Say This, Not That by Ilana Kukoff and Jessica Huddy

To Prom or Not to Prom

Dear Ilana and Jess: My daughter, Leigh, is saying she probably won’t go to prom. I think she’ll regret missing this rite of passage, but I don’t want to force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. What’s the right call, here? -Lora

Dear Lora: When it comes to teenagers, it can be hard to tease out whether a decision is impulsive or insightful. But, your question isn’t really one of right or wrong. So, let’s preface this week’s column by saying that, whether you agree with Leigh’s final decision or not, it is hers to make. Here’s how you can help her make a good one (without making it for her).

What distinguishes a good decision from a bad one comes down to rationale and outcome. For example, if Leigh is avoiding the prom in response to anxiety, frustration, rejection, or low self-esteem, skipping it may reinforce these issues. You might broach the conversation by saying to Leigh: “I’m curious about why you’re on the fence about prom.” Demonstrating interest, rather than judgment or worry, is a good way to encourage honest discussion. Don’t assume that Leigh’s desire to sit out the prom means something is wrong.

Since Leigh seems to have already drawn a conclusion, it’s best not to push her to reconsider, unless you have specific concerns. Rites of passage are subjective. For example, for Leigh, the last day of school may be more far more important than prom. The end of senior year comes with many memorable experiences, not the least of which is graduation itself. How Leigh makes meaning is up to her.

Finally, make sure you’re distinguishing your wishes from Leigh’s. Maybe you were really looking forward to dress shopping together, or taking photos before prom. If that’s the case, find another way to honor this special time in her life. You might still take a photo to commemorate the milestone, shop for a graduation ensemble, or even visit Leigh’s future university.

Say This: “I’m curious about why you’re on the fence about prom.”

Not That: “Prom is a rite of passage! You’ll regret it forever if you don’t go!”

Say This, Not That is based on the work of Cognition Builders: a global, educational company headed by Ilana Kukoff (Founder & CEO) and Jessica Yuppa Huddy (Chief Learning Officer). Everywhere from New York City to California to Shanghai to Zurich, the Cognition Builders team is called upon by A-list entertainers, politicians, CEOs, and CFOs to resolve the conflicts that upend everyday life. When their work is done, the families they serve are stronger than ever. With their new book, Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter Kukoff and Yuppa Huddy have selected the most common conversational mistakes parents make, and fixed them. For more information, please visit: To purchase Say This, Not That To Your Teenage Daughter visit: