Suggestions Regarding a Parent’s Concerns About Her Son’s Public Persona.

From time to time I write a column answering parents questions about raising their teens. Here is such a Q & A:

The Question:

 

I’ve got a 17 yr old son who’s in college studying business systems and computing, he’s enjoying life and is happy.

Lately however I’ve become concerned about his choice of clothing; he’s taken to wearing crop tops and occasionally hotpants.

We found some in his room; including receipts for one that cost £1.80 from an Oxfam shop! – a bright plain white crop top, and a £5 cropped vest top from ASDA also in his room, and a pair of hotpants that cost £10. He’s obviously using his wages to fund these [he has a part-time job at Domino’s as a delivery boy].

All were medium-size [his size of men’s shirt] and unworn. It seems odd to us, we don’t get why he likes wearing them.

His sister, who’s 21, doesn’t mind, and even goes out shopping with him for them!

However, what does shock me is that our son wants to wear these in public, especially to college – he’s just started now.

He told me and his dad that he likes wearing them, they make him feel good and he should be himself, being individual, he remembers being told “always be yourself” when he was in high school and has kept to it.

I’m worried about bullying etc. that may come as a result of it if he was to do so in public.

He does have a girlfriend but she doesn’t know about this “habit” and I’m worried about her reaction if she was/is to find out.

We know what he’s doing isn’t illegal, but it’s risky and we’re concerned for him.

We’ve tried to discuss it with him but he feels he can’t discuss it with us. All he could say was that it wasn’t a sexual thing, he just felt happy wearing crop tops and hot pants.

Can we intervene in this situation? If so, how?

I’ll admit this is the first time our family’s ever had anything like this happen to us so it’s new to us, we’ve usually been free of teenage angst etc.

[I am from the UK, just for relevance]

 

My Answer:

It sounds to me that your son does not think that there is a problem with what he is wearing. At 17 years old and in college, I am afraid that your days of deciding how he presents himself are over. This is the hardest part of parenting teens. All you can do is to be a trusted adviser when you are asked for your opinion. I understand your concern for his safety. You did not mention if he is big enough to handle himself physically although I am sure that he understands that he will be having to deal with some flack from his peers. I do not know the sociology of your neighborhood but having had foster sons who dressed much weirder than you are describing and enrolling in fairly tough Los Angeles high schools, I understand your concerns.

I might report that most of my fears were overblown because they knew better than I how much they could push the boundaries. I actually had a foster son who insisted on dressing totally as a woman in the toughest high school in the area. He reported that when confronted with, “Are you gay?” His answer was, “Yes, do you want to fight about it?” The reply was usually a very toned down, “Oh, no, I was just wondering….” He never had to fight.

Styles are constantly changing. Yesterday I noticed that the favored clothes of some of our local gang kids are stuff that would have gotten them laughed out of high school when I was a kid. They were wearing calf-length, peddle pusher pants in prints!

I have found that the best way to handle teens clothing and style preferences is to express your safety concerns once and then back off. There is too much risk of getting polarity responses (he will do it only because you say not to, even though he agrees with you).

Please check out my website, http://TheParentsCoach.com especially the blog, where I have a series of articles on parenting of teens, and the parents’ resources page where there is a link to the book, “Parent as Coach” the best book on the subject of parenting teens. It is short, cheap and will change your conversations with your son. I don’t guarantee you will be angst-free but you will be much closer to that state when you put the teaching in the book into practice.

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