QUESTION: I have a 15-year-old daughter.
She is an honor student, in the top 10 percent of her class and she
has never been disrespectful toward us. However, I hate the way she
dresses. It is weird! She has green hair and black lipstick! She is
sloppy and her hair always looks dirty. The guys that are attracted
to her look like freaks of nature. She is really pretty, but she is
so intent on looking freaky that I'm embarrassed to be seen with her.
I have read many articles on raising a teen and they all tell me that
my teen is normal but I still feel upset. If she's normal, why does
she look so different?
ANSWER: Your daughter is clearly bright
and a fairly cooperative teenager. She follows rules at school and
at home. The only area she is causing you to stretch on is her individual
taste in appearance. Perhaps you should consider yourself lucky!
Adolescence is a time of separating from parents and
yet depending upon them simultaneously. Competing needs for independence
and dependence makes this period an inevitable hotbed for conflict
in the family. Teenagers handle this transition in their families
in a variety of ways, including experimenting with dress that defies
parental standards. Can you remember a time when you acted or dressed
in a way that your parents couldn't understand?
It is your daughter's job to express her individuality.
She must find a sense of "belonging" that encompasses her originality.
Perhaps this is what her current dress style satisfies. The fact that
she has followed the rules for success academically is an indication
that she will likely show good judgment when it is time to apply for
a job she wants to get by dressing appropriately! Rest assured that
you have done a great job in giving her good values and no doubt real
common sense, to boot.
Your responsibilities as a parent do change in adolescence.
You must make way for her to transition into adulthood. This does
not take place overnight, nor is it painless. Consider her a "beginning
adult." Your job is to be interested, (not critical) about the emotional
meaning of her unique taste. This is a time you can get to know her
better, or become alienated. Your own approach to her may spell the
Enter into a discussion with your daughter about her
tastes in clothes and makeup. Become truly interested in what she
does get out of dressing in this way. It is fine to share your own
different feelings and tastes, but do so in a manner that makes room
for her individual identity, rather than squelching it. Explore what
her life is really like.
Times have changed, and it will be interesting to
contrast your experience of high school with her own. Do not make
the assumption that they need to be similar. Explore her experience
of her social life and her friendships and what they mean to her.
Seek to understand the meaning of her "unusual dress." It may be that
it stands for a particular code of ethics or signals a sense of "belonging"
to a group. She must want to make some kind of statement, but you
will never find out what it is if you approach her with disdain instead
It is at this time that we as parents must show our
children what we want them to value by doing it. It is very tempting
to reflect annoyance, criticality and a true lack of respect for your
teenager. (After all, aren't they acting ridiculous?) Instead, try
treating them with increased respect. Take the attitude that they
will open up to you, as you relate to them in a positive and curious
manner, rather than a deprecating one.
Consider also that you may gain spiritually, from
experiencing some humility during this period. Your ability to react
with increased neutrality instead of acute embarrassment will most
probably prove satisfying to you in the end. It will also help you
bridge the "gap" with discussions that keep you connected during this
time of change your daughter is experiencing. In this way, you will
remain available to her should she need to turn to you for help.
Adolescence challenges our growth as parents to develop
into that which we preach. I found this to be a period in which I
had to learn increased patience and tolerance. It takes time for teenagers
to develop the strong sense of self necessary for handling adult life.
It might help to keep in mind that a chrysalis is not really a very
pretty sight. But the butterfly that eventually emerges is remarkably