Prom, short for promenade, has become a traditional rite of passage for American juniors and seniors in high school. Prom is a formal, school-sponsored dance usually occurring near the end of the school year. Whether or not Christians should go to prom is a perennial debate.
Prom’s history dates back to the 1800s as a response to the debutante balls of the rich and influential. Parents admired the poise demonstrated by the children of the wealthy and created a similar event for their own children as a means of instilling etiquette and social graces. The first proms were heavily chaperoned and designed to help graduating seniors transition into the adult world. Early proms were held in a school’s decorated gymnasium or auditorium. Young men and women dressed up in their best attire and learned to interact with grace and poise in a formal setting.
Unfortunately, teens today often associate the word prom with alcohol, drugs, overspending, and sensuality. High schoolers and their parents sometimes spend hundreds of dollars on sequined dresses, tuxedoes, limousines, corsages, dinners, and after-parties. While not true in all cases, most public high school proms have little adult oversight during prom and no control at all over what transpires afterward. Due to prom’s reputation for wasteful spending, vulgar dancing, alcohol consumption, and sexual experimentation, many Christians wonder: should we be involved with prom at all (see Ephesians 5:3–5)?
Prom can definitely be a temptation pool, and that’s a big concern for Christians serious about holy living (see 1 Peter 1:15–16). At the same time, a lot of other places are also rife with temptation. Malls usually have a store with an “adult” section in the back and at least one store displaying large-format pictures of models in lingerie. Given such temptations, should teens avoid malls? Or should they be allowed to make the decision to control what shops they enter and what they look at? Stealing from any given store may also be a temptation, but does that mean teens should avoid shopping altogether?
For Christian teens who are considering prom attendance, here are some good questions to ask and answer honestly:
Why do I want to attend prom? Is it because everyone is expected to attend? Am I trying to be part of the “in crowd”? Peer pressure rarely leads down a righteous path. We as believers are not called to fit in; we are called to stand out (see 2 Corinthians 6:17).
What temptations will I be exposing myself to? Is it wiser to avoid those temptations altogether?
Do I feel pressured to wear immodest clothing? See 1 Timothy 2:9–10.
Will the dancing at prom inflame the lust of the flesh?
Have I sought godly counsel about this decision?
Will I be tempted to lie about my activity to my parents?
What about my testimony? Will attending prom increase my influence among my unsaved friends, or will it damage my testimony for Christ?
If the prom is held on Saturday night, will I attend church the next morning? If I skip church because I’m too tired, what does that say about my priorities?
If I decide to attend prom, how will I respond with grace and humility to those who criticize my decision?
If I decide not to attend prom, how can I explain my reasons in a way that will honor Christ?
In response to the dangers of the modern prom, many parents sponsor formal banquets, dinners, or trips for their high schoolers in order to provide a safer, more regulated alternative. Other parents volunteer to chaperone at proms and organize an after-prom event to ensure a safe environment. Many Christian teens opt out of prom altogether and use the money they would have spent on that to enjoy activities that won’t tempt them to sin. This can be a healthier alternative for many reasons, one of which is that those young Christian men and women are practicing courage and conviction that will serve them well in their adult years.
As in all things, Christians who attend prom should only do so for the glory of God and to encourage or validate their witness for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:31). If attending prom will create sexual or material lust (Matthew 5:28; 1 Timothy 6:6), cause someone else to stumble (Romans 14:21), or involve unwise financial spending (Proverbs 3:9), then it should be avoided. We are called to freedom, but we must not turn that freedom into an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13).
Considering attendance at a prom can give Christian teens a chance to discern what is right, to stand for their faith, and to be aware of their personal weaknesses. Is it possible for Christian teens to enjoy prom in a perfectly innocent manner and still have fun without indulging in sinful behavior? Yes. But they need to know the traps that await them, know themselves, and know their limitations. “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” (Ephesians 5:15–17).