’s house, sports are in full swing, and the mountains of standardized tests and specter of finals loom ahead.  At my house, we have all of that plus what can only be referred to as high season for the high school prom.

For Lisa, it has been three sons, three trips through 11th grade and barely a word about the prom.  Fifteen minutes to rent a tux, a five-minute phone call to order a corsage and yes, the sum total of time boys spent on the prom…twenty minutes. 

High school girls, gripped with prom fever, abide to an unwritten code about prom behavior that I believe is not all bad. Here are "Prom Commandments."

With the biggest attire decision a boy has to make is peaked lapel or shawl, there is little to talk about except for the invitation. The onus of asking, despite so much about our gender roles changing, still lies with boys so whom to ask and how, are the important questions concerning young men.

But at our house, talk of the high school prom pops up with my daughter’s group of friends with the regularity of a favorite TV show which, at times, the conversation resembles.

While I flip their post-sleepover pancakes and lean into the conversation, the girls talk about more than dates, dresses and updos. They recount episodes of “prama” and review and revise their plans for the big night. At each step, they carefully abide by an unwritten code about prom behavior that I believe is not all bad.

Here are what I have dubbed their “Prom Commandments:”

1. Be considerate

Think of the male ego in choosing the heel height that complements your date. Think of the photos which, in the words of one girl,  “you will be looking at for the rest of your life.

2. Be inclusive

It is not just you going to the prom but it is each of your friends. Much of the planning involves making sure that each girl has a date or, at least, a group to join.

3. Be original

If the girls in your school have created a Facebook group to which they post their dresses, check to see if the one you just fell in love with has already been taken.  With a few taps on the smart phone, the answer is available while you are still in the dressing room.

4. Feel pride

Prom is as much a photo-op as a night out, so your hair, nails, makeup… go ahead and schedule those appointments, but just don’t overdo it on this one big night.

5. Plan ahead

Shop for a dress early before the most popular colors and sizes get snatched up.  According to The New York Times, the red carpet at the Academy Awards in February  kicks off the prom dress shopping season.

6. Be respectful

The senior girls signal the dos and don’ts about length of dress, for example, and who rules the prom committee.  It is their last dance and they deserve center stage.

7. Be practical

If wearing a strapless dress, get it fitted so you’re not pulling it up the whole night.

8. Be polite

Say “yes” to any boy who asks you to be his date, especially if there is an audience when he invites you.

9. Be confident

If you don’t get invited by a boy in your school, take the initiative to ask  a date, especially if you have someone in mind from another school.

10. Be smart

Obey school rules. Do you really want to get in trouble the last month of high school? (I confess, this last one is mine but I believe the kids know this, too.)


Yikes! The New York Times has an article suggesting that to make a big splash when asking a girl, teenage boys are seeking out professionals, Prom is Easy: The Ask Takes Planning



  1. says

    great post mary. took me back to louisa’s prom and denise’s daughters proms as well. i loved shopping for the dresses and that moment when they come down the stairs, almost women still girls but stunning, so very stunning. one of life’s golden moments. i have to admit though, i felt the same way, when my son walked down the stairs in a tux with a white rose in the lapel. then i stayed up til i heard the keys in the lock hoping the grown up side won over the i’m still young enough to do dumb things side. thankfully, both times it did.

    • says

      Sandy, there is that moment when we see our high school kids dressed and so beautifully young yet reaching for adulthood. the prom is a moment for parents and kids, alike. Yes, hearing the key in the door may be our second favorite thing about the prom.

  2. Emily says

    As a mom to 3 boys, I loved reading about the “other half” of prom prep. We are not quite there yet as my oldest is a freshman (and at an all-boys school…hmm, I wonder how that works?). I do remember prom talk from my own teen years and most of those commandments still (or should still) apply today. It’s funny because one of my prom pics is posted on FB. Back in 1983, someone had snapped a pic of my 5 best friends and me — all in white dresses — and it was one of those “classic” shots. Your daughter is right, especially with the advent of FB, that she will be looking at those photos for the rest of her life! :) Enjoy the season!

    • says

      Thanks, Emily! Fun to experience this prolonged prom season with my daughter. Our son had a much shorter attention span for the whole affair.

  3. says

    My son just went to his first Prom this month. I picked out his suit. He came to the store and graced me with his presence to try it on, which he felt was unnecessary. On the day of the Prom he was outside playing basketball at 5:30, pictures were at 6:00. This was soooooooooooo different than the all day affair for my daughter, not to mention the remortgaging of the house for dresses, hair & nails. I actually felt like I should be doing something, but there was nothing to be done.

    • says

      Lisa and I enjoy comparing the boy-girl dynamic on a host of subjects. Prom is just one of many that you see the difference in your own household.

  4. Carpool Goddess says

    This gave me a nice chuckle, Mary Dell. Truer words have never been spoken. It took my son all of ten minutes to get ready, and as for my daughter, well, I don’t think I prepped that much for my own wedding 😉

    • says

      Linda, I know I didn’t prep as much as my daughter did for her prom as I did for the wedding – never thought about it like that!

  5. says

    Amazingly, my son was almost as involved in what he wore to his prom as my daughter was about hers. Who knew how worked up one could get about choosing between a white or black dinner jacket.

  6. says

    We’ve raised both a boy and girl through several prom seasons. Your ‘Commandments’ are spot-on, but with a son, I always added “No-means NO!”

    • says

      Yes, the boy and girl varieties do have different inflections- your addition to your son’s is very, very important.

  7. Katy @ Experienced Bad Mom says

    I love this. My daughter is 6 and I’m trying to pay attention to the messages she receives as she grows up, so different from my 9-year-old son. I thought your commandments were respectful yet fun and truthful at the same time. Visiting from the Sharefest!

    • says

      Katy, I am so glad you saw the “commandments” as fun and respectful – that was my sense, too. Proud of the girls for these instincts! Thanks for visiting!

  8. says

    Reading this made me a little sad…my oldest is transferring from his current private school to another for his junior year, which is all boys…completely by his own choice. I know they meet up with other private schools for dances, but I’m thinking there will be no prom. Their prom commandments seem quite considerate!

    • says

      Each school has its own customs and I bet that you son’s new school will have some sort of final dance tradition, regardless of what they call it. Thanks!

  9. Andrea says

    I love these “commandments.” I went to 5 proms in high school and still I would not have come up with these. #sitssharefest

    • says

      Five proms must be a record! Lots of eavesdropping over the last couple of years helped me collect these “commandments.” thanks!

  10. says

    I just wrote a post last night about our prom shopping expedition. Emma is going to look lovely tonight. I, on the other hand, feel like I am going to crack from all the rushing around and worrying that she be as satisfied as possible with everything. To think I have two more years of this?!


    Great blog post. Perhaps it should be posted on bulletin boards at high schools? (The commandments, I mean.)

    • says

      Best wishes to your daughter for a wonderful prom and, I hope you have a nice, calm night! Thanks for the kind words about the “commandments!”

  11. Gail says

    Number 8 (be polite) is not always the best policy, as some situations do not always merit a ‘yes’. Case in point: My daughter agreed to go to the prom with a boy who had recently broken up with a friend of hers. It was a decidedly uncomfortable prom for both my daughter (who felt slighted as she watched the boy moon over his ex) and the boy. My daughter decided she would rather have gone to the prom alone than with her date.

    You might also consider a set of commandments for boys. One that should be near the top (luckily not based on my kids’ experience): do not tell two girls that you will ask them to the prom and then choose later!

    • says

      It is easy to be caught off guard and put in an awkward situation like your daughter’s. Agree that the boys should not, under any circumstances, ask multiple dates!!!


  1. […] Prom pictures, I took conservatively a hundred. Slide a teenage boy into a tux and watch a miraculous transformation from scruffy adolescent to man-child in a matter of moments. I caught it all, and the bigger the event, the more I snapped the shutter. But the moment I want to relive is when my son arrived home late one night, weeks before the formal event, and recounted to me how he had gathered his friends to serenade his date into accepting his prom invitation. He had never really discussed girls with me and at the moment our relationship crossed yet another bridge towards the two adults we will be for so many years. We weren’t there yet, we are not yet there now, but that night we took a big step closer. […]