Dear Dr. Hwang:
“My daughter insists on wearing clothing I feel is too revealing for her age. We fight about taste in clothing, music and friends. We never did before she entered junior high school. She is too interested in becoming American and not holding onto Asian values.”
Dear Parent of an Adolescent Girl:
You’re the Mom. Therefore it is true that you have ultimate authority over final decisions about clothing and what your daughter wears. Having said this, communication is always helpful as a way to bridge the clothing chasm? It sounds as though you may be willing to negotiate though? Sometimes, a clothing allowance is a way to achieve other goals you want for your daughter as well?
First, give an explicit explanation about why your daughter is allowed to wear some clothes but cannot wear other clothing until they are older. I believe that we all want to understand each other, but misperceive understanding as giving in. Second, try to create a conversation that allows you to understand her point of view as well. I recommend calm communication, which is respectful. Making an effort to understand your daughter may help her feel cared about and that her ideas matter. No one wants the experience of being immediately dismissed. While it may be difficult to explain your strong point of view about early exposure to clothing, music and friends, adolescents tend to be more reasonable if they feel listened to, taken seriously and understood. Understanding one another doesn’t mean you have to agree. But, we all do better listening to opposing views if we perceive that the person we are in conflict with genuinely understands our point of view.
Third, if clothing styles, some music and friends are non-negotiable, then this needs to be communicated immediately and up front so that your daughter isn’t given a perception that she has more say and power over these choices then she really does. If some clothing is up for negotiation to wear with friends outside of school or at home, talk about these differences and what you are willing to try. Fourth, honesty should be at the core of this issue. If you can work out a mutual agreement and both stick with it honestly, this is the best-case scenario. And again, as Mother, you get to have the final say.
This experience of the, “Battle of the wills,” are not unusual at these developmental ages, between 13-18 years old. It’s important to keep in mind the relationship you desire to have with your daughter long term. Keeping this from and center may help you focus on what is really important. I cannot say what she should wear or not wear certain articles of clothing. I do feel however feel that communicating care, love and empathy in most decisions that you make, which she doesn’t like, will likely go better. Adolescents need to be able to take safe risks with decisions that do not have catastrophic outcomes. She is looking to you for a sense of what’s reasonable. I don’t believe that adolescents want to be willful so much as they genuinely want to understand and be understood themselves.
Guiding your daughter process towards making decisions about clothing that integrates culture, family values and care communicates love. Often, when adolescent girls know that love is at the root of your decisions, they are more likely to accept the decisions made, just not agree with them.