One of the most contentious issues confronting parents and their children involves acceptable clothing. How many fights have occurred between the mother who says, “You’re not wearing that out of this house” and the daughter who replies, “Everyone is wearing this!” Children inevitably claim the right to wear whatever they like as a self-expression; parents are often at a loss as to their responsibility and right to put limits and boundaries on clothes.
A few words of sanity…
First, to review: it is the solemn duty of parents to train their children. As I stress in Desperately Seeking Parents, parents must focus their training on four areas:
In the book, I stress that all of the values parents instill in children are subsumed under these four areas.
So how does a mini-skirt or death metal concert t-shirt have to do with any of these four areas? Easy. Your 12-year-old daughter’s safety is compromised if she goes uptown in an outfit that screams, “Look at me! I am a sexual object! I’m as easy as a game of Candy Land!” Parents must assert (and reassert, whenever needed) the reality that her body is not only hers to protect; it is YOURS to protect.
If your family believes in God, you have an even more powerful argument: your daughter’s body is not hers or yours; it is God’s. God has entrusted you to protect and train your daughter. The case for your intervention in that arena is closed.
What about dirty, slovenly attire? It's not a safety issue. What about respect? Is it respectful to wear dirty clothes out of the house? Yes; you can disallow that. What about shirts that convey rebellious or obnoxious messages, such as "I'm with stupid" or "I hate school"? Don't allow these, at all. They champion disrespect. They shouldn't be in your child's closet; get them out. Don't buy them. And finally, concert t-shirts that convey violent messages? Fuggetaboutit. It should be a family rule that no clothes may reflect violent messages. Period.
Then what about an outfit that is not sexually provocative, dirty, or messy and does not communicate any inappropriate messages, but is simply silly or uncoordinated? What about the ensemble of plaid golf pants and hideous polka dot shirt? Here is where parents need to back off with older children (middle school). If it isn't unsafe, disrespectful, breaking any important rules, or preventing the child from performing his or her duties, then let the child wear it. If he wants to dress like a fool, fine. Remember, this is not for your 6-year-old, but for your early adolescent, who needs to begin making individual choices. It is critical that you communicate that there will be some freedoms allowed.