Teens and Clothing: Does Your Teen Live in One Outfit — Or Wear Clothes That Are Too “Adult”?

Posted January 6, 2012 by

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Have you noticed that your teen walks out of the house everyday wearing the same thing? Some seem to change multiple times a day, but there is a sizable portion of the teen population that wears the same article of clothing, usually a hoody or a jacket, no matter what the temperature, occasion, or soiled condition of the item. This can frustrate parents a great deal: “He has a closet full of clothes and he wears that?” If you’ve ever thought this, you’re not alone. Let’s consider the mindset of a teen that dresses in a singular fashion.

Teens are terribly preoccupied with their image. Why would they want to dress the same way all the time? They want to look good, but more importantly, they don’t want to look foolish. Wearing dark green shorts with a light green shirt, for example, is likely a misdemeanor in any secondary school lunchroom. No one wants to be called “green bean” or “pea pod,” so they wear what they know works. Were they to wear something different than the usual, they run the risk of looking “different” because the item is too green, too long, too short, too tight, or not black enough. Different isn’t always a good thing.

Because of  insecurities that are typical with most teens, they want to wear what they are most comfortable in — and I’m not talking about whether the item is a poly-cotton blend. Teens are insecure humanoids and in order to feel secure, they wear clothing that they know looks good and is stylish. So, think of that ratty old jacket as a comfort blanket. The tattered look is in and sometimes even the cleanliness of the shirt is secondary to the feeling of safety that some clothes bring.

Now, how far do we let this clothing thing go? That’s for each parent to decide, but here are some obvious guidelines.

Your teen must eventually leave the “clothing keeps me safe” mentality. Most do over time as they enter high school. My mother was never as happy as when I quit wearing black t-shirts. So, let this developmental process run its course. Also, your child needs to be taught that he doesn’t need to wear it if it stinks, if it’s inappropriate attire for the event, if it displays messages you don’t agree with, or if it’s too adult for the age of your child. Our teen girls are way too sexualized, which is a whole other side of the clothing issue.

Gemma Jones and Clementine Cuneo have written an article entitled Little Girls are the New Sex Objects. In it they talk to psychiatrists about our culture’s obsession with beauty, growing up and how it affects our children.

In some department stores, there are actually crop-top style bras for toddlers. This is just one symptom of an alarming trend to turn our children into mini-adults. It’s up to parents to decide what they want to purchase but trends and styles are sometimes so subtle that many don’t notice what is actually happening. They don’t see the long term effects of something that may seem innocent. “A bra for my toddler? Well, why not?” This is the wrong question. We should be asking, “What for?”

Dr Joe Tucci, the CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said enormous numbers of young children need psychological help because they are, “…being exposed to adult concepts far earlier than they are ready to understand,” he said. “They lack self esteem and confidence. If they don’t feel like they fit in, they feel like they are not as good as other kids.” These cultural issues have a tremendous impact on the upward turn of depression and anxiety levels in teens, especially girls.

Dr. Louise Newman, Professor of Developmental Psychiatry at Monash University says, “I’ve seen children suffering from clinical depression in primary school because they don’t feel they are pretty enough or thin enough or able to be popular. The girls are worried they won’t get boyfriends. Girls have started defining their self worth in terms of themselves as a sex object.” This trend is taking a heavy psychological toll on our girls. What about boys? Boys are hearing the wrong things about women from these cultural messages. This has its own set of problems for future relationships and is just another reason why we must protect our daughters.

Whether your child wears what he knows or wears what the television tells her, you must make sure they are learning a few things. First, they must understand their clothes say something about them, but they don’t say everything. Second, they must learn that beauty starts from the inside. While this may sound like a cliché, it is a powerful psychological tool that is grounded in reality and it will save them a lot of agony. Finally, they must realize that the world doesn’t have their best interests in mind, only you do. They’ll fight you kicking and screaming on this one, but such is the war we commit to when we become parents.


Dale Sadler is the author of 28 Days to A Better Marriage and How to Argue with Your Teen & Win. By day he works with middle schoolers and by night he is a family counselor specializing in marriage, parenting and men's issues. He works hard to be the husband and father his family needs. Follow him @DaleSadlerLPC or visit www.DaleSadler.net

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