Every Tuesday in The Minority Report, Drew Dixon takes a look at trends in youth culture and offers some biblical wisdom for navigating them.

“It’s not like they’re asking you to dress like a nun or anything,” says Ellison Garrett a 17 year old junior at Lee County High School in Leesburg Georgia as schools across the country have started enforcing dress codes for prom. As the father of a daughter who will one day likely go to prom, I would like to disagree–there is a part of me that wishes schools would ask young women to dress like nuns. Sometimes that seems like a sensible solution. Given that prom is a school sponsored event, it would only make sense that it be governed by some semblance of a dress code–particularly given that dresses seem be losing more and more fabric. I would like to think the more strict such a dress code is, the less I have to worry as a parent. That is an overly convenient assumption.

The mere necessity of such rules makes me wonder whether this dance is worth the time, money, and energy so many parents and teens invest in it–the average family with a high school student spent $807 on prom last year. Perhaps I am tempted to feel this way because I still remember what it was like going to prom as a young man surrounded scantily clad young women. Or maybe I just dread promiscuous dresses being marketed to my daughter. And yet this is the world we find ourselves in isn’t it? One in which both prom and promiscuity are deeply ingrained in lives of young people.

We might sanctimoniously keep our child from going to prom but the event is so deeply ingrained in teenage culture that doing so could mean losing them altogether.  We can only “protect” them from such things for so long. Once they hit their teen years, they are mere months away from a whole host of freedoms we will no longer be physically present to help them navigate. No matter how fastidiously we have instilled a healthy sense of self worth in our daughters, they are going to be tempted to show more skin than we are comfortable with. So what do we do when this day comes?

The easy answer would be to lay down the law–pick out an appropriate dress for you daughter if she cannot pick it out herself. I think this is far to easy and misses deeper issues . Paul warned fathers against this in Ephesisans 6:14, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” So the issue here is not merely one of right and wrong. As parents we are after the hearts of our children not just their behavior. If we feel we must speak into the lives of our children, if we hope to do them good with our words, we must speak to them in love. This means having the courtesy to involve them in the decisions you are making, explaining your concerns and making them feel like part of the process. After all, we will blink and they will be out in the world making similar decisions on their own.

Speaking the truth in love to teenagers means being able to articulate your concerns. It means cultivating a relationship of trust and respect. Certainly it may mean laying down the law on occasion but such occasions might be fewer and farther between than we tend to think. Cold, calculated parenting might win the obedience of teens but it won’t soften their hearts. I have at least 14 years or so before I have to worry about what my daughter might wear to prom, so I won’t pretend to have great advice for any of you facing this dilemma. I will tell you, however, that I am determined to maintain a relationship of open communication, love, and respect with my daughter.


  1. And I hope you send her to a school that recognizes the difference between the bodily feature created by the tying off of the umbilical cord after birth and the arm of the military concerned with aquatic-based operations.

  2. Good article, but I slightly disagree with this statement: “We might sanctimoniously keep our child from going to prom but the event is so deeply ingrained in teenage culture that doing so could mean losing them altogether.”

    If the worst thing you ever did was to deny your children the “right” to go to the prom, I seriously doubt if you would risk “losing them altogether.” Now, if it was part of a pattern of arbitrarily saying “no” to your child for no good reason, then perhaps you are at risk of losing your children altogether…but not simply for this one “offense.”

    When I was younger, I loved dancing. I had lots of fun at my prom. But was it a life-changing event? Not really. If I had be “denied” this event, I seriously doubt that it would make me reject my parents. The people I went with (including my date) were already my friends (girlfriend, in the case of my date) and had I missed this particular event, I doubt if our friendship would have been destroyed or even damaged.

    I cannot judge another parent on this decision. I think there can be bad reasons to deny your children the prom, and bad reasons to let them (including “my children will hate me forever if I don’t let them go.”) But there can be good reasons to do either. It also depends on your child; I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all “prom policy” for Christian parents or Christian teens. Whatever decision you make, always consider how this decision will help or hinder your child’s walk with Christ. And yes, that includes how it affects your child’s attitude towards you. But letting popular “teen culture” to be the driving element on the decision I think is giving too much power to the world.

  3. Contrarian Feminist here (Hi Drew): How can a dress be promiscuous? I keep hearing this term, but, upon looking it up in the dictionary to make sure I wasn’t crazy, I don’t see how clothing can be “promiscuous”:

    1.characterized by or involving indiscriminate mingling or association, especially having sexual relations with a number of partners on a casual basis.
    2.consisting of parts, elements, or individuals of different kinds brought together without order.
    3.indiscriminate; without discrimination.
    4.casual; irregular; haphazard.

    At least, not “promiscuous” in the way you’re intending – which is sexualized immodesty.

    I think this speaks to a larger problem: we would never describe a man’s clothing as rakish or libertine-esque, for example. A man himself might be rakish, but never the clothing. But with women, we throw out “promiscuous skirt” or “slutty dress,” as though the clothing itself is committing a sexual act. And that becomes a problem when, even by our language, we’re anthropomorphizing the woman’s clothing while ignoring the action of the woman inside them.

  4. Well, what would be a more egalitarian approach to prom dress codes? To insist that formal dress for women reveal no more skin than formal dress for men (i.e. head and hands)? Or that formal wear for men allow as much skin to show as formal wear for women does (i.e. calves, knees, back, shoulders, upper chest)? I’m joking, of course. The underlying issues are far more complicated than that.

    As a father of young daughters, I’m already having to deal with what kinds of clothes are appropriate for wearing out of the house. I suppose that if the first time a parent puts his or her foot down on clothes is senior prom, then it’s probably too late. My hope–perhaps overly optimistic–is that if habits of dress are formed now, my daughters will be able to make their own intelligent decisions about clothing in high school without much guidance from me.

    There’s a broader economic issue at stake, though. As a professor in a department in which the majority of the majors are young women, I hear a lot about formal wear this time of year. One of the biggest complaints I hear from my Christian students is that they can’t find formal dresses (or swimwear, for that matter) that they are comfortable wearing in public. One would think that formal wear would span a wide range of, shall we say, “cover,” since there are quite a few young women who want dresses that cover more, not less skin than last year’s dresses did. Supply and demand in the fashion world is a tricky thing, because the suppliers often create demand for certain fashions merely by virtue of producing and promoting them. However, there is definitely a niche-market for modest formal wear–however we define “modest” in this context. This sounds to me like a good business opportunity for some fashion entrepreneur.

  5. @Daniel

    I am just starting out in the whole parenting thing. I still have a lot to learn, I may have over shot in that remark as I certainly don’t mean to make prom and end all/be all type of event. I simply wanted to argue for a type of parenting that works to lead our children in a way that respects them enough to explain the motives behind our actions. Teens truly are just a few months from being out on their own which means we need to really make sure we explain the impetus behind our actions lest they be completely disregarded in a few short months.

    I agree with Steven S. I hope by the time my daughter is interested in prom, she will be mature enough to make wise decisions about her dress without any input from me.

    @Dianna – it was a bad title, I realize that. I was trying to be clever/punny. I should probably never try to be either.

    I would like to write a similar article for young men because I do think much of this problems falls on them. Anyway there is much that could be said on this issue and I won’t pretend I did it justice. I really just wanted to encourage parents to engage their teens rather than just lay down the law.

  6. Hi Drew,

    Sorry–I hope I didn’t come down too heavy with my comments! I really did appreciate your thoughts about this issue…as a father of young son and daughter (I’m just starting myself, too!) these questions interest me. The whole prom, Quinceañera, or whatever sub-culture “coming out” events that we celebrate are important to both parents and soon-to-adults. We as Christians should really question what values these events communicate, and while not completely being out of the world, how can we be in the world in the best way to serve Christ.


  7. I think parents should be frank with their teens about the desire to be sexually attractive and what the proper context (within marriage, imo) for that is and why.
    There is a redemptive plan for marriage to reflect grace in a fallen world.
    Is the paradigm in which women gain favor, position, or power by overt sex appeal or cosmetic appeal a redemptive paradigm or one more reflective of the Fall?

Comments are now closed for this article.