You Want to Wear That?!
It Starts so Innocently
It starts surprisingly early. That struggle for independence and self-expression. It starts with that first crayon drawing on the bedroom wall, or that first curse word spoken (You even had a swear jar to keep that sort of thing from happening). But, never is the struggle of a child to carve out their own identity more evident than in their clothes.
From the day they learn to dress themselves, they test both your limits, and the limits of fashion, in an effort to be themselves, to show the world who they are, even if that world only consists of their house and daycare.
Whether it's your three year-old daughter who insists on wearing that same pink skirt every day (after all, it's her favorite), no matter how dirty and stained it is, and never mind the fact that it's already too small. Or it's your four year-old son who insists that a Batman costume is the perfect thing to wear to pre-school picture day. Young children feel the need to express themselves through their choices of clothing. More often than not, it will be something strange, and it won't match. On one occasion, my daughter wanted to wear a pretty red and white dress with a blue sweatshirt and her bright, lime green sandals. It was 85 degrees outside, and there was obviously no need for the sweatshirt, and trust me, it looked silly when she put the dress on over it!!! She thought she looked beautiful! How could I argue with that? Since she wasn't going outside that day, I told her to go ahead and wear it if she wanted, but if she wanted to go outside, she had to take off the sweater.
If only it stopped there. Life would be so simple. Children go through phases. It's normal. Unfortunately, the need for self-expression is not a phase. It's a part of growing up, a part of a child's search for their own identity. It may not always be fun, and it may end in arguments, but it's a part of growing up, and as parents, it's just another part of the job.
It Goes From Amusing to Arguments
While the fashion choices of young children is amusing, and sometimes annoying, as children get older, it goes from being sort of funny, to distressing, and often a full-out battle. Yes, I am talking about teenagers!
As kids grown up, and become those nightmarish creatures known as teenagers, the struggle for independence and identity reaches new heights. Teens see themselves as grown up, and they want to be seen that way. They feel that they are capable of making all kinds of important decisions and they are fighting against the authority that you have held over them for so long. In a few short years, they will be adults, and they will have to make all of their decisions for themselves. The teen years are a way of testing those waters, about learning more about who they are, and testing their limits. This extends to their fashion in a way that is much more meaningful than it ever has been.
As I said, teens feel that they are grown up. They want to be seen that way. So, your 13 year-old daughter may decide that it's perfectly OK to wear a micro-mini and a revealing, low cut shirt. So-and-so celeb of the week was wearing something just like it on the cover of Teen Whatever magazine. She may decide she wants to dye her hair blonde, or put crazy colored streaks in it.
Your 16 year-old son may decide that he likes wearing eye liner and black nail polish. Why not? That guy on Idol does it! Never mind that he's 26 years old, and an imerging rock star. Pushing the limits of gender barriers is another common route for teenage expression.
I could go on and on. From ravers, to scene kids, to goth, to punk, to the sluttiest clothes you can imagine (just look at Miley Cyrus lately). From tattoos, to piercings to other stranger methods of body modification...it can get scary. It makes a parent cringe to think of what is out there, what people actually wear, and what they do to their bodies, and what could possibly be ahead in the future. If you have young kids, who knows what will be the latest, greatest fashion trend that every teen HAS to be a part of.
Quite often, teens and parents will clash over what each feels is appropriate or OK to wear. A certain amount of self-expression is fine, but as most parents know, you have to draw the line somewhere. But where is that line? How do you know when your child has crossed it? How important is what they wear to who they are? At this stage in their lives, it seems as if what they wear, or how they look is the single most important thing in the world. It is often just harmless, so let you child be who they think they are. More often than not, they will grow out of it, and eventually, they will become a rather normal person.
Like I said, you have to draw the line somewhere. Letting your daughter out of the house in a virtually see-through dress would definitely be over the line. Letting her dye her hair black with some blue streaks isn't that big of a deal. Letting your son get implants in his face to look like he has ridges in his forehead is extreme, but letting him wear all black clothes and a little eye liner isn't going to do any permanent damage.
Just make sure you talk to your kids. Make sure that their strange new style isn't a symptom of something else. Trauma, depression, a tragic event, or drug use can be a cause for a drastic change in attitude and appearance. Talk to your kids and try to find out if this new look is just a search for their own identity or if it's a sign of something else. Approach the subject carefully, so that they don't feel as if they are being attacked or accused of something. Just ask them what they like about the clothes they are asking for, or why did they decide that they wanted to dye their hair blue. Sometimes you will get a straight answer, and sometimes you won't, but often enough, a good parent will be able to tell if their child hesitates in an answer, or if they seem to be bothered by something.
Would You Let Your Teen Dress Like This???
© 2009 Anna Marie Bowman