Prom can be one of the best and most memorable high-school experiences. However, it also can be an incredibly stressful time for teens coping with various expectations and apprehensions associated with prom.
"Teens should focus on the positives. ... The purpose of a prom is to have fun with their friends," says Elizabeth Lombardo, who is a psychologist, a physical therapist and the author of the best-selling book "A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness." "But if they get caught up in all of the details, it can result in stress that only lets them see the negative."
According to psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, prom can raise many issues in teen girls' self-esteem and self-image. "Girls worry about how they will look," she says. "Their frames of reference are celebrities who have been airbrushed to the point that they cannot recognize themselves in magazines. They worry about feeling secure with boys; should they go all the way to make the night perfect? And they worry about how to tell their moms what they are planning to do after the prom."
Marriage and family therapist Miranda Palmer believes that like brides-to-be, prom-goers need to concentrate on only a few key things and realize the other details are "just icing on the cake." "Being stressed and worried for weeks before -- or the night of -- the prom will not add to their memories; it will detract from them," she says.
Palmer advises teens to consider what will happen that night. "Decide in advance whether sex is on the table for prom. If it is, talk to an adult you and your parents both trust," she says. "It might be your parents, an aunt, a teacher or someone else. If you find that you can't verbalize your decision to have sex to an adult, you may not be ready to have sex."
Palmer also says: "Prom is not about sex. Let prom be prom ... and have a good time. Otherwise, broken condoms, a lackluster experience, being walked in on by friends, or any of the other host of things that may go wrong will be what you remember about prom."
Another major source of concern for many teens is cost. Basic expenses for girls can include dresses, accessories and hair and nails. Boys may stress over payments for their tuxedo rentals and corsages for their dates. There are also the shared costs among friends and dates, including prom tickets, formal photos and transportation.
There are fun and creative ways to reduce prom-related expenses, according to Lombardo. "Instead of going out to have their hair and nails done, girls can have a spa party with their friends to fix their hair and nails and have some fun," she says.
If the cost of a pre-prom dinner is a problem, Lombardo suggests that a pre-prom party be held at someone's house.
There are also cost-effective ways to acquire a beautiful prom dress.
"Men can rent a tux for the evening, but women will spend $400 to $500 on a dress that they will wear once," says Althea Jones of GownChic.com, which rents formal dresses and accessories. "Renting makes sense, especially in this economy. Many parents have been laid off or lost their jobs."
Dress rental businesses exist across the country, but Jones -- who buys her stock from department and specialty stores, as well as discount outlets -- makes a special effort to keep her rates affordable and her customers satisfied.
"People can rent a formal dress for as little as $1 a day," says Jones, whose inventory can be shipped nationally and runs from size 2 to size 24. "They order online and can keep the dress for as long as 30 days, which gives them time to try it on, make sure they like the dress and use it."
Ultimately, prom night is to be enjoyed, not to be the cause of hyperventilation. Lombardo offers five ways to reduce prom stress.
"Believe in yourself, and enjoy whatever happens," Lombardo says. "Take deep breaths to reduce your stress level. Set yourself up for success by doubling with a close friend, and have a fun event planned for the next day, such as breakfast with your close friends. Remember that this is one night of your life. There is no need to put pressure on yourself to make it the absolute best or make it unbelievably memorable (e.g., lose your virginity)," she says.