For many young people, even very young children, having control over their appearance is an important part of building a personal identity. Parents, on the other hand, often find their kids’ fashion choices and grooming habits appalling. Furthermore, advertisers are working hard to sell certain brands, styles, and trends to you and your children. Where should you draw the line for your family between healthy self-expression and inappropriate choices? Below are some ideas for finding compromise.

Tips for . . .

  • parents with children ages birth to 5
    • Focus on children’s emerging personalities, not on their looks.
    • Avoid fights about clothing. Kids this age may have strong opinions, may not care at all, or may be inconsistent. Depending on a child’s temperament, it may work to have a “uniform“—a rotating set of similar clothes or one drawer full of clothes that are always okay to choose from.
    • Base guidelines for dressing on comfort and function (like being able to fasten their own pants after using the bathroom), not on style.
    • parents with children 6 to 9
    • Limit how much you focus on appearances—your own or anyone else’s.
    • Respond to concerns about appearance respectfully. Avoid acting as though kids are silly or too young to care about such things.
    • Start talking with your kids about the ways (such as featuring cartoon characters in clothing ads) that manufacturers and retailers try to get them hooked.
    • parents with children 10 – 15
    • Pay attention to the messages your children might be trying to send about themselves through what they wear. Does she feel confident and strong? Is he trying to set himself apart as “different” from other siblings or friends?
    • Set clear boundaries regarding which clothing and accessories you are willing to pay for, which ones or types they must purchase on their own, and which are unacceptable
    • Help them think and learn about the difference between dressing attractively, dressing provocatively, and dressing inappropriately.
    • parents with children 16 to 18
    • Make sure you and your children know the school rules about dress and appearance, and know the consequences for violating them.
    • Learn to be flexible when setting boundaries and to take the long view. Trends come and go and always will.
  • Talk about the potential health risks of unusual piercings and tattoos. Share your views about the pros and cons of these procedures, including how teens’ tastes might change as they mature.

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