The Importance of Image and Friends
Image and friends are extremely important to teens and often drive their parents nuts. When should you put your foot down about music, clothes, and friends that are potentially harmful? What's the best way to get cooperation? Before you haul your child onto a talk show for a teen makeover that won't stick, consider these more effective tips.
What to Do if You Disapprove of Music
Telling your teen that a particular song or artist is completely off-limits is probably ineffective. Twenty years ago, your own mother could take away your cassette or CD and that would be that. Today, your child can just download another copy, or get a copy on a friend's computer, and it will probably cost a whole ninety-nine cents, if anything. So the best way to deal with music you find offensive is by first asking your child more about the artist and the lyrics. She may not have even stopped to listen to the lyrics if the tune is catchy enough and the vocals obscured by other instruments, so give her the chance to think about it. Then ask her opinion: “How do you think that singer feels about black people/women/white people?” Second, find an upcoming opportunity for balancing input — if the song seems racist, look for a museum exhibit, movie, or cultural event to go to together that throws light on the race in question so your daughter can draw her own conclusions.
What to Do if You Disapprove of Clothing
Clothing is an area where you can effectively make rules, but choose your battles. It will be most effective if you do so beforehand, by making the rules and presenting them before your son is walking out the door late with his pants around his knees. You can effectively make rules about decency (e.g., no private parts showing, always wear underwear, only the waistband can show) and courtesy (no offensive T-shirts, dressing appropriately for the occasion). You'll get the best results if you work on this with your teen and are extremely literal, so don't be surprised if you find yourself in a hair-splitting discussion of exactly how many inches from the belly button your daughter's pants can be. Tell your kids that their image teaches people how to treat them, so if they dress like their body is available for anyone to touch, even the people they don't like will think they can touch it. Finally, don't buy clothes you don't approve of.
What to Do if You Disapprove of Friends
This is the toughest of the three issues because your child will probably care most about it and fight hardest for it. If your child has a friend you just can't stand because he's obnoxious, don't mention it. If your child has a friend you think is a shady character but you don't know why, ask your child more about the friend, and ramp up the bonding activities and decoy activities to learn more.
There may be a friend who is dangerous or harmful. It isn't easy to enforce, but you can forbid your child from seeing that person outside of school by saying, “So-and-so is obviously very interested in drugs and is probably using or selling them,” and then using the “I love you too much to let you …” formula.
You may cringe at the idea of spending more time with people you find obnoxious or suspicious, but inviting your child's friends to your home or along for an outing from time to time can be helpful. By welcoming all but the most dangerous or harmful friends, you get to supervise, learn more about your kid, and sometimes even channel their energy into something constructive by dropping them off at the skate park or offering them twenty bucks to wash your car.