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Editor’s blog: The prom, and Facebook

If a young person goes to the prom, but no photo is posted on Facebook, did it really happen?

I ask this as stand-in mother of a teen, or maybe I should say a mother-of-a-teen in training.  We are hosting a teenaged exchange student from Serbia this year.

Prom became a dominant focus not long after the New Year arrived. We spent a good deal of time – with my 8-year-old daughter – thumbing through a Seventeen magazine picking out our favorite dresses. She ended up going with a friend to the Legacy High School (Broomfield) prom at Infinity Park in Glendale, dancing the night away in a room tricked out like Las Vegas where they could watch themselves dance on the big screen. (And to think, my prom was held in a crudely decorated “cafetorium” at my high school). She was the most beautiful girl there. (Sorry, young ladies, but it’s my motherly prerogative to say that).

She wore an off-white, Grecian-style gown with a gold-beaded waistband and golden straps that crossed elegantly across her back. Her thick black hair shined and swished as she danced and posed for pictures, which brings me to the central point of this post: the compulsion to post images on Facebook as soon as possible.

Time to upload!

Sometimes I wonder if this generation does things to experience them – or simply to have photos to post on Facebook. (I sense the eyes of a thousand teens rolling). If Facebook didn’t exist, would prom as we know it exist? Would the “prom industry” have blossomed the way it has without this technology that worships the immediate sharing of gleaming smiles, expensive dresses and neatly pressed tuxedos? Would parents and students alike feel this incredible pressure to pull off the equivalent of a wedding, in some circles?

I can see why Facebook is addictive, but the degree to which it affects one’s mood can be intense. Get a lot of “likes” and positive comments and the mood is elated. Have trouble posting an image to FB, or fail to get the “likes” (been there) and the mood collapses like a wet piece of taffeta. Then there’s the issue of who posts photos first, and the desire to have control over the images that will define you online, forever. As if the pressure of attending an American prom – the pressure of being a teenager anywhere in the world in 2011 – is not enough!

Don’t get me wrong, prom is still exciting. The obligatory “teen worship” before the dance – as my friend calls it – is fun. That’s when the decked out teens laugh and talk, and the adults – somewhat baffled by how their children have grown – flutter about with cameras, taking as many photos as possible, smiling, then (if you’re a sap like me) turning away to get weepy. I will be doing this again in eight years with my own kid. Goodness knows what the technology will be like. I would just like to nip in the bud any plans for a “digital prom” right now. And as for that photo of me reaching for the Kleenex – that’s one shot that will not be posted on Facebook.

Now, excuse me while I go look at my Balkan daughter’s Facebook prom album, and click “like” a few more times.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.