More and more infant schools are staging school-end proms, complete with ball gowns, tuxedos and stretch limos. It is a disturbing trend, many warn.
At Maerdy Infant School in Rhondda, South Wales, parents hired ball gowns and tuxedos for their seven-year-olds to wear at last year's event, not to mention hiring white stretch limousines to transport them to their end-of-infant school party.
AdvertisementBut some mothers remain unfazed. Adele Wilk insists the children enjoyed the event at Maerdy Infant School in Rhondda, South Wales, last year.
'Ellie had the time of her life,' says Adele. 'We bought her a beautiful ball gown on the internet from a website which sold bridesmaids' dresses. It only cost £20, so it was a bargain. Then I arranged for my cousin, who is a hairdresser, to come and do Ellie's hair, make-up and nails, and even put glitter on her face.
'She looked so grown up, like a little adult, and even had flowers round her wrist. She wore make-up including lip gloss, and she was so thrilled. We hired a limousine for her and eight friends, which cost £12 each, and the limo took them round the village before dropping them at school.
'They were waving to everyone, and then got out and walked into the school. She didn't have a date, as such, but they danced with the boys and they had such a treat to remember.
'I don't see the harm in it at all. The school's holding the same kind of prom today, and lots of the village will turn out to watch them.'
Parents are paying in excess of £600 to hire a stretch limousine; in London, American Hummer vehicles are being hired for £850, and in the Midlands this year some parents delivered their sequin-clad children in helicopters, Daily Mail reported.
Another proud father who sees nothing amiss in lavishing hundreds of pounds on an end-of-term event is David Hale, who insists he doesn't begrudge the £500 he spent on his 16-year-old daughter Amy's prom last week at Raunds Manor School in Northamptonshire.
David, 41, runs a company called Pacific Leisure. 'We went over the top, I know, but it was great fun,' he says. 'We hired a dressmaker to make Amy's ball gown, which was gold and a real show-stopper.
'She had lots of fittings, and we also paid for a beautician to come to our home and do her hair, nails and make-up. She said no to a spray-tan, and it was a good job as some of the girls did look a bit orange!'
He hired a limousine to take Amy to the prom. 'I know it's a lot of money,' he says. 'But she's my daughter and I wanted to give her a night to remember.'
So widespread is the trend becoming - and so willing are parents to lay on an expensive treat for their child - that 'prom roadshows' now travel the country visiting schools in April and May, with racks full of ball gowns and tuxedos costing anything from £250 to £800, with advertisements for limousines and flyers for local beauty treatments including hair extensions and spray-on tans.
Apart from the roadshows, shops dedicated to children and teenagers' proms are springing up over the country.†
School authorities themselves are seen as contributing to the deplorable trend. Julie McDonald is the headteacher at Hillcrest Community Infant and Nursery School in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. 'It did worry me, that these little 11-year-old girls were turning up in high heels and make-up, looking more like they were 15 or 16. They were so glamorous I couldn't believe it. I don't begrudge the parents - this was the moment for their child to shine, and they threw themselves into it, dressing up their daughters like Barbie dolls.'
Initially, there was a lot of debate within the school as to whether they should go ahead, but, a glitzy event could be a fitting finale for "graduation."
Everyone seems to be becoming part of a big marketing gimmick.
But many warn children's innocence is being eroded at an ever younger age. The internet, reality TV, and peer pressure are all major in forcing young children to grow up too fast.
Many parents are desperately worried by the expense and uneasy at the sexualised connotations, but feel they can't let their child be the one who's left out.
Siobhan Freegard is the founder of the Netmums website, which has hundreds of thousands of members.
She says the popularity of the High School Musical film series has had a big impact on children, as have celebrities closer to home.
'I blame Posh and Becks for typifying the celebrity lifestyle these children want to ape, with their over-the-top parties for their children and £500 goodie bags.
'Children may see proms as a fairytale night, but for many parents, it is a nightmare. I had one email from a mum who costed out the prom night - £400 for a dress, £100 for the share of the hire of a limousine, £80 for a spray-on tan and professional make-up, £80 for shoes, £40 for nails and a pedicure and £60 for hair. It's like getting a bride ready for a wedding.
†'Our forums have been buzzing with this topic for the past two weeks,' she says.
'So much pressure is building up on parents to go over the top on prom night, and it is not healthy for children.
'They may see it as dressing up, but is it really appropriate for an 11-year-old girl to go out wearing a skintight ball gown, high heels, professional make-up and even hair extensions? What kind of message are we sending out to our children, that they should want to look like Lolitas - and that this is the reward for their academic work?
'I don't have so much of a problem with proms for 16 and 18-year-olds, but I think - and many of our members think - 11 is way too young, and as for seven-year-olds- . . words fail me. This is crazy...."