As we are getting close to the beginning of school, my husband and I are anxious about our daughter, who will be in eighth grade.
As we are getting close to the beginning of school, my husband and I are anxious about our daughter, who will be in eighth grade. She has been spending time with a different group of friends who are influencing her in many different ways, most visibly to us in the way they dress. We don’t know our daughter’s friends’ families well, and this only adds to our concern.
Her school has a dress code that is strict enough so we don’t worry about her appearance on school days, but on weekends our daughter wears revealing clothes that we feel are inappropriate. My husband and I don’t want to alienate her by telling her what to wear, but we worry that her appearance will lead to bad behaviors.
Our daughter is a headstrong girl, and gets angry with us when we are in any way critical of her. Then we get into shouting matches with her that lead to simmering anger between us that can go on for days. We also have a son, who is three years younger, and we are concerned about what he observes.
We don’t even know where to begin to change the situation. Do you have any suggestions?
— Anxious Parent
Parents need to set standards for their children. From your letter, I can see that this has been challenging for you since you describe your daughter as “headstrong.” Her pushback does not mean that you should abandon your role as parents. Her anger is one way she has learned to control the situation. If you let her dictate how she will behave, you will be absolving yourself of your main responsibility as parents.
Your daughter may seem grown-up, but she still needs your guidance in negotiating life. Even adult children benefit from parental wisdom. Children are exposed to many influences that affect them. Movies, television, and the Internet may counteract family standards, but this does not mean that you and your husband are not important influences.
Perhaps more family time would benefit your relationship with your daughter. Carve out time to spend with her so you will be able to convey your concerns without sounding like you are preaching. It is not too late to start.
One excellent approach is to have dinner together as often as possible. Avoid bringing electronic devices to the table. Talk about your family values. Listen to your children and what is important to them. Very often, parents get so caught up in their own lives that they forget how important their own influence is. Your children have to see that you care about them without making disapproval and conflict the way you show it. You will need to manage your own responses first. By avoiding conflict, you will build trust and show that you are able to listen to them without judgment.
Talking about how you want your daughter to dress will be easier when she doesn’t feel that you are forcing something on her. This is a process that will take time.