Palo Alto Counseling, Psychotherapist in Palo Alto and Menlo Park, CA, California - Carol Campbell, MFT
706 Cowper Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301 • (650) 325-2576
License MFC 28308
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Back to School Shopping with Tweens: Next Time

by Carol Campbell, MFT

Any parent of kids in the "tween" years — roughly 8 to 12 years old — is in for a challenge when it is time for back to school shopping. Now is a good time to reflect on how things went this season, and what you might do differently in the future to make the experience both enjoyable and conforming to your values. Here are some tips from a marriage and family therapist who has heard an earful about the pressure on girls to buy provocative clothes, and about how the conflict between being cool and being appropriate can lead to misery for the whole family.

  • Start Early In Your Child's Life Pointing Out What Clothing Says About The Wearer — As soon as your children are able to understand what you are saying, find discreet ways to comment on what they see at the mall or supermarket. If someone walks past you who is falling out of bright red short-shorts, tell the kids, "I guess she wants us to notice her bottom first." If you see a teenager with his underwear barely covering his hind end with his pants riding low, make a comment that "He seems to think we want to see his underwear." Follow this up immediately with your own instruction for your children: "I always want to see who you are as a person first, not a part of your body first."
  • Take Time Before The Shopping Trip To Look Through Magazines And Catalogs With Your Child — Take turns sharing what you like and don't like about what you see in the fashions. Be respectful of your child's opinion, and ask follow up questions. "What do you think it feels like for that model to be wearing that outfit?" "What do you think that model wants us to imagine about him/her?"
  • Avoid Shopping At The Stores That Sell A Lot Of The Fashions That You Think Are Too Provocative For Your Kids — Before the back to school shopping expedition begins, make sure you lay down the law about which stores you will consider. Be willing to be the bad guy, and remind your children that they can be the boss one day when they have their own kids.
  • Provide Your Children With A Budget Before You Leave Home — Arguing in the middle of Macy's is not the right place to express your differences about how much should be spent on school clothes. When they know that the budget is limited, they will be much more agreeable to shopping at the stores least likely to have the fashions that send you over the top into outrage, because those fashions tend to be the most expensive.
  • Offer The Suggestion That Only Half The Budget Be Spent Before School Starts, And Half A Week Or Two Later — So often a child gets to school and discovers that what they bought doesn't match their expectations, and they have buyer's remorse, wishing they had bought something different. An added bonus is that many stores lower their prices once school starts.
  • Let The School Administrators Know That You Support The Dress Codes — Sometimes principals and teachers get hesitant to enforce the codes, which just sends a double message to the students. Even with uniforms, creative kids find ways to out-maneuver the parents by hiking up the hemline once they get to school. Another frequent problem is that the teachers themselves are not held accountable by the administrators for abiding by the faculty dress code. A school should be a professional environment.
  • Support Fun Activities For Kids To Indulge In Their Fantasies About Dressing Older — Fantasy is different from reality. As long as kids are playing at home, let them do all the dress-up and makeup and jewelry and whatever that they could want. They just need to remember that it's one thing to have fun pretending to be older than they are, and another to actually act that way in public. You might want to consider signing your children up for ethnic dance classes, ballet, children's theatre, or other activities in which they can indulge the fantasy in appropriate ways. Scrapbooks of pictures of fashions they find interesting is another great way to help your children think about what appeals to them. The goal is not be make your children into clones of yourself who see everything as you do, but to provide them with reasonable guidelines within which they can sort out who they are, and how they want to appear to the world.
  • If The Back To School Shopping Gets To Be Too Much Of An Ordeal, It Could Be A Signal That The Family Could Benefit From The Services Of A Marriage And Family Therapist — Sometimes one issue is just the arena where another issue that is too hard to talk about gets played out. Parents are often battling both the media and peer pressure, so enlisting a little professional help can be very reassuring for the family.

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Calls regarding appointments are welcome at my private voicemail: 650-325-2576.

Carol L. Campbell, MFT, is a licensed marriage and family therapist providing psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for individual adults and couples in Palo Alto, California. She has degrees from Brown University and Santa Clara University and has been licensed since 1991. Carol is a graduate of the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program sponsored at Stanford by the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and was a candidate at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California in San Francisco from 2010-2011. She is also a clinical member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the Northern California Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology.

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