It is truly amazing these days how early kids start asking for the top of’ the’ line’, ‘name’brand’, ‘just’gotta’ have’it”, cause’everyone’else’does clothing. It’s like these little guys are pulled aside in kindergarten and told by the secret clothing police that this will be the last year they can get away their big brother’s hand me downs and sneakers from Payless. By first grade, both boys and girls, start recognizing the statement that clothing makes. Is this right? Should we buy into this? Should we turn our children into clothing outcasts to prove a point? Buying clothing for children shouldn’t become a moral dilemma, but unfortunately for many parents, it is.
Sure, I remember being fifteen thinking that the sweater I was wearing was so completely inappropriate in the eyes of my friends that I was putting something at stake by wearing it. Fifteen. Now, kids at the ripe old age of seven understand cliques, understand that your clothes make a statement, and that if they want to be a part of one particular crowd, they had better show up wearing the ‘right’ clothes. Somehow, the simple fact that in the last ten years this little clothing phenomenon has trickled down the ages makes it so much clearer, so much more obvious, its ridiculousness. But what it a parent to do?
Some parents don’t have a choice. Not all parent s can afford to drop $40 on a pair of jeans the kid’s going to outgrow in six months. Not all parents can afford the latest and greatest. It hurts to see your kid mistreated, left out, and not played with. It is infuriating when it happens because a parent’s paycheck simply won’t stretch into the land of ridiculously expensive clothing.
Deciding to force a child to ‘stand up’ and be counted, to rebel against the clothing, decided friends and rituals, in the opinion of some is said to be cruel. Turning your child into an outcast to exhibit your principles isn’t exactly what I would call fair. These are your principles. If you want to wear the corduroy pants and the white Oxford to work, so be it. It probably works for you now that you have something other than your clothing to be judged upon. Your child didn’t make up the rules of the game. And his desire to fit in is only natural. As adults we still crave that feeling of fitting in, of being part of a group. The only difference is that for the most part (although status groups and exclusions still happen in the adult world) the group we want to belong to isn’t as concerned with how much our socks cost, but what we have to offer just being ourselves. A few crude jokes about the way you dress and it’s usually over, the adult ‘in crowd’ can start to look past it.
And yet, do we want to teach our children that it is okay to conform to this opinionated way of thinking. When we drive thirty miles to the nearest “got to go to store” and whip out the plastic for the “got to have it” bundle of clothes that will buy him his ticket into popularity, aren’t we telling him that the game is right?
This makes the process difficult for parents. It can be very difficult to be a child, and we act as thought we have forgotten. Because we have. We have grown into our own ability to avoid people who make us uncomfortable for being who we are and making friends of our own choosing, for whatever reason. Even the jungle at the water cooler is still a picnic basking in the sun over a twelve year old with her first zit, the maxi pad that has accidentally popped up from the corner of her unzipped purse, and the clothes that don’t fit her personality, either because the parent won’t buy them or because they have and she’s trying too hard to fit in. It’s a terrible game and thank God the adults barely have to play it anymore.
What is a parent to do? Do we force the child into clothing that will automatically shun him from the ‘in crowd?’ Do we give them the impression that it’s perfectly okay to deny yourself for who you are as long as people like you? Some kids have successfully beaten the game, have become a total and complete individual and have successfully crossed those magic invisible lines between the cliques. Few kids are that lucky.
Compromises are not such terrible things. A few articles of that oh so special ‘in crowd’ clothes that they like followed up by a wardrobe that has less meaning. It lets them walk the middle lines. It prevents them from having to change into someone else just to make a friend. Most importantly, talking about it, often and honestly, is the key to instilling in your child that the last thing they need to rely on to make friends is an outward appearance.