Proms and Rites of Passage

Gloves made of bullet ants, anyone?

Rites of passage are ritual events marking a person’s transition from one chapter of life to another. Transitions can be such things as puberty, coming of age, marriage, and death. Different societies and cultures have different traditional rite of passage ceremonies.

During some research, I found an interesting article, “Ten Bizarre Rites of Passage.” (Not reading for the faint of heart.)

There, Jamie Frater shares one rite of passage from the Satere-Mawe Tribe in the Amazon.

This Amazon tribe performs an initiation ritual where young men place their hands into mittens filled with hundreds of bullet ants. The bite is approximately 20 times more painful than being stung by a wasp. The tribal men will gather the ants and submerge them into a solution that temporarily knocks them out. The ants are then woven into the mittens. Upon waking up, the men will place their hands into the mittens and dance for 10 minutes. The ant’s sting prevents the body from protecting itself from pain. The body begins to convulse, and the pain can last up to 24 hours. The crazy thing is, many men will repeat this ritual many times to prove their manhood.

bullet ant glove

I share this because high school proms are now being touted as rites of passage. No, we don’t ask our teens to subject themselves to bullet ants. (A huge relief to them, I’m sure.)

CNN Money reports that:

With traditions like debutante balls falling out of fashion and young people getting married later in life, prom has grown in importance and people are willing to spend more on the big night, said Kit Yarrow, a consumer research psychologist.

“Prom is the new wedding,” Yarrow said. “I think that every society has to have a rite of passage into adulthood for young people, and prom has become that.”

prom dressThe article highlights the money parents and teens are willing to put out for prom. The national average is now $1,139. (Up from $807 in 2011) I live in the Midwest, where evidently we are cheapies, spending only an average of $722 for prom.

The biggest part of the expense is the dress. Including shoes, alterations, and the original purchase, teens can easily spend over $600 for their outfits. Guys get off easier, but they spend $100 to $200 on tux rental.

How expensive should rites of passage be?

To say things have changed since I attended prom is putting it mildly. I’d love to hear your thoughts: Do you consider prom a rite of passage? What is your opinion about the average reported cost of prom?

And as always, thanks for stopping by.


P.S. If you’re looking for a clean, contemporary teen read, you might want to check out Along Came Jordan–just released last week!



Filed under Teen Life

14 responses to “Proms and Rites of Passage

  1. I read the same article and I was astounded at how expensive proms have become. I know I didn’t spend that much on my two sons, but daughters are more expensive, with dresses and shoes and hair to get done. We paid for a limo to make sure the kids all got to and from the prom safely.

    It’s definitely become a rite of passage, though not for everyone. Not all teens go to the prom for various reasons. My parents were very strict, and I wasn’t allowed to attend the prom. Many of my students don’t get to attend, but they have quinceñeras, which are just as dressy and fun.

    I love the picture of the fiery dress in this post!

    • We raised our kids overseas, so my daughter had a quinceñera, too! After I read the article, I asked my students if it was on spot. There were a lot of nods.

      I love that dress, too! 🙂 Thanks for commenting!

  2. Three of my four daughters went to prom. I know I didn’t spend nearly that much. I bought them dresses off the rack (gasp!). We didn’t have a lot of money back then, but they all seemed to have a great time anyway. Coincidentally, my youngest daughter who was not particularly popular, won prom queen – a victory for all the less popular kids who voted for her. She always laughs at that book “Art Geeks and Prom Queens” because she was both.

  3. This post made me incredibly nervous because I have three daughters who will have to go to prom. And two sons. Yikes. They better get married in those prom gowns!
    I loved the information about the Amazon tribe. I guess teens today should be glad that doesn’t have to happen, but I’m kinda torn. I think I’d rather my kids put their hands in bullet ants-infested mittens than pay that much on prom. LOL.
    Great post!

    • Ha!! I hear you! Seriously, I about dropped when I saw those numbers. But then again, I’m not too fond of the ant glove idea either. I guess I should be very grateful that both my kids are out of high school. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. stephscottil

    Stopping by from the YARWA board! It seems like Americans like to consumerize every rite of passage, holiday, or occasion, so no surprise that prom has turned into what it is. What’s refreshing though, is there will always be kids who shirk convention and buy thrift store gowns, or go an alternative route where the focus isn’t on buying the most expensive dress. Still, I get that even some of the arty kids might feel pressure to fit in and look like everyone else.

    I imagine the same people that spend $1000 on prom are the ones who spend upwards of $25k on a wedding. Those of us who prefer not to go into debt over spectacle will probably never fit into those CNN stats!

    • I was thinking about wedding costs, too, when I read that article. I have a friend who got married fifteen years ago and her parents are still paying off the wedding.

      One of my students was thrilled because she got her dress at a thrift shop. More power to her! 😀

  5. My 17-yr-old blew off his junior prom this year, threatening not to go to prom next year to which I made him pinky swear to go–no matter what. Reluctantly, he complied but what a task it was to explain to him all about the rite of passage business. Geesh!!

    • Hi Tuere! I’ve been surprised by how many of my students have chosen not to go. When I ask them why not, they tell me it’s boring to just dance and stand around. Then I have other students who want more than anything to go, but their parents won’t let them… Interesting mix. Thanks for sharing!

      • Well my son gave me this whole disinterest-in-being-around-insecure-wasted-&-high-kids spiel to which my sister (who also didn’t go to her prom) lauded him for. I went stag, telling my date @ the 11th hr this so my bff–who got dumped @ the last minute–could accompany me. It was a blast!

  6. Ha! Sounds fun! Back in my prom days oh-so-long-ago, it was unheard of to go without a date. I love that it’s okay now. I have a group of girl students going together this weekend. I think I have some guy students going solo, too. So refreshing and inclusive! 🙂

  7. Hi Brenda! I liked your post! Wow . . . gone are the days when finding a pretty dress under 100 dollars and planning to wear it over and over was the standard! (I’m frankly grateful my daughter loved vintage and thrift store purchases!) You know, I’m not looking at prom as the new rite of passage (I’m biased- my entire blog is dedicated to rites of passage for girls in more of a mentoring model- and yes, much cheaper!); for me, it is too much pressure and over-commercialized. I’m all for the slow, beauty of a long-term circle of relationships teaching a smoother ride through a rite of passage, rather than one blazing (sometimes disappointing) night . . . .

    • Hi Gina! Thanks so much for sharing. I just got back from prom, and one of my students proudly informed me that she got her dress for twelve dollars at a thrift shop. More power to her! All the girls were gorgeous. (And the boys, too! Ha!) I’m eager what they’ll share with me on Monday at school…

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