Rated PG

As I watch the school bus pull away, I consider the argument its arrival just interrupted.

Two weeks of school, two weeks of daily arguments about clothes.

My son is a good kid, not nasty or cruel or willfully disobedient; the rules he breaks are pretty minimal. And I know that parents and kids have argued about clothing for generations and generations. I certainly remember refusing to wear hats and gloves, finally grudgingly agreeing to pull them on, only to remove them once I rounded the corner. I also remember trying to wear things my dad thought were inappropriate for a girl of my age at the time.

I don’t like starting the morning with an argument, but it’s not our frustrating exchange that I am dwelling on. It’s actually something about the issue itself that I heard being discussed on the radio the other morning.

An authority on child advocacy was arguing that parents should not interfere with what their children choose to wear. They should instead, she posited, celebrate their children’s independence and freedom of choice in an area that is relatively harmless.

The radio presenter asked her guest whether she would be ok with a parent requiring their child to put on something warmer on a cold day or to take off something they found to be inappropriate.

The answer was no. It is, in her humble opinion, never a good idea to interfere with your child’s clothing choices.

If they are underdressed, they will get cold and may get sick. They will learn from that. If they are wearing something inappropriate, they will equally have to deal with and learn from the consequences. If their colours don’t match, what’s the worst that could happen?

Because of my nature, these kinds of strong parenting opinions tend to make me second-guess myself. And so, as I have continued to argue each morning with my son about what he has chosen to wear, there is a little seed of doubt somewhere inside, nagging me to keep quiet.

Finally, this morning, I stopped to face this little voice and consider what it, and the radio guest, were saying.

And I must say, I really strongly disagree with the view that we shouldn’t interfere with our kids’ clothing choices. I am all for them developing independence and the ability to think for themselves. I equally agree that they need to learn to make decisions for themselves and to live with the consequences.

But saying that, I know from experience that my child isn’t going to learn anything from catching a cold.  He has, in the dead of the Canadian winter, forgotten to put his jacket on over his short sleeved t-shirt when walking from school to his after school program. And he has gotten sick. And then he has done it again.

So, I am going to tell him to wear something warmer if it’s freezing outside. He may remove it as soon as he gets out of my sight, but I have at least made sure that if he gets cold later, he has that extra layer. And hopefully it will sink in and one day he’ll realize he’d rather not be cold.

I also think there is value in teaching your child about colour coordination. If I don’t tell him that an orange t-shirt doesn’t go with red pants, who will? And would it be better that the useful information came from me or from some taunting person three years from now? If I were my son in that position, I would want to know why my mom hadn’t stopped me from going out like that.

Even more importantly, I think parents, as role models and informal teachers in their children’s lives, have a key role to play in showing children how to dress appropriately and not offensively. I am not going to let my child wear a rude t-shirt out of the house (or to pick one out in the first place). I am not going to let him wear droopy pants that hang so low I can see the butt of his underwear. I am going to try my damnedest to teach him that the droopy-seated, accident-in-the-pants look is not a good one.

Hopefully, teaching our kids how to dress at an early age will give them a good foundation for choosing their style as they get older – and help them avoid some of the current ridiculous and inappropriate trends, including dressing disreputably at work.

So, Advocate for Children’s Independence, I must respectfully disagree with you. I think it’s ok for parents to tell their children to put on an extra layer, to make sure their clothes don’t clash and to pull up their pants.

And I don’t think that by doing this, we are deeply wounding their sense of self. Nor are we impinging upon their right to freedom of choice.

It’s called parental guidance. It’s kind of part of our job.


19 thoughts on “Rated PG

  1. So i do agree with you! I luckily have a son who doesn’t care at all about what he wears, so far, and he’ll be 9 in November. I just pull out an outfit and he puts it on. Unless it’s uncomfortable, I don’t hear anything! I hear it’s much worse for girls though, who have strong opinions about what they wear. I can’t believe what some boys come to school in–holes in jeans, ugly t-shirts with promotional stuff. I make sure my son knows we don’t do that unless every piece of clothing is unclean and that’s all we have! We just had a conversation yesterday where my husband looked at me kind of irked, because I bought my son those short socks that you wear with sneakers. I guess he was surprised and thought they were dumb. But I told them both that it looked weird to wear long socks with shorts…I mean really, neither of them knew this? Thank goodness my son still listens to me and I’ll keep telling him the rules for as long as he’ll let me. Husband? Not so sure! He still wears shorts sleeves to work in winter ……

    • Haha! We aren’t really a fashion conscious family, except for our son! We’re trying to influence his sense of fashion in the respectable direction as he seems to be drawn towards the cool, tough look. At the age of 8!
      At least he likes those ankle socks!

  2. I agree with you. We have to guide our kiddos because, well, they are kids. Getting dressed in the morning is a constant source of drama at my house. I’ve several different approaches with my 4 year old twin daughters. The fussiness I encounter (well, really a s***-fit) makes me long for the baby days when I just put clothes on them. My goal is to lay out all the clothes for the week on Sunday, using a handy over the door hook (sparkly, of course!). Even though they are onboard at the time we lay out the clothes, inevitably one gets a wild hair. Some days I give in and let them change, somedays I stick to my guns. Most days I wonder if I’m screwing things up by not being militiant in my consistancy. I know it’s a strong movement now to let the kids run the show, and I worry constantly over whether I’m doing this job correctly. I like the idea of offering two choices, giving two warnings and moving along with our day.

    • Thanks for the comment!
      It’s always good to hear about how others handle it, and what self-doubt others grapple with in parenting.
      As you say, they are the kids – and we are the parents. I think we will see some negative side effects of letting kids run the show. They can develop a sense of self and have independence while also receiving guidance from us.

      • Agreed! When I worry I’m setting too many rules, or expecting too much I look around at a certain group of 28-30 year olds that I know. Their parents were t-i-r-e-d by the time they came along, they ran roughshod over their parents and now, they’re the type of people I avoid working closely with! I don’t want my kids to be those kids!

  3. I’m with you. For one thing, good parenting doesn’t have hard and fast, rigid rules – you go with what seems best at any given moment. And sometimes what is best is to say, “I really think you need to go change clothes.” Not always, but sometimes. What came to surprise me was that my son would quietly take my advice, though he tried to slip by without my noticing that he’d gone and changed into what I’d suggested. It was nice to know I wasn’t as lame as he used to pretend I was. 🙂
    Amy at http://www.momgoeson.wordpress.com

    • Yes, as much as my son doesn’t like it in the moment, he has learned that parents (at least his) are there to set boundaries and to say no sometimes, and he gets that it’s because we care. As parents, we have to do what we think is best.
      Sweet that your son would try to slip past having taken your suggestion!
      Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  4. Excellent piece of writing, Silverleaf – and, certainly for the pre-teens, I am entirely in agreement with you! xxx

  5. When my children were growing up I was given an absolutely priceless piece of advice. “Don’t hassle them about the little things and then when you really NEED to make demands they will be more likely to respect them. Plus there won’t be so many daily fights.” So I bit my tongue many times. Now that my children are in their 40’s I never have regretted that policy and I highly advise all of your generation to take it as well. THey all turned out well able to care for themselves and made very good lives and families. And oh by the way – in today’s teen world red and orange DO go together! Have you noticed that there really IS no dress code in today’s world unless the individual works for some REALLY fancy NY law firm or something. So let it go! It will be fine.

    I really enjoy reading your posts! I’m just an old grandma telling it like it is!

    • I’ve been thinking more about what you said – I love it when a comment occupies my mind! – and I think there’s a difference between then and now. I think it was possible to give kids more freedom then and not worry about them turning out poorly. Now, with video games, mass commodification and commercialization, and a general degradation of values, I’m not sure. I mean, sure in the past the older generation was horrified to see kids dressing like Elvis, but now they think gangster is cool. It’s just not the same society, sadly.

  6. Totally agree. Following that logic..children should eat as much candy as they want, and do as much homework as they want. SIGH

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