Adolescence is marked by the search for a personal identity, according to developmental theorist Erik Erikson. Teens struggle with changing expectations at school and at home, and increasingly look to their peers for acceptance. Many teens try on numerous identities before they find one that fits, and each social group has its own unwritten rules and demands. Fashion pressures come from friends, peers, adults and even magazines.
Appearance is one way that social groups display their unity. Whether your child is a jock, a prep, a goth or a nerd, her friends will expect her to look like she belongs. Friends take on a primary role during adolescence, as they reflect the identity that your child is considering. If your child’s friends are genuinely supportive and caring, and show a positive attitude, try not to judge them for their clothing choices. As a parent, you are free to set limits, but allow your child freedom to express herself.
Cliques play a major role in many schools. A clique is a tightly-knit closed group that is difficult for non-members to penetrate. If your child wants to break into the “in crowd” or other clique, she might start dressing like members of that group. Alternately, your child might be inspired by a peer that she views as successful, such as the class president or star swimmer. In an article for “Psychology Today,” Dr. Carl Pickhardt discusses identity crushes. Rather than a romantic attraction, an identity crush develops when a teen finds someone she wants to emulate. It is normal for a teen to dress like the person that she admires.
Teenagers are not the only ones to influence teen fashion choices. Parents, teachers, church leaders and members of the extended family often have a great deal to say about what teens wear. Many teens feel conflicted loyalties when the clothes they like meet with the disapproval of the trusted adults in their lives.
In teen magazines, everyone is slim, physically fit, successful and always appealing to both men and women. The pages are filled with tips on losing weight and photos of airbrushed models in expensive clothes. Research shows that 37 percent of teen magazine articles focus on appearance, while 44 percent are about dating or sex, according to an article on HealthyChildren.org. It’s tough being a teenager, and many long for a magic formula that will make life easier. For those who read fashion magazines, it is easy to believe that choosing the right clothes will guarantee success.