Goth, saggy, slutty, or grimy, teens dress to make a statement to parents, to self, to the world. Parents roar and war, but never win these battles.
When your teen begins to battle your dress code, you are to be congratulated and pitied. Congratulated as the battle announces that your child has become strong enough to flutter away from the nest and seek his or her place in the real world.
Pitied, because for some leaving the nest means not just clothing wars but what feels like a never-ending Gotcha War in which no one wins. To prove independence the child has to fight you and the crazier you can be made to feel, the more the child feels not obeying you is okay.
The clothing wars are often the first step to independence. Like a fledgling bird must exchange the downy feathers for the adult coloring and feathers, so the teen has to flout new ways of appearing. Unfortunately, nature gives human children choice, baby birds have to dress as their parents dress.
Clothes are uniforms and announce your place in the world. Look across the pages of history and know that the crowns and jewels of kings and queens, and announced their place to the all around them. Only royals were allowed to wear certain colors or use certain fabrics.
It goes on today. Doctors don white lab coats and stethoscopes to announce their place within hospital walls. Business men get called suits because in many cases a business require employees to wear suits. The saggers–depicted above — are announcing their allegiance to a culture of rebellion against authority.
The uniforms your kid picks announce one of three possibilities:
- the group s/he actually belongs to;
- the group s/he aspires to belong to; or
- that s/he is going along to get along.
Adults usually dress in accordance with the third possibility and that is how most parents want their child to dress, but with a bit of judgement about context and who s/he is trying to get along with.
The shooters at Columbine announced who they were with their long black coats. Their rage was the rage of outsiders against those who had rejected them. They were good kids doing evil. Fortunately, most good kids do not kill in their efforts to establish an identity.
When parents take the dress issue too seriously, however, the parents end up prisoners of their own needs. So this is the first of two posts about how to deal with the Clothing Wars. Today’s post is about adopting the right attitude. Wednesday’s post will deal with specific advice about clothing rules and how to enforce them.
PARENT ADVICE ABOUT THE DRESS WARS
Tip one: Benign amusement is the most effective attitude to adopt when your child begins brokering for a particular uniform. Attitude means facial expression, tone of voice, word choice. Depending on your attitude, the following can be mortal wounds, or irritating mosquito bits.
“Joining the saggers, huh? Tell me why they appeal to you.”
“Ahhh, jock wear. Tell me why wearing your sweats all the time works for you.”
“Going goth, I see. Tell me how that appeals to you.”
“Moving a bit to the slutty side with that. Tell me how you think that will win you love.”
“Not showering or wearing deodorant? Tell me who you are trying to chase away?”
You want the mosquito bite effect because you want your child to think, but you don’t want mortal wounds because the leave lasting scars, build resentment and harden your child’s will to fight.
Tip two: Learn soft face; it is key in projecting a benign caring. Soft face means forehead relaxed, eyebrows not pulled together, eyes open, chin and jaw relaxed, mouth almost smiling.
Tip three: find a slogan or snatch of a song that reminds you this is your child, who is moving through a phase and your love will strengthen her or him to make the right choices.
- “Testing wings.”
- “Just a phase.”
- “Now is not forever.”
Tip four: Practice attitude messages in the mirror and with another adult, until you actually feel mostly loving and benign when thinking about the clothes you hate to see on your precious child.
Tip five: Use minimal response (see my various writing on the Gotcha Wars. These include using gentle non-verbal clue of concern. Raised eyebrows are useful. A brief painful “Are you kidding me” look is useful when clothes are reaching the “Can’t wear that” point.
Tip six: Figure out where your bottom line is and read Wednesday’s post about how to go about gaining cooperation for compliance.
I assume if you are reading this, you are somewhat concerned and may already be involved in a Gotcha War over clothes. I hope this post has been helpful.
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