“WILL I FIT IN?” or “IS MY STYLE COOL ENOUGH?”

“WILL I FIT IN?” or “IS MY STYLE COOL ENOUGH?”

HELPING KIDS LEARN ABOUT CLOTHES AND IMAGE

“Did you see her outfit – was it sooo “sick” or what?  I mean, her skirt is like –“presh”!  I love it!  An’ the way she looks, the guys will totally be spittin’ game at her all night long!  That means  ‘No chance for the rest of us gurlz!’” This was one-half of a phone conversation overheard by a mom during the carpool drive home after school one recent Friday afternoon!  Listening to her daughter discuss what to wear, how to wear it, what’s in and how to impress others in her peer group is a common pastime of adolescents.  For parents, setting clear, consistent, and reasonable limits for tweens and teenagers can be, well…challenging at times.  Three rules of thumb –1) Say what you mean, mean what you say, AND do what you say you will!  2) Model what you say – your actions give your words meaning; and 3) Remember, the more empathy you respond with, the more likely you are to have a good relationship and good influence!

I hope you enjoy this three part series by Michele Borba Ed. D (The Big Book of Parenting Solutions)

 THE QUESTION

 “My kids are obsessed with what they wear and their appearance. ‘I have to have a Coach Bag. All the girls have one!’ ” The shirt has to have an alligator on it, Dad. That’s what the other guys wear. ‘ But I’m more concerned about the image that wearing those clothes can portray. Is there a happy medium?”

THE ANSWER

Don’t get hung up arguing with your kid about “style.”  If you need a reality check, take a look at your old school photos to help you realize that fashions have never been the most flattering, but just part of the culture children are trying to fit into. Instead, hold the line on bigger issues that can have a real impact on your child’s reputation and attitude. Kids have always wanted to fit in; what they wear is a big part of how they form identity and let others know which group they hang with. This is why you see them in groups wearing almost the identical “look” – from backpacks to shoes to clothing styles.

The problem is that achieving that desired ‘look” these days comes with a price. First, these name brands that are all the rage can be ridiculously expensive. Second, clothing styles these days are often sexually provocative even for the preschool set. Messages printed on kids apparel are often in poor taste (and that’s putting it mildly). Here are six ways to help you navigate today’s pricey, sexy kid fashion industry:

1. Make sure your child adheres to the school dress code.  Each school district sets clear rules as to acceptable and unacceptable attire; these are usually published in the school handbook. The general belief of educators is that a child’s appearance – including gadgets, attire, and makeup – should not distract from learning, and I’m a firm supporter of that philosophy. Many schools require uniforms to avoid those clothing hassles. Get a copy of your child’s school handbook (check the school Website), review those rules with your child, and then set a clear rule that anything worn on school grounds or to a school affair (games, field trips, dances, competitions) must follow those standards. If you have any hesitation about the acceptability of your child’s attire, it’s better to be on the safe side and have her change so that she is not disciplined (or sent home). Beware: wearing certain colors may be prohibited as a safety issue because they represent gangs in a nearby area.

2. Hold a firm line on sexy attire. These days some kids clothing is so provocative that it’s been aptly name the “come-hither look.” And designs are sized for even the preschool set. “The sleaze look” appears to be catching on: in just one year, seven-to twelve-year-olds spent $1.6 million on thong underwear alone. Beware: most adults frown upon such attire, and wearing such a sexy look could well affect your child’s reputation. It also send a message to your child that you approve of sexual apparel, which could influence your child’s attitudes and behavior. One rule to consider adopting in your family the sets clears parameters on provocative attire is my “Three B Rule”- It simply means that apparel revealing any anatomy beginning with the letter “B -bottom, boobs, or belly button” – may not be worn. You might extend the rule to include that no underwear or bra straps may be shown either.

3. Beware of distasteful messages. T-shirts, hats, backpacks, sweatshirts, and the like are laced with “attitude” and distasteful wording, logos, or drawings. Those messages range from mild (“Cute but Psycho,””#1 Brat,” and “Math Never Spells Fun”)  to outright distasteful (“you can look but you can’t touch” or “FCUK”). Be clear that you will not tolerate any apparel that is offensive or provocative or that that shows your child in a poor light. Such slogans as “Professional Drama Queen” may seem cute and harmless, but those images can stick and become self-fulfilling prophecies, especially as others comment about them, and they could influence your child’s reputation or her attitude. Set a rule that your child must receive your permission to purchase or wear apparel with writing on it (other than a nationally known sports teams or Logo). Even then, you might want to get a second interpretation of the message. One tween bought a shirt touting “I like boys who vote” with her mom’s blessing. Both mother and daughter assumed the message was patriotic. The mom was mortified when a father explained to her that wearing the shirt meant the ten-year-old preferred men eighteen and older, and encouraged her not to let her daughter wear it. So when in doubt, ask for a second opinion.

4. Set a clothing budget and stick to it. Designer labels are no longer just for adults, but are now aimed even at infants. Studies also show that our kids are more materialistic than ever.  Don’t be afraid to set a realistic clothing budget for your child and stick to it. And don’t give out loans. Teach your child to be a comparison shopper, prioritize her shopping needs, and shop for sales. Also, set clothing limits. For instance, you will buy one pair of “have to have” but your kid has to earn money to buy the second. Or just feel free to say no to brand-name items altogether.

(Just make sure you’re not drooling over those hot name-brand items yourself and sending a mixed message to your daughter.)

5. Help your child make a good first impression. First impressions do make a difference, so take a serious look at the way your kid presents herself. Kids do need to learn that how they choose to dress and behave does create an image that can turn folks off or on. Don’t assume that your child knows what image her attire is sending or even what the message implies. Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, finds that girls respond much better to the word “image” than “reputation.” So your daughter may be more receptive if you say, “you know, I’m afraid you’ll project the wrong image if you wear those jeans so low.”

(Keri’s suggestion:  “Mind if I ask a question?  Have you considered what image you might be projecting when your “boobs pop out,” “your belly button shows” and/or “your butt peeks over your pants?”  Is there a possibility that the person who sees you for your interview might see it differently than you do?)

6. Get on board with other parents.

Is your child pushing you to let her wear make-up? Does your son say you’re the world’s meanest parent because you won’t let him wear shirts covered with those “in your face” messages? Consider talking with parents of your child’s friends and hear their views. Chances are they share your dress standards, and standing together as to what is acceptable attire will reduce those “You’re the only parent who feels that way” guilt trip.

(Keri’s note: When we get to know other parents and share our values we can support each other in helping to hold firm to those  values.)

Any Child can be well groomed, have good hygiene, and dress in a style that allows her to fit in with the rest. Just remember that first impressions do count. So every once in a while, take a more objective look at your child and ask yourself what kind of image she is projecting. If there is just one things you can tune up – a more conservative haircut, less tightly fitting jeans, a slightly less baggy look – consider making the adjustment. Remember that regardless of the peer and consumer push, tweens do seek guidance from their parents. So use your influence! 

(Keri’s Note: Remember:  Influence comes with a good relationship AND a positive model!).

PART II NEXT WEEK!

Have a great week