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School Formals – Fun or Frivolous? VOTE: How Much is Too Much to Spend on a Formal?

formal preparation fun or frivolous cost

School Formals – Fun or Frivolous?

The school dance of old – held in the school gymnasium with a soft-drinks table in one corner – has long since passed and the fully stage-managed production is being rolled out complete with limousines, fake-tans, nails, after-parties and more.

We know that many mums and parents are feeling overwhelmed with the rising cost, expectations, plus the emotional toll and aftermath of school formals. Girls and boys look forward to the night for months, if not years… It’ll be the biggest night of their life so far. Or will it? But, what happens if the night doesn’t meet their expectations?

Schools are offering formals and dances at younger and younger ages and we wondered, how young is too young? How much is too much to spend? And, how can we help our tweens and teens cope with the highs and lows of the whole event?

Kirrilie Smout, Managing Director of Developing Minds Psychology, has been working with children and teens for many years seeing the aftermath of hopes dashed and the fallout of nights gone wrong.


What is the best age for formals?

“It’s fine for young kids to being going to parties and discos.  But we need to put some limits on the money, energy and effort spent on formal events in primary school – otherwise there is nothing left to look forward to.”


How much is too much to spend on formals?

“Our psychologists see families who find the financial pressures a real struggle.  It’s okay for us to say “no” to our children.  Children can learn to cope with disappointment. Having to wait until they are older for special occasions teaches children the value of these events.”

Top Tips for managing your child’s expectations of the night

Before the big night, help kids and teens think about staying safe and happy during the event.  The best way to do this is to ask them a few questions. Here are some important ones:

  • What do you think will be the best bits about it?
  • What parts of the night might not be so great?
  • Is there anything you are a little nervous about?
  • What could you do if you feel upset, or worried that night?  What about the next day?

And for teenagers:

  • How will you cope if someone offers you alcohol?
  • What can you do if you feel unsafe at any point?


Should you take a date?

Young people are often having their first “dating” experiences at formals.  It can be useful to ask them about this too.  This conversation can be tricky – start by asking teens about their friends, as they typically find these questions easier.  Ask them about who is going with whom, how their friends are coping with the stress of finding a partner, what the advantages and disadvantages are of going solo and how, and if, to ask someone to go with them.

By asking our young people questions, it helps them think about their plans, and helps them think realistically about the night. Parents can also share their own experiences of formals – not just what happened, but how they thought and felt.  When we are honest with our children about our worries and frustrations as teens – it can help them open up to us. Most importantly, parents should avoid giving lectures or too much advice.  Be a listener – ask more questions – and we help our young people cope with this milestone.


Have your children been to a formal recently? Did you spend a fortune on the event? Did you have any issues you’d like to share? How did you deal with your child’s expectations?

Thank you to Kirrilie Smout from Developing Minds Psychology for her input and advice.



Kirrilie Smout is a psychologist who specialises in working with kids, teens and their families and has seen hundreds of families over the last 20 years.  For information about appointments with her or one of her team, go to There are more free articles about helping your kids/teens to cope better, stay calm and get through tough times on the site.


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