Why Not Just Say ‘No’?
If parents are concerned about their daughters’ appearance, why do they buy clothing they don’t consider appropriate?
That’s not an easy question to answer, parents and experts say.
“There’s been a norm that girls will wear clothes that are more revealing at younger ages than they used to, and parents don’t seem to be stopping it,” says Patricia Dalton, a Washington psychologist who treats Bethesda-area teens. “When kids use the argument that this is what everybody is wearing, [parents] falter.”
“It is difficult for girls, because when they go shopping, that’s what’s being sold,” agrees Lockard, the B-CC principal.
Walt Whitman High School Principal says he has heard that excuse when he calls a parent to report a student who is inappropriately dressed. “The common response is, ‘That’s all they sell in the stores.’ To a common degree that’s true. But they sell lots of other things in stores,” he says.
Experts and educators agree that the issue can be complicated by several factors. Some parents may give in and allow inappropriate clothing because they want to avoid conflict, while others may worry that their daughter won’t be popular if she’s not wearing the same clothes as her friends.
Sometimes, parents don’t have a clue what their daughter is actually wearing outside the house, educators and girls say. The parents may have prohibited certain clothing, only to have their daughter change outfits once she leaves home.
Sabrina Chanock, the senior at Sidwell Friends School, says she knows girls who hide their clothing under a big jacket or a sweatshirt when they leave the house, especially if they’re going to a theme party. For one such party, titled “Tennis Hos and Golf Pros,” girls wore “teeny skirts and sports bras,” Sabrina says. “Obviously, parents don’t want to see that.”
To counter the influences of peer pressure and the media, experts say parents need to educate their daughters about the sexual and cultural messages they are receiving and how they fit into their family’s values. Talking with children about media images will help them process what they’re seeing and provide an opportunity to deconstruct those messages, Abrams and Levin say.
“Because sex sells, we parents, more than ever, need to have a presence and be mindful to have values,” Abrams says.
When talking to children, parents should remember that a child’s point of view is different than an adult’s, Levin adds. “Adults need to figure out what kids are thinking, rather than punishing kids for things that make perfect sense because of what they’re exposed to.”
Young, the Silver Spring psychotherapist, says parents also need to keep in mind that, ultimately, battles with their daughters over clothing are an essential part of growing up.
“If it’s not happening on the clothing issue, it will be something else,” Young says. “It’s developmentally necessary for her to push the limits, and developmentally necessary for you to frustrate her.”
Julie Rasicot lives in Silver Spring.