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Best Friend's Mother Too Extravagant

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

Q: I have a 14-year-old son. His best friend's mother took them both to the mall and purchased my son over $200.00 worth of clothing. Please note that I had no forewarning of this purchase and besides the clothes that were purchased were not the style I find suitable. My son is aware of my standard as far as dress. Also, I have two younger children, and we are not poor. What should I do ? Should I return the clothes(I'm leaning towards this one) or should I pay her for clothes that I would not have purchased myself? Who's the parent here?

A: There seem to be a few factors at play here, so let's separate them out and make a reasoned response. First, while you consider your son's best friend's mom's extravagant gifts of clothing to be inappropriate, she may merely see her purchases as a spontaneous act of generosity, generosity based on her fondness for your son and his relationship with her son. I doubt that she was planning on spending more than $200 on clothing for him when they all left for the mall. If this were the case, she should have consulted you first before she bought him anything.

Secondly, your son may have done his charming best to become the beneficiary of all these clothes, clothes I might add that he wants to wear but knows you won't buy him because you don't find the styles "suitable". He knew full well that he was getting clothes, and lots of them, that you would disapprove of. So there may be an element here of "payback" against you for denying him the ability at the age of 14 (when clothes are very important) to be who he wants to be.

I suggest that you call and/or meet this woman and be honest with her about how you feel regarding this situation. Don't go in with a chip on your shoulder or blaming her for going behind your back or undermining your parental role. Returning all these clothes or allowing your son to accept only one moderately priced article of clothing as a gift might be the best way to settle this dilemma.

Of course, that leaves you and your teen still at odds over what kind of clothes he should wear. Clothing style battles with kids are not battles that I suggest parents engage in. Should your taste in clothes translate to forbidding your teenage son from presenting himself in the world as he sees fit? Why, unless his choice of clothing is too expensive for your family's budget?

If economics is the problem, then we have another type of argument, one that may be solved by his earning some money to purchase these more expensive styles of clothing. But, from what you have said, this is an emotional disagreement on "proper" clothing, not an economic disagreement. I'd search your own emotions for the real reasons that you don't want him to dress in a particular way then decide if those reasons are valid enough to dictate to him how he should look. 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.

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