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Barely Passing
The struggle to dress cool for school

Jessica Krznaric
The Baltimore Jewish Times
November 13, 2008

After receiving a recent visit from my cousin, a high school senior, it wasn’t news to me that she fell into the pandemonium of teenage dressing. Her darkened eye liner, low cut blouse, 4-inch heels and cigarette in hand made her appear more like a joke than a soon to be college student. The issue of inappropriate dress hasn’t just spread throughout the halls of high schools but also among junior high schoolers and preteens. Craving thongs that read “Hot Stuff” on the rear, mirroring the makeup styles of pop stars and dressing years beyond their age is not brain surgery that the effects of the media are playing a role in children’s clothing styles, and their teachings of “sexiness equals popularity” are being aced.

“Kids are taking in the hype before they really understand what ‘being sexy’ means,” says psychologist Susan Linn, Ed.D., cofounder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and author of “Consuming Kids,” but the media is not the only factor to blame. The standard of what is appropriate has lowed immensely, baring more than we want to see. Why?

“Adults are giving in,” says Borba. “Instead of trying out a range of new things and building confidence that way, kids are borrowing identities from celebrities.”

Focusing on the student, the teen years are a struggle for one’s identity and self-expression, resulting in hard times with difficult decisions. Statistics show that 52 percent of teenagers feel pressure from classmates to dress a certain way (Meredith Corporation, 2008).

Clothing becomes more than a representation of personalities, but for many, a dire need to fit in. Dressing too modestly brings the fears of not feeling “cool,” appearing boring and unattractive, which to a teenager feels like their world is ending. As adolescents struggle for acceptance, it’s easier to mimic the clothing styles of other students and experience the satisfaction of fitting in.

Additionally, “the older the teen girl, the more important dressing like her friends and matching them is. From about fifth grade on, if you don’t have the right clothes, you’re scorned. And for kids in this age group, nothing is as important to psychological health as having friends,” says Lisa Machoian, Ed.D., author of “The Disappearing Girl.”

For one 16-year-old student, the pressures of fitting in began when she was in the fourth grade where ribbons and lip gloss were essentials if you wanted to be “cool.” She went on to say, “[Starting around sixth grade, though,] it took on a more sinister character. People would start wearing really short skirts and lower tops and putting on more makeup. There’s a strong pressure to grow up at this point.”

One factor that every parent should understand is the pressures of conformity and popularity presented by today’s fashion trends in schooling, because chances are your child does not recognize the misconceptions behind their clothing choices.

“Don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t see the connection between dressing provocatively. The latest studies show that a teen’s brain is not developed enough to understand the consequences of his actions until well into [their] 20s,” says Elaine B. Kaplan, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles.

But as a parent, how do you respond?

Use the situation to your advantage by finding a way to satisfy your child’s clothing desires. Duplicate the styles of their favorite celebrities or musical artists. Spend quality time together by going out shopping and trying to emulate the look. Act open to your child’s suggestions, not defensive. Open communication and acceptance of their needs is the key in getting through to your child.

It is also important to have deep discussions, inform the child of the portrayal revealing clothing has, and meet his or her friends to become aware of the social scene your child is trying to fit into. Additionally, acting as a strong role model, getting your child involved in an outside activity, or educating them through courses arouse positive thinking and responsible decision-making.

Our 16-year-old student, who felt pressured to wear ribbons in the fourth grade, now feels positive with her self-image because of her mom, who she views as being “very secure with herself and with being smart and being a woman.”

She goes on to say, “Seeing a culture of degrading women really influenced me to look at things in a new way and to think how we as high school girls react to that. A lot of girls still hold onto that media ideal. As I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself and my body, I’m happy not to be trashy,” she says.

Hopefully, other young teens make the clothing connection and become trendsetters instead of the ones following the trend.





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