Just last week, my son and I faced what has become a symbolic clash of generations: a disagreement over appearance.
He wanted a new haircut. That was fine with me. He also wanted to color his hair. That one, we needed to talk about.
Teens often use their appearance to make a clear statement about who they are. That theme of independence often says very strongly: "I'm not the same as my parents. I'm different. I'm me."
It's important that teens have a chance to establish their own identities, even if they don't yet know who "me" really is. Because this is a time of searching, your daughter's or son's hairstyle and accessories?anything that contributes to the "look of me"?will change frequently and drastically.
But while a teen wants to establish a clear individual identity, being part of the crowd also is important at this stage. Peer pressure and fitting in are key motivators in his appearance. Name brands and particular styles become increasingly important.
Rather than fighting against the force of peer pressure at this stage, work with it. Parents can use an early teen's desire for name-brand?and expensive?clothing to teach important lessons about budgeting and money management. Consider giving your teen a clothing budget, making him responsible for wise management of the funds.
If your teen has income opportunities, offer to pay for a portion of those name-brand running shoes and ask him to pay the difference. Not only will you be teaching lessons about saving money, your teen will have a better understanding of value and worth.
Sometimes, your teen might try to push his new freedom further than you are willing to go. For example, your son comes home wearing a South Park T-shirt or your daughter shows up at breakfast in a skimpy tank top. Communication and compromise are the keys to a workable solution. If your teen purchases something with his own money or receives a wearable gift that's questionable, sit down and talk. Listen to why your child likes it. State why the item offends you. Then mediate a solution. You might decide to allow your son to wear the shirt, but only as a nightshirt or for working around the house.
Whether the issue is hairstyle, jewelry or clothing, fighting over personal preferences usually isn't worth damaging your relationship. Save your parent power for issues that really require a strong hand, such as multiple body piercings or permanent tattoos.
Ask yourself: "Can I live with it?" If your answer is "yes," but you still find it difficult to put up with, just do what our teens do with us: when you're walking down the street together, pretend you don't know them.
(By the way, Matthew's hair isn't all that bad.)
?Mary Manz Simon, Ed.D.
Mother, speaker, writer
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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