(Read Part 1 here.)
Every morning when I get everyone dressed, I’m thankful I have three boys, as the parents of daughters are up against forces beyond my threshold. I know from my experience as a daughter. When I was 14, I was desperate to look like a punk rocker and rebel against the look my parents had in mind for me. But, as it has with Collin, it began when I was 4.
My dad told me to put on some shoes. It was winter, but I came downstairs in sandals. This is when I received my lesson in the anatomy of the foot. “This is your heel,” he told me. “Now go put on some shoes that cover it.” After a few more attempts, including a pair of slippers, I figured it out.
At 4, we worry about our children “catching cold” or “getting boo-boos.” We’re stern about what they wear because we don’t want them getting sick or hurt. As they get older, we have even more to protect them from as they enter the world without us.
At 4, we’re worried about the role of our children’s clothing in their overall health, but also as it reflects our reputations as parents. At 14, we’re still worried about their health, but as they’re forming their own identities and the reputations that go along with them (theirs and ours), we want them to understand that the old adage “the clothes make the man” is true. Young people use their clothing to express themselves, but when the message they are sending conflicts with our values, what can we do?
The first step is to set aside our own personal tastes. Right now, Collin wears clothes that I think are cool, but he may end up hating pirates or plaid. I can’t force him to like the same things that I do as he gets older. Certain styles may not appeal to us, such as head to toe black, or it’s opposite, neon colors, but we can’t expect our kids to dress like us. We even have some friends whose son is, for reasons unknown, a Seahawks fan, and they never make him wear purple on Sunday.
When trends come into play, that’s when most teens and parents butt heads. Each generation is wired to shock their parents and grandparents. Our expected role is to be offended by what young people wear. The trick is to ignore most of it. Ripped or baggy jeans? Brightly colored hair? Harmless, really, as long as it’s weather appropriate and complies with school rules during the school day.
But, T-shirts with offensive slogans and excessively revealing shirts and skirts? That’s where we have to step in. But rather than yelling or forbidding such attire, it’s best to calmly and quietly ask why he or she is wearing the offending garment.
If it’s because “everyone else is,” remember that your child’s goal is to detach from your family and assume the norms of their “new” family – their group of friends. Obviously you aren’t dressing that way, so after pointing that out, you ask, “do you mean all of your friends are wearing it?” Rather than forbidding your child from speaking to those friends, ask if you can meet them. If you’re genuine about it, you may be surprised by the outcome.
If your child says, “I don’t know, I just like it,” sit down and talk about what they like about the item. They’re testing themselves and you by pushing the boundaries of the family’s values. It’s another part of that detachment process. In some cases, a similar, more suitable option is available – with a slogan that’s funny but cleaner or in a longer length. Use this time as a chance to reaffirm your values and expectations in a calm, accessible tone.
Our children’s clothing is such a hot button issue because it’s reflective of our ability to parent. It would be irresponsible for me to let Collin out into the cold without warm clothes. It would be irresponsible for the parent of a teenager to allow his or her child to wear something that could get him or her into trouble.
We always see the goodness in our children, and we want the world to know it. And, we want others to think just as highly of them. So, we must find a way to balance who they want to be and who we want them to be as we send them out the door every day. It starts with what they wear.