“All the girls at school are wearing these. Why can’t I?” “It’s my body; shouldn’t I decide what to put on it?” These questions reflect the timeless struggle between girls and their parents over the issue of being modest. My mother told me that when she was in college, a turtle neck was considered sexy—depending on how you’re built, I suppose it could be! When I was in high school, the length of shorts was a hot button issue and on more than one occasion, my parents told me to change clothes if I wanted to leave the house.
To complicate things further, this is not a one-size-fits-all dilemma. For some, showing a belly button is fine, for others leggings are inappropriate, and for others, a heel on a shoe is a no-no. Since there’s no set of rules everyone needs to follow (which, of course, means your daughter’s friends might be allowed to wear things you prohibit), how do you instill the importance of being modest in the way your family defines it? What do you do when your daughter wants to wear something that makes you blush? Here are 6 things every family can do to help their daughters make good decisions about clothing.
1. Set standards early.
One of my favorite bits of parenting wisdom is “start out with the end in mind.” If you don’t think it’s appropriate for a teenage girl to wear a bikini, then don’t let your eight-year-old wear one. It’s a lot easier to maintain a standard of dress than to undo one. Tell your daughter at what age she’ll be allowed to wear certain things like makeup, heels, or a strapless dress, and then treat each like a rite of passage and celebrate.
2. Make sure she understands the importance of modesty.
There’s a huge debate over whether a girl is responsible for a boy’s thoughts and actions. The short answer is no. We are all responsible for our own thoughts. But the truth remains that clothing sends a message whether we want it to or not. We are called to help each other grow in virtue, not vice, and our choice of clothing can play a big part in that. Modesty is also important because clothing is an expression of our personality. While your daughter might be dressing on-trend, she might not realize what her outfit communicates.
3. Remind her it’s about more than clothing.
Clothing is just material—cotton, plastic, thread. Don’t fight over a $20 shirt but miss out on the bigger picture that being modest is as much about attitude. It’s about knowing your intrinsic value and not dressing in a way that undermines it.
4. Boost your daughter’s self-esteem.
In a world that says you need to be sexy to be attractive, your daughter’s confidence in her appearance can be fragile if you don’t build her up. Constantly tell her that she is beautiful and that there is nothing wrong with having an attractive body—but also that she doesn’t have to reveal her body or fit a mold in order to attract attention. Boost her confidence in other areas—in her talents and her intelligence—and teach her that dressing modestly will ensure that she doesn’t attract the kinds of people who won’t honor her value.
5. Replace negative influences with positive influences.
Just as a starvation diet doesn’t work, so to0 do you have to do more than just try to remove negative influences from your daughter’s life. You have to give her examples to follow. One of the best ways to do this is to be a positive example yourself; your daughter watches and remembers everything you do and wear—and being modest isn’t just for tweens and teens. You have the ability to be a powerful role model for her. When you see someone on television who’s wearing something that is appropriate, and still cute and trendy, comment on it so your daughter knows that you’re not expecting her to dress in a potato sack.
6. Take her shopping.
Finding cute yet appropriate clothing isn’t easy, but making sure your daughter feels stylish and beautiful in her skin while dressing with dignity will be well worth it. So go shopping and be willing to splurge on her. That will communicate that she’s worth it. If she’s still pushing the boundaries and wanting clothes that you don’t feel good about, plan a fashion show for when you get home. That’s a good tactic for making her think twice about what she buys—she knows she will have to show her dad.
Finding cute yet appropriate clothing isn’t easy, but making sure your daughter feels stylish and beautiful in her skin while dressing with dignity will be well worth it.
Tell us! Do you fight this battle with your daughter? How do you try to communicate the importance of what she chooses to wear?