You have probably seen teenagers on television or on the street dressed all in black, sporting green hair with perhaps a facial piercing or two and said to yourself, "not MY kid!" only to go home and see that your own teen is sporting a Mohawk. Don’t worry, it happen to the best of us. While not all kids experiment with their appearance to an extreme, some do. It has nothing to do with the way they were raised and is certainly not an indication, in and of itself, of drugs, alcohol or the "wrong crowd." Kids go through stages where they search for their own individuality. They may begin to act differently, dress differently and wear their hair differently.
While this can be disconcerting at first, it may be counter productive to prohibit any form of self expression. Boundaries, of course, must be set, but as a parent it is advisable to leave a little "room" and be a little flexible on what you will and will not allow. Of course, the main reason to be flexible with your teen is because you want to encourage them to explore their individuality and exercise a little self expression, but there is an underlying reason to do this and it is almost entirely self serving to the parent. See, trusting your teen to make some decisions about how they dress or look can open up some great discussions. You can take the weird clothing and funky haircuts to open up lines of communication that may otherwise be lost. But the approach must be delicate.
No sooner will you have "that look is weird" or "I hate that haircut!" or "everyone stared when people dress that way" out of your mouth and your kid will have adopted that look. The moment you pass judgment on a clothing style, hair style or anything else, you might as well hand them over to your child yourself because those things just became even more appealing. Set boundaries, but don’t give value judgments as the basis for the boundaries. Simply say that they can have the Tripp pants when they save enough money to pay for half themselves, or they can paint their fingernails black when they are 17, or pierce something when they are 18. Give them clear cut boundaries and give specific times when they can do whatever it is that they want (and, no, seven days till never does not count!).
Ask what they like about the look
Ask your teen what they like about the look. Why is it appealing? Do not accept a trite "because it’s cool!" as an answer. Ask probing questions to find out what they like about the look and what they don’t like. Look for compromises that you can make with you teen regarding the look. Meet them halfway. It is only hair and as long as it isn’t violating any rules, that funky haircut will grow out. If they hate it, they just learned a lesson.
Ask what type of reaction they expect. Most teens who dress crazy or alter their appearance are looking for a reaction. Ask your teen how they expect people to react to their look. Run them through various scenarios like going to the grocery store or to a flea market. Will strangers automatically assume that they will steal or misbehave just because of how they appear? How will they handle that? Is that an impression that they want to give?
Ask what they see as the downside.
Ask your teen what the downside would be for their look. Will store security follow them because they believe they may be shoplifters? Will people laugh at them? Will people want to beat them up or attack them? A tattoo is forever, how will they feel about it when they are 30? It is important to discuss these things, but let the child guide the conversation. You ask neutral questions and just listen.
Set boundaries and stick to them.
Set the boundaries and stick to them. If you tell your son that he can not get his ear pierced until he is 16, don’t do it even a day before he is 16. If you tell your teen daughter that she can get a small tattoo if she gets all A’s and B’s, the stick to that. Don’t let her get it if she even gets just one C. Only you can determine how flexible you can be, but don’t leave your child out of the decision.
All in all, kids will often do things even when their parents tell them they can’t. They go to a friend’s house and come home with a pierced ear or Mohawk. It happens and don’t think it won’t happen with your kid. The thing is, s that the worst that they are doing? If your teen wants an edgy hair cut or wants to wear Tripp pants (Google it – if you don’t know the brand yet, you probably will soon) and that is the worst that they do, then consider yourself fortunate. When you show your child that you trust him or her and you give them some room to grow and be themselves, you will open invaluable lines of communication between you and your teen. Congratulations!
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