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Accepting Your Teen's Personal Style

January 28, 2015

By Ana Vela

Accepting Your Teen's Personal Style | A teen poses for a photo with her skateboard in a leather jacket, big round sunglasses, flannel and printed shirt.

During the teen years, your child will begin defining his or her identity. According to PBS's This Emotional Life, "the main goal of identity formation in adolescence is to develop a clear sense of self." There are many ways teens will explore their identities—one of those being personal style.

Fashion becomes a very important form of expression to a teen. As a parent, you have a critical role in helping your child shape the image he or she projects to the world. It's possible your teen will decide to make personal style choices that do not align to what's considered normal in society. Or your teen may make choices that you do not agree with. Regardless, be supportive through these phases to help your teen's self esteem.  

As someone who dressed "weird" as a teenager, being bullied and teased in school didn't nearly hurt me as much as having my own mother disapprove and be embarrassed of my appearance. 

According to Dr. Alexandra Dells-Abrams, a transpersonal psychologist, low self-esteem has been linked to violent behavior, school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement. If your teen feels that you do not like his or her identity, it may lead to further feelings of isolation and a household of constant arguing.

This happened with my family while I was a teenager. If my mother had attempted to understand me and be more supportive, the tension in our household would not have existed. Should this situation arise with my daughter, I plan to handle it differently to help build my daughter’s self-esteem. 

Here are various ways you can help as your teen explores his or her personal style:

Encourage Your Teen's Style

  • Find something to compliment him or her on. You may not like all the choices your teen made, but maybe there's one thing you can compliment.
  • Try to purchase gifts that align with his or her style as a way to show support. Buying gifts that do not align may be viewed as a sign of disapproval.
  • Talk to your child about the fashion choices you made as a teen. Show him or her photos if you have any. Have a good laugh about it, as it will help your teen see that everyone goes through an awkward phase.

Define Fashion Boundaries 

  • Outline what fashion choices are appropriate and inappropriate. Make sure your child understands what personal style options break the school's dress code and are not permitted.
  • Guide fashion choices based on the occasion. Help your child express him or herself even in situations such as a job interview, formal event like a wedding or funeral, or eating at a nice restaurant.

Teach Responsibility

  • Consider giving your teen a fashion budget. This will empower your child to make purchases within his or her budget, and will teach responsibility.
  • Discuss career options with your teen and what the dress code may be in a professional setting. Point out how social media images can be viewed by potential employers. Help your child understand how permanent personal style choices (such as a tattoo) may impact his or her future. Once your teen has that understanding, he or she can make a more informed choice.

Monitor Your Teen’s Behavior

  • Keep track of your teen’s school grades and performance to make sure his or her identity exploration is not negatively impacting his or her academics.
  • Meet your teen's friends. Are they making the same fashion choices? How do they behave when they are together?

Having good communication with your child will be critical. Find out why he or she is making the choices before you negatively judge your teen. Adolescence can be an awkward phase, and it will be so important that your teen knows you are there to support him or her through it.

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