My teenage daughter is beautiful inside and out. But lately, she wants to wear a shirt that is way too tight and hiking her skirt up.

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Alright, your question:

"My teenage daughter is beautiful inside and out. But lately, I’m pulling my hair out seeing her want to wear a school shirt that is way too tight and hiking up her skirt. I’m embarrassed as I want her to present herself well and be respected by her classmates. She tells me I’m over the hill. All I want to do is protect and guide her. Sometimes I get angry and end up inadvertently shaming her then feel really guilty. Not sure how else to get the message across. Many girls at her school do the same thing. Should I give up and give in ?"

Well, that would be the easy thing to do. I don't think you want to give in, that's why you're asking the question.

But, maybe the more important question we're dealing with his the age-old issue. Parents are over the hill! They don't understand! They don't get it! When in reality the children, they're teenagers. They're going to want to wear things, they want to be popular, they want to be accepted and they want to have their own voice.

So what's the answer?

First of all, I wouldn't give up but I would step back and identify what it is about the way she's dressing? What is the core part there that actually is bothering you? What's the real issue? And it's important that you identify what that core issue is to you. Is it that you're concerned that how people are going to look at her?

In her school, she might be popular. Is she like "what are you talking about Mom? I mean, this is what everybody's doing."

So let me, we have to go a little bit deeper. What really is it that bothers you about the way she's dressing? Is it that you're concerned that she will be made fun of? Now, that becomes our issue. But, perhaps it's deeper than that. Perhaps it's the way that she is portrayed to others? Perhaps it's that she's looking for approval in places or ways that may not be the best way to get approval. So, as a parent, the question that you're going to want to address here is, what message do I want to send to my child? It's maybe not about the clothes. What's the deeper issue that you're most concerned about as a parent that you want to identify? What is bothering me the most and how do I communicate that in a way that my child can hear me and not feel defensive? 

Now, we also have to address this idea of, you said, "I inadvertently shamed her." How did you do that? What did you say? Did you try to repair that? The goal here is attachment, connection, closeness. How do we do that when we are focusing on what she's wearing?

First rule of thumb in all relationships-create a safe environment and relationships first. That should be the goal. As we work on relationships first, then we ask these deeper questions. Why does what she's wearing bother me? How can I communicate to her in a way that's not shaming, but lets her know of my deeper concern? What is my deeper concern? Now you see in here that all you want to do is protect and guide her.

That brings up the next question-will she let you guide her? Do you have the foundational relationship where she listens, that she hears you, that she feels that you care about her, and she cares about you? I would focus on the relationship. I would focus on those connections and then you might be able to have  influence. As a parent, if we can't have influence, we have to ask ourselves the question-Why can't I have influence? What has happened or transpired so I can't influence my child? Those are very important questions to address.

As you go through those and think through those, children let us have influence when they feel heard and understood and we have formed a bond that they value our opinion.

Anyway, I hope this is helpful to you. You don't want to ignore and give up, you want to build the relationship. Build the relationship, then you can have influence. But in order for you to do that, understand why it is that those things are actually bothering you and how do I communicate that with my child? And put it on you, "this is my concern. Obviously you're going to do what you want to do, whether it whether I want you to or not. I get that. But ultimately, what I would like to do is have a better relationship with you."

That might be how I would approach it.

Great question and a good luck to you and your daughter as you go through this maturing process. We do it as parents and we do it as children. 

Thank you for your question

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Answered by:

Dr. Kevin Skinner

Dr. Kevin Skinner