Will that issue every go away? Will there ever be a time when they don’t need (said in appropriate combination tone of whining and pleading) new clothing? Will they always have “nothing to wear”? Does “everybody else” really have it and is ours the only deprived child, or is their sense of grievance exaggerated (impossible) and just endemic to adolescence? And is “going to the mall” really meant to be an activity?
These are the questions that have plagued the mothers of adolescent girls since time immemorial.
We live in a world where people are judged by their external appearance. We live in a world where clothing is powerful, where we “dress for success” and magazines promote the 10 Best-Dressed Men and Women (and humiliate the 10 Worst-Dressed). We live in a world where people don’t just put on clothing; they make a “fashion statement.” A world where our sense of self-worth is intimately connected to the clothing we wear.
This destructive trend peaks at adolescence and is responsible for the harassed look we see on their mothers’ faces.
How can we remove this stressor from our relationship with our kids? How can we teach them to limit their material desires?
1. It starts with us. If we pore over fashion magazines, if we focus on the latest trends, if our closets are full of new clothing, then our lectures about restraint ring hollow. If we spend our free time shopping, if we are frequently “just running out to the mall,” then the lesson is clear. If we are meeting our friends there to go shopping, why can’t they? In every area, at every stage of parenting, the same thing rings true over and over again. We teach what we model. That should give us all pause.
2. If it’s really true (and it rarely is) that “everyone else has it,” it’s not always possible or even appropriate to make our child feel like an outcast. One of my teachers once confided that he had erred with his own daughters. In his efforts to teach them to diminish their material wants, he had been very restrictive about their purchases. The result, he felt, was some serious damage to their self-esteem. It’s a delicate balance. And all parents need to work together.
3. We don’t want this issue to destroy or negatively impact our relationship with our daughters. With some of our academically-challenged offspring, the relationship may become disastrously limited to struggling over homework. With our teenage daughters, we risk deterioration into fighting over clothing -- the amount, the appropriateness, the cost. This should not be a power struggle but rather an opportunity for discussion about such serious issues as the value of money, limits on our material desires and the power of clothing to convey a message to others about who we are and what we value.
4. There are many important life lessons involved here, a particular one being the need to distinguish between wants and needs. Can we teach our daughters the difference between ensuring that all their needs are satisfied but not all their wants? Can we explain the value of setting some limits on our appetites? How crucial it is to learn self-control?
5. On a practical level, I have heard (and even tried) other solutions. One of my friends has resolved this issue by giving her adolescent daughters a clothing allowance. Twice a year, she gives her children a specified amount (reasonable but not excessive by her standards, sorely lacking by theirs) and says, “This is for the next six months. Use it at your discretion.”
Not only does it make her daughters more responsible (and more thoughtful before they purchase yet another blouse), but it takes that whole area out of the parent-child relationship, freeing them up to struggle over other issues instead!
Another friend suggested a family project. For a year they sacrificed all the extras, the “wants” and purchased only the “needs”. They put aside the “wants” money for their summer trip to Israel. In this clever fashion (no pun intended), everyone in the family learned to distinguish between desire and necessity – and also received a great reward.
It is impossible to establish objective criteria. Financial circumstances differ among families. Needs differ among friends. Desires differ even among siblings. But we can begin the discussion and model the desired behavior. After that, as with everything in life and most particularly with teenagers, there’s always prayer!