Her mother had just made a comment about how the outfit the girl was wearing was “too revealing” and so she would need to go change it. The fifteen year old girl tilted her hip and rolled her eyes as she smirked at her mom. This smile meant, “I don’t care what you say. I like this outfit and I’m not changing it.”
Parenting teenagers can be difficult. This mother was frustrated. I could tell that if I had not been sitting there she would have started a power struggle with her daughter and told her in a very loud voice to go take that outfit off.
The strong willed girl would have fought back and either worn the mother down and by so doing destroyed the family’s modesty policy, or would have given in while displaying great emotion, and probably tried to hide other outfits from her mother. Either way the relationship would have been damaged.
I hear some parents say, “Well, just let them wear what they want. They’ll grow out of it. Clothes don’t make them immoral. It’s not worth the fight.”
To these statements I say, if you are what you eat, why wouldn’t become what your wear? One choice in the wrong direction can encourage us to justify more and more deviation from the path we know we are supposed to take. I also say, parents should never fight with children. It’s not necessary. No issue is worth destroying a relationship over, but that doesn’t mean a parent should stop teaching standards either. What about “honor thy father and thy mother?” If that basic commandment doesn’t apply to our relationships then they are already in jeopardy of not being successful. There are more than two choices for handling a situation like this.
If we are only bodies and emotions, then maybe our choices are only to fight and get angry or give in. But, we are not just bodies. We are much more! This is why there are more than two choices. We have hearts which can direct us toward virtue and goodness and minds which are strong enough to control our bodies and our choices. Our understanding of goodness and principles coupled with our agency and ability to self-govern are the keys to our future strength.
As I looked at this defiant teenager, I felt that the mother wouldn’t mind if I said something. I began, “You know why your mother cares about what you wear don’t you?”
“No,” she said.
“It’s because everyone is selling something. Each person you meet is selling ideas, morals, standards, agendas, and products.”
“Products?” she questioned.
“Sure, if you like a certain kind of phone and you buy it and use it you are advertising for that company. If you listen to a certain song with your friends you are encouraging them to like that song and maybe even go buy that CD. Likewise, if you tell a lie and then laugh about it with your friends because you got out of a responsibility, then you are selling the idea that lying is okay as long as it serves you like you want it too. And, if you wear that shirt which shows a lot of your chest, your mother knows you are selling your body. You are advertising that you are happy to show what you have. Which leads boys to think you would also be willing to share some of it with them. Those boys would never treat you as respectful as they treat the girl who sells that she values her body. They would treat her like a lady and you like an object. Your mother doesn’t want that for you. She wants you to have the best boys liking you and she wants them to treat you right. You should respect yourself. And you should respect your mother and go change your outfit.”
“Okay” the girl said as she walked away.
The mother looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you!”
I didn’t do anything really earth shaking. I just told the girl in a really assertive way what she was doing. I described the messages she could be sending and how much her mother loved her. Nothing any good friend wouldn’t do.
Assertive communication is truthful. Telling the truth to children is always better than trying to shelter their feelings or trick them into good behavior. Truth is respected even if it is hard to take.
Just so you know, teaching children modesty should start when children are young. Don’t let them wear one thing when they are young and then change the rules when they are older. Keep a firm family standard the whole time. Our family’s family standard not only tells about what we consider to be modest clothing, but also talks about language, accessories, hair, jewelry, substances, media, electronics etc. Deciding upon your family’s standard as it relates to all of these topics and writing it down and discussing it often will protect your family, not only from deviating off the desired course, but from needless contention as well.
I could go into great detail about how to tell a child no and have them accept it, and how to help them calm down when they get upset. These are all skills families should learn to be happier and more self-governing. But, no matter what skill you apply to your family structure, it will not be effective unless it is assertive.