For my daughter’s fifth birthday, our next door neighbour gave her a bra and pants set. My daughter was excited. I certainly wasn’t. The set soon ‘disappeared’. Somehow society in Australia has evolved so that the sexualisation of children is deemed ‘normal’.
What role should we as parents have in this?
I can’t speak for you but for my kids, I want them to dress using certain guidelines.
- Modesty. I want certain parts of their body covered appropriately. This also means not too tight that everything is virtually revealed anyway.
- Appropriateness. What is appropriate for the beach is usually not appropriate at church.
- Comfortable. No matter who you are, you need to be comfortable in your clothes and also to be able to perform whatever tasks you need to without restrictions from your clothing eg playing as a kid.
- Relationship is more important than rules. In our family, we often chat about how much skin is covered or not covered but we try and keep the relationship between us all as a priority and the clothes and how much is exposed or not exposed as the minority. Sunday morning works heaps better for our family if I have not been in a rush and when certain family members have asked if they can wear certain items of clothing, I have actually stopped and had a good look. Let me also say that there is not much in any of our family member’s wardrobe that is not appropriate for general wear but sometimes the top may need another longer top underneath to enable hands to be raised without bare skin being exposed. Our teenagers also feel free to give their opinion on what we as the adults wear and whether the clothes are the most flattering and suitable for the occasion.
- Don’t cause someone else to stumble. Not that we are to dress for others, but we need to be appropriate so that what we wear in public is not revealing too much flesh or sexuality.
- Be careful of what you model. This is in regard to appropriateness but also perception. I cannot remember the last time I wore a dress or skirt. Is it any surprise that my daughter hardly ever wears a dress or skirt?
- Take into account the nature of the activity. The Youth Group had a pool party last year and my daughter and her friend were the only girls to wear one piece bathers (after much discussion mind you!!). My daughter noticed, however, that her and her friend were in the pool all night and had no reservation about playing all the rough games without having to be concerned that their bathers might ‘slip’ etc whilst the other girls in their bikinis stayed mainly out on the chairs all night as the games were quite rough and physically challenging.
- Try and understand the thinking and the heart behind a certain dress code. I have learnt to ask questions of my children in regard to their thinking behind certain dress standards. When my son was nine years old, he went one whole year, including winter, wearing shorts. During winter he pulled his socks up to try to reach his knees. I just thought it was cute. I had bought him a pair of trousers and he had said he didn’t like them. I mistakenly thought he didn’t like trousers as he never wore them. Instead, it was the ‘feel’ of the material he didn’t like. It was only one year later that he expressed the wish for long pants/trousers and we had a discussion where he thought I wasn’t allowing him to wear long pants etc as I hadn’t bought him any other long pants. Don’t be afraid to explore deeper the issues behind why they adopt a certain dress code or why they need a certain item of clothing.
- Encourage their autonomy and self esteem to be expressed appropriately through their dress sense. When our daughter was a toddler, she was very particular about what she wore. She loved wearing her burgundy coat and scarf over a white t-shirt and long navy trousers with a pair of pink and white checkered short pyjamas over the top. Top this off with her shiny black shoes. She loved it and there was nothing wrong per se with what she was wearing. Granted, every time we went out, different older folk would stop her and comment on how beautiful she looked and ask her if she had dressed herself. She did look different but she loved it. It may not necessarily have been my way of dressing her but did it really matter. She loved being able to dress herself and the look really didn’t matter. It helped her in her independence and autonomy. I learnt to ‘pick’ the battles and the way she dressed as a toddler was not a huge issue.
I once heard Danny Silk (from Bethel) speaking and he shared how his teenage daughter had, on one occasion, wanted her mother to take her shopping. The daughter came out dressed in an extremely short pair of shorts and a crop trop with her stomach showing quite a lot of flesh. Danny’s wife said sure, she would take her shopping but she herself just had to go and change her clothes first. She went to the bedroom, cut up an old pair of shorts so that they were extremely short and modified a top so that her stomach was bare and came out dressed similarly to her daughter. The daughter was horrified and stated that she wouldn’t go out with her mother dressed like that. The mother said that she would wear a similar outfit to her daughter. The daughter soon changed to more appropriate clothes.
What are your family’s guidelines in relation to dress code? I would love to hear what you have implemented that works well for your family.