When it comes to kids’ clothing, image matters

Fresh from the beach, I still have visions in my head, and sadly, they’re not of waves and sandy feet. They’re of kids, mostly 12-20 years old, wearing clothing that would give my mother a heart attack and that made even this tolerant and mostly moderate mom and teacher do a double take. After 17 years in the high school classroom, it takes a LOT to shake me, but after this weekend, I consider myself well-shaken, and not like a good martini.

I saw my first jaw-dropping T-shirt on a young man (I’m guessing 15 years old) entering a restaurant. His shirt loudly exclaimed, “Harder! Stronger! Longer!” Now, what do you suppose that shirt suggests? To be certain I wasn’t missing some pop culture reference (it is summer, after all, my only time away from teenagers), I Googled that slogan before starting this blog. What followed was page after page of links I never hope to see again. To spare you the time, trouble, and visit to your closest priest, I’ll just cut to the chase – the T-shirt means precisely what you think it does. And this kid had no qualms about wearing it in front of his little sister, his parents, and his grandparents, all of whom, by the way, accompanied him. Did any of them look at the shirt askance? Did any of them say, “No way are you wearing that shirt in public!” Come to think of it, who bought him that shirt in the first place?

He wasn’t alone. Kid after kid wore shirts dripping with sexual innuendo. Girls wore cleavage-baring, skin-tight tops and short shorts that barely covered their tushes; boys wore T-shirts similar to the one I described. And parents looked on, as if it all were just fine, which I’m betting is a bit of a facade, as few parents are okay with their kids projecting that kind of image to the world.

So let me say this clearly: Parents, you have every right to veto your kids’ outfits if they are offensive, inappropriate or send messages you clearly don’t want your children to represent. I devoted an entire chapter of my book Teenagers 101 to clarifying the difference between clothes that express individuality and are relatively harmless and clothes that are dangerous for your kids to wear. That’s how important I view this topic to be. Do not shrug off your kids’ choice of fashion as “a hill I’m not willing to die on,” or say, “I have to choose my battles,” and then allow Trey to walk out of the house with his butt hanging out of his droopy drawers and his T-shirt screaming a misogynistic message. This better be a hill you are willing to die on because it speaks to your children’s character, morals, outlook on life, and yes, parents.

My main point is this: Always remember that how your kids present themselves to the world absolutely predicts how others respond to them. Fair or unfair, the fact remains that first impressions are made in literal seconds. And once that first impression is made, it’s hard to undue the damage.

So ask yourself these questions:

1. Are my kids likely to be hired based on the way they dress for nice venues?

2. If their grandparents saw them going to school, would they shake their heads in disgust or smile with pride?

3. Do my kids know how to dress for various occasions and places? Do they recognize that restaurant attire is different from ballpark attire?

4. Do they have respect for social mores and others’ expectations of them, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them?

Did that kid in the restaurant respect his parents and grandparents and did he demonstrate that by the way he dressed in their presence? Did he serve as a role model for his younger brothers and sisters? Would I have hired him? No way. To all three.

 

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