Rite of passage arrives for 10,000 Tucson teens
Parents: Your kids will spend twice as much as you did on it.
By SANDRA VALDEZ GERDES
The boutonnieres, the corsages, the dresses, the tuxes, the fancy dinners and dances, the limo. And don’t forget to book the mansion or five-star resort.
Let’s face it. The prom is a big deal to teenagers.
So big that most spend $250 to $500 per person on the prom, more than double what students spent just 20 years ago.
“It’s the one night when they get to experience being just a little more grown up,” said John Hanson, Desert View High School’s principal, who recalled his own prom was a class fund-raiser in the high school gymnasium.
Nearly every teen movie from the last 40 years, including “Grease,” “Footloose,” “Sixteen Candles,” “She’s All That,” “Never Been Kissed” and “American Pie,” refers to the prom as the quintessential night in a teenager’s life. And for the next few weeks, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 Tucson teens will experience this special time.
“It’s the finale of your four years of high school. It’s the last chance for everyone to be together and have a great time,” said Jamie Blanchard, Cholla High Magnet School’s student body president. Her class raised $58,000 in that time, and a large chunk will go to ensure that the prom exceeds everyone’s expectations, she said.
“It’s going to be a blast,” said Ashley Lowery, 18, who will drive Blanchard’s gal pals in her decorated minivan. Asked how she feels about not having a date, she said, “I think it’s great. I’d rather be with a group of girls than have to hang out with a boy I don’t like.”
“I believe it has the same meaning” as it did for previous generations, said Elizabeth Robertson, a University High School teacher and the senior class adviser. “It’s an enchanting rite of passage. It’s a special time to culminate four years of special friendships.”
But times have changed. The prom is no longer just a romantic formal for couples. Instead of girls waiting by the telephone to get asked, or guys risking rejection, many girls, such as Jessica Zuniga, 18, of Desert View, do the asking, and many guys, such as Mountain View senior J.C. Baird, go solo.
Both sexes say they go in groups of friends, as Blanchard and her pals will do tonight. The guys also go in large groups of girl-guy friend couples, as UHS senior Charles Kelly will do for his prom April 16 at the Z Mansion downtown.
Daniel Cazares, 18, a Pueblo senior, took a date to his prom March 13 and was invited by a different female friend to tonight’s Amphi prom. “I didn’t have a girlfriend, so instead of going with someone and worrying about breaking up just before, I thought I’d just go with a friend and have a good time,” he said.
His total cost is about $800, financed by his part-time job and family. “Well, I figure it’s your senior year, so you might as well,” said Cazares, who plans to attend Pima Community College next year.
The prom met Pueblo senior Gabriel Rodriguez’s expectations.
“The best part was the music and dancing, having fun and taking pictures with everybody.”
He said some kids were disappointed, but couldn’t pinpoint why. “It just goes by so fast.”
“This is a big milestone for them, and I think most kids just want to shine,” said Alvaro Alvarez, whose daughter Alana is a UHS senior. Most have never worn a tuxedo or been in a limousine. “And if parents have done a good job of educating the kids on how to take care of themselves and the perils of drinking and driving, it should be OK.”
He tells his daughter to be careful, especially on the road after curfew, to keep an eye on her beverage so it can’t be tampered with, watch her surroundings and beware of uninvited guests at private parties. Most important, she is to call home if she is in danger or needs a safe ride.
Parents also advise their children to use a buddy system and travel in groups.
And while it may not be harmful to teens, cost has become a big issue for students, Desert View Principal Hanson said. So often they improvise.
“Sometimes parents will cook a meal at home and have eight to 10 kids, and the parents will dress up as the waiters,” Hanson said.
Prom tickets alone can cost $65 to $95 a couple or $45 for an individual.
Some students opt out of the prom.
“I’d rather spend the money on computer parts,” said Alexander Danehy of Amphitheater High School, a self-proclaimed computer nerd who is still plotting to get his friends with girlfriends out of it as well. His father, Tom, is trying to persuade him to go.
“The secret to happiness is to know where you are in life and to act accordingly,” Tom Danehy said. “He won’t get another chance, so I tell him do it while you can.”
BEFORE-AFTER PROM ALTERNATIVES
• Host a dinner at one person’s home with parents playing the role of waiters. Or four couples can host a round-robin dinner party that night, driving to a different house each for the appetizer, soup and salad, entrée and dessert.
• Hire a limo for after the prom or ask a parent to rent a Hummer and serve as driver.
• Go to a Denny’s or a late-night coffee house.
• Ask parents to host a drug-free, all-night party with movies and games. (Keep party crashers away by creating a guest list in advance and checking guests at the door for liquor.)
• Find out if your school can host an after-prom basketball tournament or all-night locked-in event.
• Visit a video arcade, comedy club or something weird such as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
BEFORE PROM: (for parents)
• Encourage students to have fun but not to overhype the prom. It’s still just a dressed-up dance, not an earth-moving experience. So relax and enjoy.
• Use the prom as a teaching moment. Give clear directives. Tell your children what you expect of them and allow them to say what is on their mind without reacting negatively to questions. Give accurate, honest, short and simple answers to questions about sex and drugs.
• Let teens know you are ALWAYS available. Share as much as possible when the teens are around and tell them to call you if they are in trouble. (Studies show that teenagers who have a positive relationship with parents are less likely to engage in destructive behaviors.)
• Role-play with your teens on their refusal skills in case bad choices are offered.
• Make certain your teens know where they are going. Get directions before prom night.
• Host a pre-prom dinner party to meet your child’s date. Talk with other parents about their after-prom plans.
• Get names and phone numbers for the friends your child will be with and their parents. Find out where the prom is being held. Get the name and number of the limo company. Will they be attending after-prom parties and where? Will there be parent supervision?
PROM NIGHT (for students)
• Do not drink alcohol or do drugs. Students who attend school functions such as the prom under the influence of alcohol face the same penalties as if they had attended school under the influence.
• Keep an eye on your driver to make sure he does not drink alcohol.
• Take money and a cell phone with you in case of an emergency.
• Know your curfew and set times that you will call to check in.
• Dress in good taste. Long slits down the side or back of dresses and those with midriffs showing may be barred by the school dress code. Check with your school office.
• Tell the designated driver to wait a minute after the light turns green to enter the intersection, especially late at night.
Sources: Mothers Against Drunk Driving (www.madd.org), Students Against Destructive Decisions (www.sadonline.com), Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona, www.promspot.com.
Prom night more than dancing for some teens
Drinking and having sex are on the agenda of some, but not all, youths.
By SANDRA VALDEZ GERDES
While many teens interviewed by the Tucson Citizen believe prom is a night of dancing, eating and staying up with their friends until dawn, nearly all said they know peers who view prom night as a time of drinking and debauchery.
While parents trust their own children, they still worry about underage drinking, drinking and driving and sexual promiscuity that occurs after the prom. They also know that in today’s society those issues plague teens and parents every day, not just on prom night.
According to a book released in February, “Are You Normal, About Sex, Love and Relationships,” by Bernice Kanner, almost half of teens (45 percent) expect to go all the way on prom night. More than 1 in 4 of those anticipate doing it in a rented hotel room while 23 percent expect to do it in the back of a car.
Daniel Cazares, 18, a wrestler at Pueblo who admits he is not a virgin, has but one expectation of his date on prom night. “I like dancing, that’s my thing, so I expect my date to want to dance the whole night,” Cazares said.
Students Against Destructive Decisions (formerly Students Against Driving Drunk) reports that a majority of teens say they drink, including 75 percent of 11th graders. More than one-third of teens say they use drugs, and more than half say they have engaged in sexual activity with 38 percent reporting they have had sexual intercourse.
“I don’t think that people expect to lose their virginity on prom night,” said Cholla High School senior Jonathan C. Hart, which he calls a cliché. “I think most of them already have. I’m sure people do have sex on prom night, but I’m sure most of the people who do have already had experience with it.”
Israel “Izzy” Martinez, a Cholla football player, agreed. His mom has given him the talk and told him to use protection, said the teen, who is not a virgin. But he doesn’t anticipate needing protection on prom night since he is going in a large group and his date is “just a friend.” He does plan to party, however, will probably drink and believes a lot of teens will be joining him.
Gabriel Rodriguez, a Pueblo High senior, attended his prom March 13, and said most students “just want to go to dinner, prom, have fun and eat at IHOP afterward,” but there are those groups that “go to dinner, but after prom they get drunk and do what they do.
“I go to parties, but I don’t get wasted or anything,” said Rodriguez who has a full academic scholarship to attend the University of Arizona next year. He joins a pack of teenagers who don’t drink or do drugs because they are focused on sports and academics.
Gary Panttila, 20, and Amy Walinski, 18, are among the students who don’t plan to drink alcohol or have sex after their Canyon Del Oro prom.
“We can’t go out (dancing or to bars) anywhere in town, so that’s the night we’re going to boogie,” said Panttila, 20, who missed his own prom at CDO. As a body builder, he does not drink and plans to wait until marriage to have sex, he said.
“I’ve been waiting for a princess to take to prom and now I have one, and she’s going to look beautiful. It sounds cheesy, but that’s just the way I feel.”
In 2003, the number of alcohol-related collisions involving youths 18 and younger:
Pima County: 59
In the three-month “prom” period from March 1 to May 31, 2003.
Pima County: 17
The average number of crashes every three months is 111 statewide. In Pima County, the average number of crashes per quarter is 14.7. So there is a slight increase here during prom season.
Source: Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Burdick
PHOTO CAPTIONS: VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen
Decked out in prom dresses are Cholla High School seniors (from left) Ashley Lowery, 18; Kellie Walker, 17; Sarah Saul, 18; Jamie Blanchard, 18; and Daniela Delingat, 18. “It’s the finale of your four years of high school,” Blanchard said.
Cholla senior Jonathan Hart, 18, (right) helps Kellie Walker, 17, with her prom dress. Looking on is Daniela Delingat (center), 18. Cholla’s senior class raised $58,000 in four years and a chunk will go the prom.
XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen
Pueblo High senior Danny Cazares, trying on his tuxedo, is spending $800 to attend two proms this year. “I figure it’s your senior year, so you might as well,” he said.