You never thought you’d utter the words… until your daughter comes downstairs dressed in a super short skirt and a tight tank top. “You march right back upstairs, young lady, and put on something more appropriate!”
No parent wants to be the fashion police. Yet sometimes it’s a mantle that parents — even enlightened, style-savvy, personal-expression-encouraging parents like us — have to do. Because let’s face it — when teenage girls dress a certain way, it can get them labeled as something less than nice.
If your daughter’s attire rivals early- to mid-career Madonna (who, if the gossip mags are to be believed, wishes her own 13-year-old would dress more conservatively!), try to stay cool, says Vancouver-based parenting coach and mom Barbara Desmarais. “The worst way to respond is to say things like, “You look like a stripper!’ or “I’m embarrassed to be seen with you!’ Those kinds of comments make teens act defensively,” says Desmarais.
Outcome: possibly more rebellion. And in the interim: A clothing switch that doesn’t stick. “She may walk out the door wearing something you approve of, but change her clothes when she arrives at her destination,” says Desmarais.
“Kids are always going to want to rush towards growing up: that’s their job,” says Ceri Marsh, former editor-in-chief of Fashion magazine and mom of two. “But I think what’s different these days is two-fold: Now sexy clothes are being marketed at kids, and the celebs who are hot in the tween market are also dressing and behaving in an overtly sexual way,” says Marsh, who also edited the now defunct, but teen-geared Fashion18.
“When we were working on F18 we saw girls who had mixed feelings about being sexy. They wanted to be sexy but weren’t sure what to do with the reactions it got them,” says Marsh.
After all, dressing in revealing clothing may garner Miley Cyrus, Willow Smith and Taylor Momsen media coverage, but it can get a young woman hassled, catcalled and propositioned, not to mention gossiped about and bullied on social networking sites.
“We want girls to learn about the messages we send out by what we wear,” says Desmarais. “You can say things like, “You have a lot of skin showing right now. People often judge us inaccurately just by the way we dress.’ I remember when my own teenage daughter was 13, she walked out the door one night wearing a very low cut top. I simply said to her “You’re sending a message by wearing that top. Is it the message you want to send?”
Sexuality should be an open topic of conversation in your home, as should media awareness. “Start the conversation early,” says Marsh. “Sit and watch music videos, flip through magazines or go to the movies with your girls and respect their intelligence by asking them what they think of the images, and how women are portrayed, as well as sharing your thoughts on it.”
These are conversations dads should participate in, too. Although possibly cringe-worthy for everyone involved, it may be useful to learn that a lace mini that females think is cute and ephemeral, can be viewed as lingerie-like by the male mind. It goes without saying these conversations need to take place within the broader context of a loving, respectful relationship.
“Take an interest in the things that interest your daughter. Make sure her friends feel welcome in your home. When teenage girls feel loved, supported, respected and cared for, they’re less likely to dress in a provocative way,” says Desmarais.
And it may come as a surprise, but most teens do care what their parents think — to an extent. “I value my parents’ opinion and do consider why they may be making comments,” says Nikkie, 18. “but at the end of it all, it’s my decision what I wear on my back when I leave the house in the mornings.”
Remember, there’s a difference between clothes you don’t like and clothes that are age inappropriate. Bite your tongue on the former and speak up about the latter. Says Marsh of her experiences editing Fashion18, “A parent has to set boundaries. And what we heard from girls was that it often came as a relief to them when their parents did. It’s much easier to blame boring old mom than to say you don’t want to dress like a hoochie for your own reasons.”