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Daughter Dressing Inappropriately

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My daughter, who's a sophomore in high schoool, used to be very preppie, but now she listens to punk rock and dresses like a "skater." She used to be into fashion, but now she'll only shop at second-hand stores. She chose not to try out for the squad this year because she said the girls are back-stabbing party-goers who indulge in sex, drugs, and liquor. She's found a place with another group of kids who are kind of "out there" in their sense of style.

When my husband and I tried to put some limits on her attire, she countered with the fact that she goes to school every day, always makes curfew, doesn't use drugs, and consistently makes honor roll each quarter. We realized that we might push her to rebel if we did not permit her some freedom to express her individuality. However, it pains us to know that other kids (and their parents) are ridiculing the way she looks. Should we be more insistent on appropriate dress?

A: Your daughter has turned away from the world of preppie cheerleaders and their lifestyle based upon sound moral judgments. I would argue that you have every reason to appreciate and celebrate your daughter's strength of character and moral development. Those around her should be more interested in encouraging understanding for kids who dress unlike the preppie mainstream than in suggesting that she may be headed for trouble.

I understand how hard it is for you to get past your daughter's dramatic change in her physical appearance. But I would ask you to allow and encourage her to present herself in the world as she chooses, when it comes to her clothes, hairstyles, etc. In matters of dress, conformity to the majority does not confer maturity or goodness upon the conformist. Your daughter has chosen the lifestyle attire of a skater and is drawn to punk music because they give her an identity that she's comfortable with. You needn't tell her that you think she looks "her best" in her skater attire or pretend that you like her choice in alternative music. But I am asking you not to shame her because of these choices or show her your disappointment in her.

She needs to know that you care more about who she is, rather than what she wears. You know the goodness that your daughter possesses. Don't cave in to narrow-minded intolerance that surrounds your family. For some wisdom in helping your daughter be true to herself, read a book by a mom who went through what you are going through now, Beyond Looks and Labels: A Guide to Raising Unconventional Teens, by Katherine Murray. In addition to recounting her own story with her daughter, Murray also interviews many other parents who met this challenge. I believe that if you think about what's really important, you'll be able to act out of love in your daughter's best interests. Thanks for writing.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.

Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.


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