Care and Feeding

I’m Mortified by How My Teens Dress Sometimes

Fishnet stockings at synagogue?

A set of legs wearing fishnet stockings and combat boots.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Petr Smagin/iStock/Getty Image Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

Do you have any advice for teaching kids to respect social norms of dress, without stifling their individuality?

I have two teenagers, ages 13 and 15. Both are generally good kids who get into a little trouble here and there (some low grades, lying about whereabouts once or twice) but no huge issues. Here’s our problem, though: As the pandemic wanes, my kids have exploded back onto the social scene and are eager to take advantage of opportunities to dress up and express their individuality through clothes. I am fine with this in certain contexts, but when they want to wear fishnet stockings to synagogue or to visit their grandma, or a shirt that says “F You” (the full word spelled out) to brunch with our family, I get upset. I think a crucial part of demonstrating individuality and growing up is also learning to understand and respect social norms of dress that may change depending on context.

We’ve approached this in a few ways, none of which have worked. I’ve asked the kids to go upstairs and change (they refuse), bring them changes of clothes in the car (they comply but are grouchy the entire visit), and even tried grounding, to no avail. What gives?

— Just Dress Up for God’s Sake

Dear Just Dress Up,

When you do have to shut an item of clothing or a look down, be clear that you aren’t making a referendum on your child’s sense of style, nor their ability to express it; rather, it’s just there are times where we dress a certain way for a reason. For instance, it shouldn’t be the goal to stand out and attract attention in synagogue, which is a time for folks to reflect, pray, and listen to the rabbi and other speakers, and it’s probably better to save that bold look for a trip to the mall. Remind them that some people may be open-minded enough to accept clothing with profanity, but there are many other adults who feel otherwise; grandparents and teachers are two such groups whose stances on such things should be taken seriously.

Also, you may want to consider that there may be times when it might be worth it for you to bend on their outfits; for example, the “F You” shirt may not pass muster in most situations, but fishnet stockings aren’t exactly the most provocative thing on earth, especially if they’re paired with an otherwise event-friendly outfit.

Alas, you have teenagers and if there’s one thing teenagers are gonna do, it’s challenging authority. So expect for them to continue to push up against these social norms and your rules related to them, for that’s simply part of the work of parenting at this point. A lack of easy adherence to traditional dress codes doesn’t mean your kids will become adults with no respect for authority; this is just part of the journey for many young people their age. Keep telling them what they need to hear.

—Jamilah

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