Teen Helicopter Parenting Involves Bribing Kids Into Supervised After-Prom Parties With Promises Of Cars And iPads

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shutterstock_107183204I don’t pretend to have all the answers when it comes to parenting, but something about the idea of bribing teens to stay out of trouble seems futile at best, overbearing at worst. I’d rather see a parent hovering over their toddler at the playground than parents of teens pouring extensive amounts of time and money trying to distract their kids on prom night. Yet that’s exactly what parents, schools and other organizations across the country claim works to keep their annual celebration safer. It sounds, instead, like teen helicopter parenting.

The teens are wooed with promises of extravagant door prizes to encourage attendance at supervised, alcohol-free “after parties” in an effort to keep them away from wild private parties after the last dance at the official prom is over. Some examples of the over-the-top spoils dangled in front of these high schoolers in exchange for their good behavior:

  • A Pennsylvania student will be presented with the keys to a black Honda Civic.
  • In Roanoke, Virginia, one student will drive away with a new car and two others will get iPads.
  • At Allen High School in Allen, Texas, outside Dallas, students will receive two $500 college scholarships, eight $250 dollar scholarships, several computers, a party for 20 at a local barbecue restaurant and tickets to a Texas Rangers baseball game.
  • A student from Unionville High School in Unionville, Pennsylvania, drives away with a high-quality used car donated by a local dealership.
  • At the Johnson City, New York, High School after prom-party, organizers will give away microwaves, laptops and television sets. Every attendee is given a suitcase with $100 worth of merchandise.
  • Derby High School in Derby, Kansas, outside Wichita, booked an entire amusement park for its after-prom party.

Adults involved claim the success of these programs by pointing to their high attendance rate and the increase in their popularity with each passing year. Who wouldn’t show up for free stuff? Parents, schools and civic organizations are spending tons of money and time to distract teens for one night, but there is no proof that their ultimate goal is being achieved: keeping the kids out of “trouble” — namely away from sex and alcohol according to students and parents alike.

“This is so great. It gives kids something to do besides bad stuff. It gives them a place to go,” said Victoria Balevre, 17, a junior at Derby High School who attended the amusement park party on April 20.

“I know what I did after my prom, and I certainly don’t want my kids doing that,” New York parent [Kathleen] Neiss said. “This party keeps them off the streets and out of trouble.”

I hate to point out the fact that you can’t keep your children from engaging in behavior that you don’t approve of just by keeping them preoccupied on prom night.  In a matter of months or a year these kids are going to graduate and move out to live on their own. If you can’t trust them to put into action the morals and lessons they have been taught for the past sixteen to eighteen years, is hovering over them on prom night going to be the difference between the good path and the bad one?  What about graduation night?  College orientation night?

It’s true that the stakes are higher on prom night than just a regular night in the life of a teenager.

“Proms are a lot like a rite of passage in America,” said Sherry Hamby, research professor of psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South in Tennessee. “It signals your maturity as a sexual person.”

Having safe entertainment options could avoid some common teen mistakes — or possibly just delay them until the next opportunity.  Perhaps it’s time to stop hovering, keep talking, and start trusting. Save the door prizes for the valedictorian, the students who exemplify commitment to public service, or perhaps the ones who show dedication to leadership through the years — not just the ones who show up at your supervised after-prom party.

(photo: andersphoto/Shutterstock)