– Marisel Rodriguez, mother
There are lots of ways that kids judge other kids: Are they nice? Are they cute? Are they fun to be with? But there is another way that kids judge others that has nothing to do with who they are, but what they wear. And if this leads to a fashion battle between parent and child, some experts say it’s a battle parents need to lose.
How important is fashion to a teenager?
“I think that people choose their friends, or choose to talk to people at first, by what they wear and what they look like, so I guess it’s pretty important,” says Annie, 15.
“We all do it subconsciously. We decide who we want to know better by what they’re wearing,” says Kristen, 15.
It may seem superficial, but in a University of Nebraska study of middle school students, more than one-third of the students surveyed said they’ve been bullied for wearing the “wrong” clothes.
“If a person went to school wearing tight skin pants — a boy for instance — he’ll be made fun of or he’ll be talked about, and it will lead to a fight or something,” says Thomas, 15.
Thomas’ mom, Marisel Rodriguez, may not like the style of clothes her son wears, but she doesn’t stop him.
“His whole body fits in these pants,” she says, holding up Thomas’ jeans.
“Sometimes I don’t think she understands,” says Thomas.
In fact, she does. Rodriguez knows that if she chooses her son’s clothes, she won’t have to live with the consequences at school, Thomas will.
“Do you want your child going through school being picked on? I mean, kids get picked on for a number of things, millions of other things, and you want to add on?” says Rodriguez.
Experts say, within reason and within a budget, parents should let their kids decide what to wear because it’s one way parents can help their children fit in at school.
“Sometimes I’ll say things like, ‘if your child broke his leg, would you not give him crutches?’ It’s like you need to give a child as many advantages as you can,” says Nancy McGarrah, psychologist.
Tips for Parents
- Experts say it is extremely important to open the lines of communication with your kids. Consider the following tips: (Kaiser Family Foundation)
- Start early
- Initiate conversations
- Create an open environment
- Communicate your values
- Listen to your child
- Try to be honest
- Be patient
- Share your experiences
- Also, watch for behavioral changes. Children who are suffering from teasing and bullying may try to hide the hurt. They may become withdrawn from family and friends, lose interest in hobbies or turn to destructive habits such as alcohol, drugs or acts of violence. (Kaiser Family Foundation)
- Ask your children whether they have witnessed bullying at school, and what they’ve done if they have seen it. Explain that while it may take courage to report it or tell the bully to stop, it’s the right thing to do. (Bill Modzeleski, U.S. Department of Education)
- The bystanders to bullying are the biggest piece. If they set the climate and say, “We’re not going to tolerate this,” they can create a positive change. (Mary Ann Byrne, counselor, Stafford Co., Virginia)
- Kaiser Family Foundation
- U.S. Department of Education
- Stop Bullying Now (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)