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My Rules vs. My Teens' Style

My Rules vs. My Teens’ Style

By Mir Kamin

I have a vivid memory from when I was about 14. It was the 80s, and a lot of the teen-approved styling was… unfortunate… and one day I got ready for school in a plaid wool skirt, thermal underwear bottoms (instead of tights), and an inside-out oversized sweatshirt. My mother took one look at me and said that I looked homeless. I was insulted, of course. I looked awesome. And then she said those dreaded words, “You are not leaving the house dressed like that. What will people think?”

I suspected they would think that at 14 years of age, my mommy was no longer picking out my clothes. It was infuriating to me that my mother was implying that the way I looked was somehow a reflection on her. I wasn’t a toddler.

Whenever I think one of my kids is leaving the house looking… not quite the way I might’ve hoped, I try to remind myself that they’re teens now, and it’s good and right for them to make their own choices. Hopefully no one thinks I’m orchestrating their style at this point in their lives, and if they do, oh well. I try to pick my battles in this arena very carefully, lest my opinions squelch burgeoning selfhood. I don’t always succeed—there is the occasional “Really?” that emerges in my outside-the-head voice—but for the most part I think we’re in a good place.

Rules about Hygiene

Contrary to what many of us would like to believe, even otherwise capable teenagers are not always blessed with the ability to recognize when they’ve begun to reek of eau de hormones. Some parents may find it uncomfortable to talk about this stuff or worry that it will embarrass the kid. You know what is embarrassing for a kid? Having other kids think they smell. The advantage of autism (at least for us) in this arena is that we were all well-accustomed to “personal care skills building” long before the first zit arrived on the scene. Just as you once taught your little ones how to wash themselves in the tub, how to navigate taking a shower, I see teen hygiene is really more of a health issue than an appearance issue. As my kids hit middle school, we talked about the changes on the horizon, wearing deodorant, changes in your skin, etc. My experience has been that there’s a year (or two) wherein some gentle urging towards more frequent bathing (and its pals: deodorant, dandruff shampoo, and Stridex) may be necessary.

That said, when necessary, I don’t have a problem with saying, “You need to go take a shower. Right now.” If I can smell you from here, I’m going to make that choice for you. Sorry (I’m not sorry).

My daughter wanted to start shaving when she was in middle school. We started her with an electric razor and after a while I taught her how to use a real blade. I suspect this felt like a no-brainer because I, too, shave my legs and armpits and started around that age. Had she asked to shave much younger (I know that’s happening more and more) I’m not sure how I would’ve reacted. Had she opted not to shave at all, that would’ve been okay with me, too. [I think I sound very enlightened and Zen right there, so let me hasten to add I am having nightmares about teaching my son to shave, and he hasn’t even started yet. I am not always logical.]

Rules about Hair

I have a hard time getting worked up about hair choices, personally. The marvelous thing about hair is that it grows back, so it’s not as though a bad haircut is a lifetime sentence. That said, I do require a waiting period for any drastic changes. If you decide to cut all of your hair off, we’re not going to do that the second you decide it’s a good idea. Take a few days to be sure. And I’m not going to okay something that’s super-damaging to my kids’ hair—no bleaching it to white, for example—unless they’re prepared to shave their heads, after. (Yep, that’s the rule. My daughter decided she was not interested in that, after all.)

My son had long hair for years and years, something that was born of an aversion to haircuts and eventually became his “thing” for a while. People mistook him for a girl all the time and it never bothered him. One day he decided he was ready for a haircut and that was that. Now he prefers to keep it short, and I don’t think he cares about how it looks. My daughter has cut her hair quite short, twice, though she swears now she’ll never do it again (we’ll see). There have been a couple of forays into having bangs, when it’s been long. For a while she had one of those angled cuts (longer in the front) and for a short time when it first became popular, she had feathers in her hair. Lately she’s experimenting some with color; right now she’s rocking some ombre, but she says she’s thinking about doing purple tips again.

The house rules about hair are that it needs to be clean and combed and not in your face. Other than that? Dude, it’s your hair. I don’t care. Have fun with it now before you’re a grownup with the world putting expectations on you.

Rules about Clothing

Again, my son doesn’t have much in the way of preferences about appearances. He’s happy with jeans and t-shirts that sport nerd jokes. My daughter definitely has her own ideas about style, and as I mentioned in my piece about thrifting, the trick becomes deciding what’s a rule and what’s a preference. The rules are things like not having your underwear exposed or wearing a shirt with profanity on it (neither of which my kids would want to do, anyway). Preferences are trickier, though. For example: This summer it was kind of a popular thing for girls to cut up t-shirts and tie them back together again in interesting ways to make sort of fancy tank or crop tops. (Maybe this has been a thing for longer than that, I have no idea.) I asked my daughter to check with me before cutting up any of her shirts, and she assured me she’d wear a fitted tank top under the new/old shirt which had a lot of (planned) holes, but beyond that, I just kind of shrugged. I wouldn’t have spent money on a shirt like that for her, but she took an old shirt she didn’t wear much anymore and made it over into something she liked better.

Remember when your kids were little and there was a point when your toddler wanted to wear shorts in the middle of winter or snow boots in August, and you had to weather (pun intended) a tantrum to get them into appropriate clothing? I now live in Georgia, with a teenager who lives in combat boots. She wears them year-round. I have heatstroke just looking at her in those things in the summer, but she’s not a toddler anymore. Her choice.

On the one hand, I think all of this is very easy for me to say because neither of my children tend to be all that “out there” with their style choices. On the other hand, maybe they’re not making outlandish choices because it wouldn’t be a point of rebellion…? Allow me my fantasy, that in some small way, I actually influenced my offspring.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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  • tcmullinax

    September 3, 2013 at 5:44 pm

    When my now 13 year-old daughter was a toddler in preschool, we let her wear what she wanted.  Nine out of ten times, she did “okay”.  However, I have a photo of her wearing a toy cowboy hat, multicolor plaid/ floral sweatshirt, yellow zebra-striped stretch pants, and a lovely pink tu-tu.  Oh, and high-top Converse…green in color, of course!

    And for the record, I think your grunge outfit back in the day sounds PERFECT!!

    • Mir Kamin

      September 3, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Love it! I hope you put that picture in her high school yearbook. 😉

  • Jean

    September 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

    OMG, I totally love the outfit you wore in high school and it brings back fond memories. I remember my my not letting me wear one of those skirts that was longer in front and back and shorter on the sides because she thought it was trashy. But then her letting me wear a denim miniskirt that was shorter all around then that other skirt was on the sides…weirdness.

    Thank goodness my son (now 9) has adopted his father’s genetic for “I must be clean at all times”. And it’s his dad’s job to teach him how to shave 🙂 I agree with the hair thing…but so far he has no desire to do anything but a short cut.

  • […] I’ll take what I can get. I’m not proud. Meanwhile, my teens are free to express themselves in various ways, as long as they shower […]

  • Karen R

    September 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I took a bit of an opposite tack with my son. I grew up with a brother for whom anything went. Long hair? Fine. Pot? Fine. Lots of alcohol? Fine. Harder drugs? Fine. I wondered if my brother might not have strayed into worse stuff if *anything* he did had been seen as a rebellion.

    So, when my son grew his hair very long, I let him know that I wasn’t happy with it. No fights, no threats, no demanding that he cut it short, but enough to know that it was a successful rebellion. And he never went for worse. And, now in his mid-thirties, he still has long hair, but that ponytail is a lot thinner…

    Maybe that would have happened regardless, and maybe my brother (who is just fine now) would have hit the harder drugs even if my mother had objected to his hair. No way to know. Hey, whatever works. 🙂

    And I’m totally with you on that whole shower thing.

  • Cheryl S.

    September 4, 2013 at 11:37 am

    I’m with you on this one. My daughter is 8. On weekends (She wears a uniform to school), she picks her clothes. And she chooses them deliberately, no matter what other people think she looks like. (My only rule is that if we’re going to church, she has to look appropriate. And if we’re going somewhere nice like out to dinner, she has to match.)

    We were at the doctor’s office one day and she had on 2 different flip flops. The nurse said something about not being able to find a pair. I was so proud of my daughter. She said ” I know where they are. I WANTED them this way!”

  • not supergirl

    September 4, 2013 at 11:53 am

    My younger daughter is the creative dresser in our house. She wants the attention and wants to stand out. Her summer day camp counselors always chuckled when they noted how creatively she dresses. My older girl, though, is more sedate. She’s just starting, at 12, to break out a bit from the t-shirt plus shorts/pants habit. As her style develops, it’s turning out to be sort of kickass. She loves her tall brown leather boots (cheap ones, but what does she know?) and pairs them with the most adorable dresses.
    I had to laugh at your comment about keeping them clean, though. When my older daughter was a baby, a close friend once remarked, as I was wiping my baby girl’s face after a meal, that I kept my baby so clean, not filthy like some of the kids she sees around. I took such pride in that, whenever I didn’t feel competent as a parent. At least my kid was clean… usually.

  • Anne

    September 4, 2013 at 11:57 am

    My only rule when they were little was that the clothes choice was weather appropriate and clean. When they hit their teens I added “no slutty” clothes. It’s slightly problematic since all three of my girls have very different body types. What looks okay on one may  be too risqué on another.  So, much to everyone’s annoyance, slutty is on a case by case basis.

    • Mir Kamin

      September 4, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      I’m giggling over “no slutty.” I said something about “no visible bra straps; buy a strapless bra” in my Goodwill post and a commenter got very bent out of shape with me because different body types, etc. I still maintain that if your bosom is large enough that it cannot be properly supported strapless, then tiny straps or no straps are not for you. Different bodies, different rules absolutely makes sense.

      On the other hand, my daughter has the body to pull off lots of styles I find inappropriate, hence the phrase, “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” 😉

  • Chuck

    September 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    When it comes to Monkey starting to shave, I recommend an electric – it’s how I started anyhow.  And Otto is right there to give him advice whatever type of implements you end up choosing.  I did eventually learn to use a regular style razor but I still use an electric most of the time.

  • Rachel

    September 4, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    When I read “for a short time when it first became popular, she had feathers in her hair.” I thought of Farrah Fawcett & thought “I was barely alive when that first became popular, and it was a LOOONNNNGGG time before Chickie was born.” Then I realized you were talking about actual feathers, not the feathered hair style. Hahaha, yep, I’m old.

  • Lucinda

    September 4, 2013 at 2:11 pm

    I chuckle over how my minimum rules have changed (rather shrunk) over the years.  When the kids were in preschool, it needed to be clean, weather appropriate and in good condition.  Matching was preferable but not required.  I no longer worry about weather appropriate and in good condition is subjective these days.  I still insist on clean (and covering of course) but beyond that, I let them do their own thing which can be kind of fun to watch.  Especially when your daughter rocks bold stripes and a zombie hat.

  • BKC

    September 5, 2013 at 2:46 am

    My friends think I’m crazy but I have my kiddo repeat this phrase when I’m brushing her hair: “My appearance reflects on my family and myself.”  Clean, well-fitting clothes appropriate to the weather and the activity reflect what is important to me.

    As a young mom, I found that when I let my kid rock crazy clothes she picked out herself, or let her scrounge around in the dirt at the park, I didn’t get indulgent smiles from other parents and the, “Oh, kids will be kids.”  I got dirty looks and comments to the air about how “some people” really shouldn’t have kids.  I probably trend too far in the other direction now, but it stung.

  • Celeste

    September 6, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I let, no, I HELPED my kids dye their hair in weird colors while they were in middle school. I thought it would be great to let them get it out of their systems at that age. Before jobs and college and all that. My son was blue for a few weeks. When the color faded he was bleached blonde. My daughter rocked several colors over time, and they’re both over it.

    I’m completely with you on making people wait a few days before undertaking a radical hairstyle change. Often the urge will pass if you give it a little time. That’s where ADD can be your friend. Ooooh look, a bunny.

    • Mir Kamin

      September 9, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      Totally LOLing about ADD being your friend here. So true!!