promKids today. They just can't win. We tell them to get creative, do more, think more. But when a boy cuts out 12-inch-high letters from cardboard to craft a creative prom invite for a girl he likes, then tapes them to the wall near the entrance to his high school, he's "rewarded" by school administrators with a punishment. No prom for James Tate, say the higher-ups at the Connecticut school where Tate planned to escort Sonali Rodrigues to the big dance. Although the letters created no lasting damage to the school (he used tape to hang the letters), he's being disciplined for trespassing on school property as he was on the campus early to hang the removable sign. Way to encourage our kids!

Taking the prom away from kids is a pretty typical response in American high schools, and it's one that's always driven me bonkers because it is just SO widespread. Perhaps I'm overreaching, but prom is considered a preeeeeeetty big deal in the average American high school, where it happens just once a year, and depending on school rules, kids generally have only one or two chances to actually attend (in my day only the juniors had their own prom, so it was a one-shot deal for your own prom, although you could attend other classes' proms during your high school career).

It's the sort of thing that, taken away from a kid, they likely can't experience again. And although I won't give it as much life-changing credit as the teen magazines that blow it up as the most mystical moment of your life, I'll admit it was pretty darn big. I remember in detail much of both proms I attended years ago. It was only last year that I finally trashed the candle in a glass from my junior prom -- somehow realizing the layer of dust built into the wax would probably light on fire was the straw that broke this packrat's back.

With all that said, punishing kids like James Tate by taking away the prom seems to be its own form of cruel and unusual punishment. It's ripping one of the stepping stones of childhood out from under them. And for what? A not terribly serious infraction.

What troubles me in particular with the "can't go to prom" stories I've heard over the years is how often a kid was punished just for being a kid. Take the girl who had her dress handmade by her aunt, whose boyfriend had purchased the tickets, who was all set to have her last chance to go with someone to the prom, only to be told that she couldn't go because her grades were too low. I'm not going to beat around the bush here -- some kids just never make good grades. To punish them for that by taking away something fun, something that makes them more like OTHER KIDS does little to encourage them to get their grades up. It makes them feel that much more alone, that much more frustrated.

And so it is with kids who have been pushed to think outside of the box, only to be punished for doing it. James Tate could have been like any teenage boy. But he did something sweet and a little crazy. He didn't think it through, perhaps, but what did he really do wrong? He showed up at school EARLY? Ooooh, horrible.

Do you think James Tate should be allowed to go to prom? You can join a Facebook page to help get him there. What about other kids? Should prom be a punishment?

 

Image via Varin Tsai/Flickr