Clothing and Fashion Issues in Teens

Fashion means a lot to teenagers – either in the sense that they desperately need to wear the latest and greatest styles that their peers are wearing, or in the sense that they just as desperately want to rebel against peer pressure and refuse to wear what everyone else is wearing. Either way, parents must take their teen’s feelings about fashion seriously. We adults have equally strong feelings about what we’ll wear or not wear in our own social settings; we certainly shouldn’t make light of our children’s issues about clothing. Moreover, it is likely that teens will want you to supply them with at least some of their clothes. You will be involved not only in paying for clothing but also in endorsing or veto-ing it as well. Fashion can be the subject of much parent-adolescent conflict or the venue for happy shopping sprees and positive bonding. Let’s take a look at how parents can help avoid the former and increase the frequency of the latter.

Consider the following:

Respect Your Teen’s Quest for Individuality
Has your teen been sporting purple hair, a nose ring and an all-black ensemble? Good! The get-up may be giving you the shakes, but remember that at this point in your teen’s life, experimenting with different “identities” is a healthy part of the journey towards individuality and autonomy. As long as your child’s safety and health are not compromised, opt to be supportive instead of critical. In most cases, kids do outgrow their teenage fashion taste and end up wearing sensible clothing in adulthood (remember what YOU used to wear?)

Teach Your Teen to be a Smart Shopper
Peer pressure is strong during the teenage years, and many marketers of teen clothing know this. They will package their wares as something that is ‘in”, “must have” and patronized by practically all other teenagers in the planet. Teach your teen to be a wary consumer, capable of independent research and independent thinking. Help your child learn the in’s and out’s of bargain hunting by giving him or her a set amount of money to spend on whatever clothing he or she needs for that season (“Here’s X dollars. Buy as many shirts and pants as you can with it.”). Your child will soon discover that it is fun to figure out how to get 3 outfits for the price of 1 or how to get brand-name products at bargain basement prices.

Take the Opportunity to Teach Your Child about Healthy Body Image
Eating disorders are gaining prevalence today, mostly because the media portrays thinness as the universal standard for beauty. If you can, shop for clothes with your teen. Teach your child how to pick clothing that flatters his or her body type. If you can make your teen feel attractive without having to succumb to a distorted standard of what is ideal, then you might help prevent him or her from succumbing to an eating disorder. You can also bring books home from your local library that offer fashion advice for different body types. Leave such materials around the house or in the bathroom and just let your adolescent pick them up and scan them. It’s great for kids to learn about fashion at this tender stage of life – to know what colors might flatter their own coloring, what styles might flatter their body type, what accessories can make all the difference and so on.

Present the Line Between Tasteful and Tawdry
Teens dress up to impress the opposite sex. You might notice your child wearing very tight or very skimpy clothing that you think is more appropriate for the bedroom than the classroom. Be careful as to how you convey this information! You want to maintain a positive parent-child relationship as you teach your youngster the basics of good taste. Start off with praise, as in “You really know how to pick the right colors!” Then ask for permission to give feedback, as in “Would it be O.K. if I shared some thoughts I have about this outfit?” This puts the child in a “yes” frame of mind. Then, cautiously and carefully offer feedback and advice, as in “I honestly think that showing that much skin gives the wrong message. I think it tells people to focus on your body parts instead of on you. I mean, I think you have a great body, but you’re so much more than that! And I know that this is just how kids like to dress nowadays and your friends wear this too. Still, I think that you can convey that you’re attractive and with it, but that you’re also a person and not just a body. For instance, if you cover this up here, the overall look is the same great look, but the message is quite different. What do you think about what I am saying?” Obviously, this kind of approach is very different from the yelling-at-the-top-of-your-lungs approach that “NO CHILD OF MINE IS LEAVING THE HOUSE LOOKING LIKE THAT!”  It is more respectful and it attempts to elicit understanding and cooperation on the child’s part. However, if your child just doesn’t get it, it’s certainly fine for you to set limits. However, you can still be respectful. If necessary, it might sound like, “Sweetheart, when you’re a grownup you can wear whatever you want, but while you’re a teenager in this house, I reserve the right to prohibit certain outfits that I think are just not appropriate. I can’t let you wear that. Now I understand that you are a free person and when you leave the house you can go borrow the same outfit from your friend and wear it out and there’s little I can do about that except appeal to your better judgment. I’m asking you not to wear it because I love you, not because I hate you! No matter what you decide to do, however, I cannot have you wearing it in this house at any time.” If you have a good relationship with your teen, chances are good that he or she will respect your wishes. That is why it is so important to always be respectful and maintain a good relationship. As soon as you lose the relationship, you lose your power to influence your child in the right direction.

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