Ask the Experts! Wardrobe wars - you're not going out in that?
Ask the Experts! Wardrobe wars - you're not going out in that?
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When your daughter comes to show you an outfit she’s just bought or is trying on to go out, and she thinks it’s beautiful, but all you see is excessive cleavage and too much thigh. What do you do as a parent? What’s the right thing to say? To say nothing is to condone their outfit that you think is immodest, but to say something, causes a very defensive reaction - they think you don’t approve and thus don’t think they look good.
This is a great question and one many parents, particularly of daughters, are asking. I hear your dilemma. You want to support your daughter to feel comfortable and confident in her skin – after all, she feels beautiful in that outfit. Good on her. But at the same time, your parenting instincts kick in and your ‘mumma bear’ comes out – the one who wants to protect her, ensure that people are not looking at her inappropriately, and overall to ensure she looks respectable. Your question is more about keeping your daughter safe while also allowing her freedom and choice. A constant battle between teenager and parent.
Tread carefully when it comes to appearance. Teenagers, particularly girls, have a sensitive body image. The last thing you want to do is have her perceive that you are criticising her body or her image. This could result in two things: an overly body conscious Teen which can contribute to bigger problems such as disordered eating, anxiety and depression. Or a Teen who deliberately wears clothes they know you hate in order to feel in control of their decisions. She wants to be herself and feel free to choose what she wants to wear. She probably feels that she is old enough to make these decisions and that it is her right to do so. When you question this, she probably feels disempowered. She may think ‘I can’t do anything right’, ‘mum doesn’t trust me’ and ‘parents have no idea’. If she starts thinking this she is less likely to listen to you in the future. You lose credibility. On the other hand, you are her parent. You care about her and love her and the thought of her getting into trouble, looking a certain way or being disrespected is a painful thing.
So, what can you do?
- I suggest supporting her to feel beautiful and confident. Teenage girls today NEED to feel this way, rather than to feel that they are inadequate because they do not look a certain way. Maybe take her shopping and have her try on outfits that you consider appropriate and help her to experiment with different types of clothes – see how she feels in all of them, helping her to see that in order to feel ‘beautiful’ she does not have to show a lot of skin. While there, have some fun and allow her to pick some clothes for you to try on. A wonderful mother-daughter bonding session;
- Draw attention to her inner beauty. Perhaps compliment her confidence or her sense of humour;
- See the world from her perspective and see why she has chosen this outfit. Teenagers today are exposed to highly sexualised material and can be desensitised. What we think is ‘too sexy’ or ‘immodest’ is bland and unappealing to them. She is going through a very normal psychosocial development stage called the Identity Crisis. She is experimenting with what she likes and dislikes and this will help her to determine her adult personality. This outfit might be a phase that she will grow out of;
- Is she trying to communicate something through her outfit? Does she feel pressured by friends to look a certain way? Is she trying to impress a love interest? Is her self worth low and the outfit draws attention to her and validates her? During the Teenage years, their social profile is their most precious commodity. They desperately try to fit in, but without being too popular; all the while avoiding the dreaded label of ‘outcast’;
- Talk to her about your personal and family values and ask her to reflect on hers. For example, you may value honesty and respect (including self respect). If your daughter has similar values, ask her if her outfit choice is going to help or hinder her values? Are any of her behaviours, for that matter, going to conflict with her values?
- Discuss your non-negotiables with her. A non-negotiable is something a parent enforces, regardless of what the Teenager thinks. A non-negotiable must be reasonable and must come from a place of utter and genuine care. Ask her if she has any non-negotiables for you to ensure reciprocity in the relationship?
- Finally, educate her. However, do not come in as the ‘I know best’ parent. She’ll probably roll her eyes and you’ll never get your point across. Teenagers can smell hypocrisy from a mile away. If your aim is to prevent her from making the same mistakes you did, you will lose credibility with her. Her comeback will be: you made the mistake, so let me. Instead, a more respected approach is to tell them you value their choices and decision making and will help them, when they inevitably get it wrong, to learn something. But, at the same time, let her know that you chose to bring her into this world and vowed to love and protect her no matter what. Communicate honestly your fears about her outfit and what you worry it might mean or attract- be authentic. Teenagers like when their parents are ‘real’!
Expert bio: Davina Donovan is a practicing Psychologist, with over 10 years of industry experience. She is also an author, speaker, researcher, educator and consultant with a special interest and experience in Teenagers, Parenting and Suicide. Davina has seen and heard just about everything when it comes to Teens: the good, the bad and the ugly. For years, Davina has listened to Teenagers tell her things they would not dream of telling their parents; all the while, supporting parents as they watch on helplessly, feeling fear, guilt and anger. Davina has the unique skill of ‘Speaking Teen’ and has a passion for empowering parents and Teenagers to remain connected during the inevitable challenges that arise in the Teenage years. You can find Davina at Speak Teen as well as in the Exploring Teens Directory