Are primary school graduation formals getting out of hand?

School formals for 12-year-olds have become quite a grandiose affair.
School formals for 12-year-olds have become quite a grandiose affair. Photo: Getty

I completed grade six in 1986. We had an evening BBQ and disco at school which seemed awesome at the time. I presume mum dropped me off. I have no recollection of the outfit I wore or what I ate or whether I won any awards. I know I pecked Adam H. on the cheek. In the dark behind the play equipment. Risqué.

It's now my my 12-year-old's turn to "graduate" from primary school. We didn't use the word "graduate" when I finished grade six. We were simply closing one chapter and opening the next.

In the excitement around this year's graduation ceremony, talk has turned to limos. Yes, limousines: the extravagant purchase many adults may have invested in for a Year 12 formal, or even a wedding. Now, grade six children are discussing that mode of transport to their primary school graduations.

To put the request into perspective, we don't live in a wealthy area. Our home is two kilometres from the local government primary school where our children attend. The graduation dinner is being held on the school premises. Driving time would be ten minutes, maybe fifteen once children were collected from their houses. Limousine hire for an hour costs the same as a two terms of swimming lessons.

My answer to my son was a flat no. Actually it wasn't flat. It was more like a shriek. The only way I was even willing to explore the possibility was if he wanted to pay for it himself. Kelly, mother of three agreed, "A limo trip for year six graduation is over the top, but if my child is willing to work for it, and earn the money to go in one, then that's okay with me." My son didn't want it badly enough to pay his own way so that conversation ended abruptly.

It's not the first time I've heard of grandiose graduations where children are taken in luxury vehicles, where girls are professionally styled with hair and makeup for their ceremony. High heels and tans, gifts and fuss. Is it excessive?

Dressing up nicely for a momentous occasion is absolutely reasonable. A new outfit, a special pair of shoes they've had their eye on all year? Great. A dinner and ceremony that commend and congratulate the children on their seven years at primary school is lovely.

The rest, to me, is ludicrous. As Lynne, mother of three says, "Keep it simple: it's a 12-year-old's celebration, nothing more."

Vanessa, mother of two, says "I like that the kids have a primary school graduation, but we need to remember it's a primary school graduation, not a wedding."

I realise everyone comes to graduation from a different perspective. Maybe your child has worked hard all year, struggled with behaviour or academic achievement, had social or personal issues and you want to give them an extra special send off.

School teacher and mum of three, Diana, says "Grade six graduation is a celebration of the end of a phase in your child's life, one in a long list of hopefully many more to come. Celebrate how you see fit – your family, culture, traditions, values, beliefs and don't worry about everybody else!"

She's right. If other families want to fork out money then that is their prerogative, I get it. My concern lies in the short-sightedness of such decisions. Have we completely ignored the joy of working hard, achieving and being rewarded, in an age-appropriate way? Have we considered the consequences of allowing our children to be privy to such extravagance, so young?

By prematurely offering grown-up indulgences we are robbing them of the fun ahead with school debutante balls, high school formals, and weddings. We will be forced to up the ante as they get older - will they expect a helicopter to their high school graduation? Not to mention the burden to fit in and keep up.

With this age group about to embark on a much bigger pond in high school, it's inevitable they will succumb to peer pressure at some point. Vanessa adds, "I worry about the expectations of peers and society for my daughter to be more than she is; to dress in an inappropriately mature way. I don't want her to feel that she can't be the lovely young woman she is."

Michael Grose, parenting educator and director of Parenting Ideas Club, says the most important job of parents of 11-14 year olds is to make it easy for kids to be their age. And the way to do that? "Say no to them so they can blame you. It's very difficult for a child of that age to say no to their friends. If you do it, it actually relieves the pressure for them."

The ostentation at celebrations such as primary school graduations fits in with the notion of indulging children. Michael adds, "As parents, we don't say to our children anymore, 'you are a child and these are adult concepts.' They need to learn to bide their time, wait their turn." He says parents need to be the filter for our children. "We need to ask, is this appropriate for their age and stage of development? The easiest way to parent is to go with the crowd. The hardest is to swim against the tide."

So amongst the possible tide of limos, my son and his mates will be arriving in our people mover. With tinted windows and auto sliding doors, it has B-grade celebrity value. Well, that might be generous. It definitely seems appropriate for a grade six celebration. As Vanessa wisely says, "we are a long time grown up, but only a short time a child."

What I hope my son, and his siblings to come, take away from their primary school years is a quest for knowledge, a self-confidence and self-worth that will help them through the tough times and a warm feeling of family and friends who love them.

And a photo of them in a cool outfit stepping out of the family wagon.

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