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Clothing Makes the Adolescent
Mom with a View

Clothing Makes the Adolescent

Do not minimize the importance of clothing to your teenage children.


I received a call from a hysterical mother last Sunday morning. "I have purchased a closet full of clothes for my teenage daughters and all they say is, ‘I've got nothing to wear!' I'm so frustrated!"

I tried to maintain a sympathetic tone but I couldn't help smiling. It was such a typical adolescent reaction, one I'd heard so many times before from my own children and those of my friends. (Perhaps I've even said it myself!)

Kids who proudly proclaim their non-conformity insist on wearing the same styles as everyone else.

I don't know if clothes make the man but they certainly seem to make the adolescent. And in what seems to be the ultimate irony, kids who proudly proclaim their non-conformity insist on wearing the same styles as everyone else. They would be mortified to be seen in something different.

As parents, we should not minimize the importance of clothing to our teenage children, girls and boys -- no matter how silly or annoying it seems to us. While there must certainly be budgetary considerations, this is NOT the time to try to sell them on the merits of the non-material life. They're not buying. Well actually, that's exactly what they are doing.

Of course we shouldn't indulge our teenagers' every whim and desire, but we need to be sensitive to the meaning of clothing to them, and the "right" clothing at that. It's too easy to be dismissive. And too destructive.

We all have a list of shoulds and shouldn'ts in our head. They shouldn't care so much about material possessions. Their self-esteem shouldn't be dependent on or connected to their dress. They shouldn't care what their friends think.

But they do and it is. And being out of step with their friends is anything but irrelevant to them.

Our teenagers want to look "good" and we should try to help facilitate this, especially if they want to dress in a dignified way.

To counter their insatiable cravings, it may be helpful to give them an actual budget, a certain amount of money over a certain timeframe. Anything over and above is their responsibility. It will help give them perspective. It will empower them and force them to make real-life decisions. Some items of clothing will actually become less important to them when they do their cost-benefit analysis. And, best of all, if they have "nothing to wear," you won't be to blame.

It would be nice if our adolescents were only focused on spiritual pursuits (Peace between Israel and the Arabs would be nice too!) but we need to be realistic. This is a time in their lives when how they look is directly connected to their sense of self-worth (unlike their evolved parents for whom it is irrelevant!) and we need to be sensitive to and accommodate this need -- within reason.

My goal is just to avoid accompanying them on their endless shopping trips and to smile with approval as they try on each new (black) sweater, (black) skirt, or (black) loafers.

You can still gently emphasize the spiritual but be empathic to their material needs. Remember, you were young once too. (And, by the way, how many sweaters are in your closet?)

July 19, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Sarah Leah, August 10, 2009 10:41 AM

Emet! Emet! Emet :)

I LOVE this piece mostly because it is the reality I live in as a mom. I do remember what it was like to want to fit in. I just didn't realize how exhausitng it is trying to keep up! Raising a tnius daughter in these times has it's challenges but it IS do-able!

(4) julie, July 25, 2009 1:11 AM

well put and an excellent idea

I am a young adult now and this is exactly what my mother did for me. In fact I had a budget for all school articles and clothing. It worked very well. She did buy a coat and a pair of tennis shoes for me as well since those were necessities outside of the fashion world. Children decide whether someone is worth being friends with based on how they are dressed. Bullies will also pick their targets based on whether they are badly dressed. Being well dressed is a matter of emotional survival in the social wildlands of school. I applaud Emuna for reminding parents not to take it lightly, even if teenagers are emotional whirlwinds, clothes will always be important.

(3) Anonymous, July 22, 2009 3:27 PM

Tsnius not emphasized enough

It's one thing when your daughter wants to fit in and be dressed in style like everyone else, but what if the styles are not tsniusdik? Tight and short (or extra long) seem to be the norm out there, not to mention this new craze of waxed, pencil thin eyebrows. They're getting worse and worse each day! Try to oppose them and you're up a brick wall.

(2) ruth housman, July 21, 2009 1:23 PM

what matters

I agree that children, particularly adolescents get very focused on clothing and what they want and it's largely a matter of group psychology. They want to "fit in". So why not encourage them to purchase what they "need" and in this way, by giving them a budget, there is a lesson involved and they will learn that the particular coveted label, costs a lot more, and might limit them in other choices. So they are forced to cogitate about these issues. I do believe also, that we should encourage creativity and independence in our children and also I am not so sure that we shouldn't also encourage the creativity of those who make clothing. It's all part of the creative urge we all share, like buying a painting that perhaps we don't need, but that we love. We are, essentially, in so doing, supporting a larger network or "weave". I say we're all on the web and that there are so many issues to think about and that's what we're doing in examining the INS and OUTS of what's au courant for our kids.

(1) Deborah, July 20, 2009 4:22 PM

Excellent article! My mother never thought that clothing was an important thing for me as a child and this had a destructive influence on my self-esteem, always feeling that since i so rarely deserved a nice piece of new clothing, there has to be something wrong with me, that i am inferior. I still remember the feeling of being badly dressed i when one of my best friends was always very nicely dressed and had a large selection of garments.

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