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CLARE JOHNSTON: School proms are back in full swing and may our kids never have to miss out again

School leavers at prom.
Seeing school leavers grinning in their finery has Clare feeling reflective.

Looking on at my young adult in his dinner suit lined up alongside his equally smart school friends for their prom photocall, I felt a pang for those in the two years before who had missed out on such a moment.

I felt it for the kids who, through no fault of their own, didn’t get to mark what should have been a right of passage for a sixth former.

And I felt it for their parents who didn’t get to capture that traditional symbol of the transition from schoolchild to adult for the photo album.

The pictures of excited school leavers preparing to party at their prom have been a joy to see in recent weeks.

Their beaming smiles are in such sharp contrast to the disappointment pupils and their parents must have felt in 2020 when proms and dances had to be called off altogether due to the pandemic.

The shattered prom dreams of 2020 and 2021

All those years of learning, friendship and camaraderie in the place that becomes a second home for children just ended in a puff of air.

It was a cruel blow to those who had carefully chosen their dresses and outfits, the result no doubt of animated discussions with friends over what to wear, who to go with, where to go for ‘pres’ (pre-event drinks for those not in the know).

And even last year once the vaccination programme was well under way, most teens still missed out again, with a ban on indoor gatherings.

Even for those that went ahead outside there were strict guidelines that saw pupils advised to physically distance and wear masks – and there was to be no dancing.

In other words, not much of a prom at all, but something’s better than nothing.

School leavers from St Andrew’s RC High School in Kirkcaldy strike a pose at the school prom.

Freshers denied fun

Worst still, some of those leavers from 2020 then found themselves unable to join in the usual Freshers Week fun at universities and colleges.

It’s that crucial socialising opportunity when you meet new friends – admittedly, some of whom you’ll spend the next four years trying to ditch.

But Freshers Week lets you know your university days have begun, you get a chance to familiarise yourself with the buildings, settle in and get excited about what lies ahead.

Instead, and with classes and lectures held virtually, students either stayed at home or travelled to their new university and then found themselves stuck in their rooms.

Who can forget the dreadful threat that was hanging over their heads in the run-up to Christmas 2020 when they faced having to stay in halls and not be allowed to go home to be with their families.

If that had been my son I’d have been apoplectic.

As it turns out, many of the parents at that time felt exactly the same and, in the end, mass testing was introduced at campuses that allowed students to go home.

Having a ball! School leavers from St John’s RC High School, Dundee.

As we learned the hard way, there is a line between managing a pandemic and compounding the misery through policies that adversely affect mental health and the social development of our children.

Young people suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic with their freedom to socialise and live their lives so severely restricted in such formative years.

And watching my son laugh and lark around with his friends in all their finery on prom night, I felt a huge wave of relief that this right of passage – something we would have all taken for granted a few years ago – was allowed to happen.

Never too far behind is a fear that, now we’ve become accustomed to lockdowns, their freedoms could be restricted again.

Instinctively it feels like, if we are ever faced with such a dreadful situation again, we need to better shelter our children and young people from the social harms unless they are directly at risk.

Curtailing their freedoms for so long, and with so many opportunities so cruelly stolen from them, should never happen again.

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