How to handle teen clothing battles

When the clothing battles begin ...
When the clothing battles begin ... Photo: Getty

We know that teenagers are all about expressing themselves and pushing boundaries, and never is it more apparent than when it comes to their choice in clothing. As they begin to develop their own taste and style, so begins the start of ongoing conflicts for parents all over the country. 

Janna-Fay Tuck, a freelance stylist from Sydney, believes that the rise in social media and fast fashion has a lot to do with teenagers' increased awareness of their appearance.

"From a young age, children are searching for their place in society and clothing is a strong tool in creating this," she explains. "Clothing can be a form of expression for some and for others a mere necessity. The main source of conflict though, in my opinion, is the increase in revealing clothing aimed at children."

Tuck believes that children should be allowed to express themselves through creative means, such as clothing, but also understands that it is a parent's duty to protect their child as a priority.

"If you have strong opinions on skin exposure, such as exposing midriff tops or short skirts, creating some clear boundaries to avoid conflict is important," says Tuck. "If a child gets off track and is choosing items you deem inappropriate, gently remind them to stay focused and assist them in finding alternative garments of similar prints/ fabrics."

"Keep in mind that what you say to children about their personal style and body will affect them into their adult years.  While the parent is entitled to make reasonable judgement, allow the child to freely express themselves in a manner that is not defined wholly by trends and sex appeal."

Psychologist Jocelyn Brewer agrees that a child or teenager asserting their preferences for styles is all part of identity formation. She also agrees that it is important that parents don't shut down this self-expression.

"Parents need to be aware that they don't create a situation whereby the child becomes self conscious about what they look like, because they are constantly being told it is wrong, for whatever reason," she explains.

Brewer says the best approach to avoiding conflict is to encourage personal choice, whilst establishing boundaries that are agreed and understood. She suggests talking through outfits that you both like, and what they might portray as an image.

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"It can also be helpful to discuss, in a non-judgemental way, what you see others wearing or images in magazines with an awareness of how marketing is used to sell products," says Brewer. "Some kids will inherently be more creative and take more 'risks' around what they wear and how they combine clothes, but what they watch and read about fashion and the celebrities they follow might add to it."

In terms of what to avoid, Brewer says that turning the conflict into a 'what I like' versus 'what you like' battle is a no win situation, as is acting like your own parents when it comes to personal choice, and pushing out dated fashion rules onto your kids.

"Generally the conflict is purely an issue of taste and personal preference, and is all part of generational and cultural change," says Brewer. "A kid's decision to wear something isn't generally a discipline issue, it's a difference of opinion. Therefore I'd suggest parents be able to draw a difference between behaviour which is not appropriate and personal style parents simply might not like!"

Laura Reed-Churchill, a stylist at The Style Report, helps many teenage girls and Mums overcome battles around what to wear by conducting one on one styling sessions.

"A style session for a teenage girl can be a great experience because it makes them feel as though their parents have listened to what they want. It's something that's all about them, and a chance to really assess where they're at with their own style and how that fits in with their lifestyle."

Reed-Churchill says that lots of mums will either stay for the whole style session if their daughter is shy about expressing herself and her likes and dislikes, or they'll tag along for a few minutes then leave their daughter to try things on her own before meeting up and debriefing again afterwards.

Through these sessions, girls are given the opportunity to look at their personal style in a positive way and understand how to dress appropriately to express confidence on any occasion. 

Reed Churchill also believes that it helps alleviate tensions between mother and daughter as hearing the same advice from a third party can help to clarify some ideas for the teenager.

"With social media capturing every wardrobe decision most teenage girls will make, it's no wonder some of them feel pressure that way," says Reed-Churchill.  "But once they've had a chance to really think about what they want to wear and why, they normally draw their own conclusions around the limits of what's acceptable and what's not, which makes mum's life easier."