Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Define Me: Teen-Scene

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by Linda Shaw
While visiting a seventh grade classroom recently, I noticed the latest in dress fads. The students wore jeans, shorts, dresses, sport shoes, flip-flops, and sandals. Their hairstyles ranged from neatly combed to wild and poufy. Almost all wore t-shirts that showcased their taste. Dress, for teens, is just one way they begin to explore their independence and define their teen scene.

My Guitarguy (age 12) just reminded me of this when he asked if he could have a “Guy Harvey” T-shirt. I shook my head in disbelief. Not because of his choice, but because I recently bought him a “cool” t-shirt that sported a large bass on it. He refuses to wear it. A ‘Guy Harvey’ T-shirt however illustrates large game fish and is currently “all the rage” here in the south. (

“You mean that you will wear a ‘Guy Harvey’ shirt but not a t-shirt with a bass on it?

Seeing his predicament, he mumbled, “Maybe, ‘that’ t-shirt is okay.”

Sensing a victory, I agreed to purchase a “GH” shirt with a large marlin game fish on it if he promised to wear the bass t-shirt. I realized that his choice helped him find place amongst his peers. Also, I believe it helped him discover a small piece of his emerging self. He may never wear my idea of “cool” but as long as he wears a smile when he wears his new shirt, I'm happy.

What happened here?
Teens have a need to fit in. Parents want to “help” by dressing them in clothes they (parents) believe are “okay”. Teens however need to choose their definition of “cool”. In choosing they find themselves.

Is it growing up or just his ego?
Parents often feel the need to make choices for their teen. In my case, my son had not previously cared what he wore (maybe I was clueless). When he asked for the shirt, it shocked me into the awareness that he was growing up and becoming himself.

How can parents help their teen define themselves through clothing?
  • Shop and Bond- Take your teen shopping. As you help them learn to sift through the many options, you can also bond over lunch. Use the early years to guide them. If they don’t want to go with you alone, invite one of their friends. Make memories.
  • Standards- Set your own expectations with regards to values. Your teen will use these standards to measure their choices and build a sense of self. Know your reasoning.
  • Stand Your Ground- Once your standards have been clearly defined, do not hedge. Teens are not just testing limits, (a natural thing) they are mostly testing your strength to uphold them.
  • Plan Ahead - If you don’t agree with their “questionable” choice, (there will be a few) rather than argue be prepared to suggest other options.
  • Experience- As they mature let them experience the thrill of shopping on their own or with friends.
  • Complement - Find several reasons to praise your teen with regard to their choice: modesty, color, style, fit, size, appeal, taste, appropriateness, brand economy, etc.
  • Model – Don’t expect your child to wear clothes that meet standards that you yourself don’t adhere to. Teens know hypocrisy when they see it.
Dress is just one way that teens use to define themselves. As puberty morphs them into adults, they struggle not only with a changing self-image but also with how to dress that image. Parents can both help shape their teen’s esteem and help them make their teen-scene.

What are some things that you can do to encourage good choices in clothing for your teens?

Do you have stories of when you were a teen and how your parents helped you dress for the scene?



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