Heidi Stevens: What we take away from our kids--and ourselves--when we turn into the dress police at prom

Heidi Stevens, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Your kids look so beautiful. They really do.

You post photos of them going to prom and going to graduation and going to end-of-the-year banquets and all of these milestone events that will forever shape their childhoods and punctuate their memories and inform their futures, and I see their joy and affection and pride and really gorgeous hair and I think: My gosh. I hope they know—truly, in their bones, know—how wonderful they look.

I hope they get through the whole event—the getting ready, the photos, the thing itself—without wishing they looked some other way, some other shape, some other size, some other anything. I hope they have the time of their lives.

I hope they don’t read the Facebook comments.

Because inevitably, invariably, there is a well-intentioned grown-up (or five) looking past the joy and affection and pride and really gorgeous hair and wringing their hands over the dresses. Too short. Too tight. Too revealing. Too much!

And I just find it kind of deflating, honestly. And beside the point. And an unnecessary departure from the stuff that matters: the friendships, the rituals, the young lives unfolding in front of us—unburdened, at least for a few hours, by AP exams and rejection letters and financial aid applications and protests and all the other things that take up so many of their hours and days and months.


I guess I could stop reading the Facebook comments.

But I also know that a few (a bunch?) of those smiling kids hear those comments in person. Maybe from someone they love. Maybe from someone they live with. Likely from someone who means well. And I know that’s a tale as old as time—teenagers pushing wardrobe boundaries, grown-ups pushing back. And I know we get to set our own value systems and expect our kids to adhere to them.

Still, I wonder if these moments can also be an invitation to examine some of what we take away from our kids—and ourselves—when we become the dress police.

“Anytime there’s an opportunity for people to dress up and celebrate—whether it’s prom, whether it’s a graduation, whatever it is—some parents are up in arms about the possibility of what could go wrong with what their daughter chooses to wear,” said parent educator Michelle Icard, author of “Eight Setbacks That Can Make a Child a Success: What to Do and What to Say to Turn ‘Failures’ into Character-Building Moments.”


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