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Teenagers and Clothing
Mom with a View

Teenagers and Clothing

Teaching your children the fine line between needs and wants.


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!

January 31, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) MESA, January 23, 2018 4:02 PM

We're on a tight budget, but my daughter sometimes likes to use her babysitting money to buy inexpensive clothes for herself. And she uses apps that get her further discounts. The clothes are not to my taste at all, but I'm not the one who wears them. And since she's covered appropriately for tzniut, I don't worry about it. What matters is that she's smart about spending and that she's finding her own style.

(7) michal, February 10, 2010 4:48 PM

Terrific subject, nicely written

Thank you Rebbetzin Braverman for addressing a crucial topic.

(6) Anonymous, February 9, 2010 1:56 AM

It's a great time to discuss money & values.

Now is the perfect time to let your children be educated as to what things costs, how to shop sales, and how to learn from any financial mistakes now (when the $ amount is small compared to later purchases when they are adults). With my daughter this yr (11yrs old), I gave her $300, a bit less (just in case I'd need to buy more later), than I'd usually spend on her school clothes / shoes / underwear etc. for the school year. We discussed some things to think about in choosing her purchases (think about what you'll need for later - winter, including shoes, what still fits or not, growing body, and so on.) I told her she could keep what ever money she didn't spend. (And I reserved the right to veto items if I couldn't live with them.) Well, she turned out to be a much more careful and wise shopper than I am, and had a hundred dollars left over. It worked wonderfully, and we are both happy to speak. This can not yet be done for our son (9) though, or he'd prefer to spend it all on Legos & feel fine about going to school almost naked. When toy/gadget requests come up, (and it's not a birthday or Chanakah or special occasion time), I often use their interest that moment to talk about priorities, real needs (food, shelter, clothing, health care, education, longer term goals, charity) vs. wants (pretty much everything else). It's a great time to discuss other money/ investment / goals ideas too, and extra work around the house for extra money. This pretty much sorts out what things they really want vs it's just so cool right this second. As far as the "but everyone has it" complaint goes, I just say "really?", and they can think of some that do not have the latest greatest gaget, so they know they are not alone. Also, there is always the old standby line of, "Well, if everyone was ...(jumping off a cliff or whatever)... would you? The "everyone has it" complaint gets no where in our house.

(5) Rachel, February 8, 2010 8:14 PM

Not "since time immemorial"

My grandmother had 2 dresses while growing up -- one for special occasions, and the other to wear to school. My mother-in-law, who survived the war in hiding, also did not have more than what was minimally required after the war when her widowed mother (whose husband died in a concentration camp) was struggling for the bare necessities for herself and her 3 children. Even when I was a child, growing up middle-class in the 60's and 70's, there was far less pressure to have the newest of everything -- and my own mother often made do with less so that my sisters and I could have more. When the "I NEED" din starts getting out of hand in my household, I remind my childrend that they already have everything they need -- and that throughout the world, be it in Israel, Iraq, Haiti, or wherever -- there are many people who don't.

(4) raquel de almeida, February 6, 2010 7:03 PM

hand them a catalogue to look through

We have 3 young children - a 10 yr old (girl)(acting like a teenager already), a boy aged 8, and a 6 year old (girl)(who loves clothes!). I hate shopping and when I have to go buy clothes, usually for looking smart at work(I am a teacher), I tend to either look in a catalogue which delivers the chosen pieces or a grab-and-run from a shop. The catalogue company sends us their kids catalogues which I hand to my daughters(my son can't be bothered), and they tick away what they want. Occasionally, they will get a parcel in the post with their desired outfits and they feel empowered and gives them a sense of individuality having chosen what they want. It boils down to "by example". Kids copy us, and what we do.

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