November 6, 2020 / By thadmin2
As our children develop into their teenage years, we may start noticing some unexpected, colorful changes in their appearance. Putting on makeup, getting a piercing or two, changing the colour of their hair, and getting tattoos – these are some of the typical changes in appearance most teenagers undergo. This may lead us to wonder and question them – why this drastic change in appearance? As parents, we might also adopt a negative attitude towards some of these changes which we deem as unacceptable to us, however we find that we are typically responded with defiance and hostility by our children. To maintain our close bond with our children as they transition into their teenage years, it is important to understand these developmental changes and adopt a patient and empathetic approach towards our children.
Why do we start to see changes in appearance during our children’s teenage years?
During the adolescent years, most children start developing a sense of autonomy and they become less dependent on their parents. Their focus instead shifts towards building social connections with their peers and exploring the social world on their own. Furthermore, a key developmental milestone that arises during the teenage years is the formation of identity – which shapes their sense of self, personality, as well as their connection with others (Watson, 2019). This formation of identity arises from their interactions with the social world, as they seek to find out who they are and where they fit into the world. Having a positive self-identity is important in their transition to adulthood as it heightens their perceptions of belongingness with others and boosts their self-esteem (Watson, 2019).
However, the process of identity formation is a tough and arduous process, as many of them would be at a loss at how to go about making sense of their identity. As such, we tend to observe a greater tendency for teens to turn to their peers, in helping them figure out who they are and what they want to be (Pfeifer & Berkman, 2018). Some teenagers enhance the way that they look because their peers look that way – relating to the concept of conformity. With conformity, our teen’s appearances and behaviour are influenced by others, such as the way they speak or dress. One reason for teenagers’ conformity in the process of their identity formation is the heightened feelings of self-consciousness typically reported in adolescents, as they become more preoccupied with how they appear to the world (Pfeifer & Berkman, 2018). In order to better fit into society, teens are thus often compelled to follow social norms and trends in enhancing the way they look and consequently embody an ideal identity that is deemed as socially acceptable.
Social media is also certainly no stranger to this generation, and to see what others are doing has become so easily accessible through our screens (Morelli, n.d.). The increased exposure of others’ and snippets of their lives can cause teens to indulge in comparisons and feelings of envy. Unlike the early 2000s, the influence of celebrity figures is at the convenience of our fingertips. Apart from our teen’s immediate social circle, the lives of artists, celebrities, and models that are publicly exposed on such platforms can further perpetuate the tendency for conformity. Consequently, we observe an increase in commitment to their social appearance – from their style of dressing, to choice of words, and to the way they behave.
So, how can we, as parents, assist in this stage of our children’s development?
- Communicating and Understanding
As parents, we have to understand that this is the stage in development where our teens are exploring their sense of identity. In order to do that, they will tend to experiment and try out new ways to help them better express themselves and who they want to be – like trying out a different hair colour or trying a particular type of fashion. Every family has different values about what is appropriate and what isn’t, so it is important for parents to establish rules on what they consider acceptable and what is not (Families For Life, n.d.). An example would be clothing – if you are uncomfortable with your daughter dressing in short skirts, it is important to explain your reasons clearly to her and maybe come up with alternative suggestions for them. An alternative could be wearing tights or leggings beneath the skirt. When your child understands the reasoning behind the rules and boundaries you set, they may be more receptive and cooperative to your rules rather than defying them (Morelli, n.d.).
- Show that you are interested
Taking interest in the things that your child is passionate about will show them that you care. Show interest not only in their hobbies and school life, but also in the decisions that they want to make (Families for Life, n.d.). If your child comes up to you today and tells you that they want to change their hair colour, what would your response be? Would it be an immediate ‘No’? Just like how you would like your child to understand your rules, they would also want you to listen and understand them too. Get to know the reason behind their desire to change their appearance, such as their hair colour (Families for Life, n.d.). By asking your child more, not only are you trying to understand them, but they will feel like you are keen in listening to them as well. If there is a way for you to be part of this decision, then you can encourage them and give them the reassurance they need. As parents, we can influence our child’s decisions in a way that would be acceptable to us. This also allows us to guide them along their search for style and identity. The tone and words that you use will leave an impact on your teenager. By talking to them in a calm and respectful manner, your teen may be more willing to listen and understand your point of view.
- Give them the guidance they need
After understanding why they want to get their hair colour changed or get a tattoo, you could also help them think of the risks involved in their decision (Families for Life, n.d.). For example – when it is time for them to go out into the working world, would their current decision to get a tattoo affect their future employment? These are things that our teens may be not thinking about on the spot, so having a parent to provide them with guidance and wisdom would help them in their decision-making process. While we may not agree with some of the changes in our teens, it is important to react calmly to the situation and have an open and honest conversation with your child. Having an immediate negative reaction towards your child’s changes in appearance may backfire, as our child may react in a similar manner – with hostility and defiance. Consequently, conflict and strained relationships may arise, and we are shut out of their decision-making process. By communicating with your child in a calm and honest manner, you are working towards having a constructive conversation with them. Our teens would thus be more receptive and pay more attention to what we say, enabling us to guide them in making appropriate decisions. This also allows both you and your teen to perhaps meet in the middle with regards to the decision that they are going to make, resulting in the most optimal outcome – with both parties feeling satisfied. By providing your child with a caring and accepting adult influence, they would also feel secure in the process of forming their own identity, and it is one of the best ways for them to understand that we have their best interests at heart (Watson, 2019). One way in which we can guide children on their decisions and their consequences is by sharing our own experiences. Drawing from our own personal experiences can help teens get a better idea of what they are in for by making that change, and it also helps us build a stronger bond with our child as they are better able to understand and relate to us.
Teens at this stage of development may tend to be rebellious and defiant. As parents, we can learn to be patient with them by learning to communicate with them. When they see that you are calm and respectful towards them, they too will try to be calm and respectful. Lastly, show them that you are willing to listen to their interests. By doing so, it will show that you are approachable and they might keep coming back to you for wisdom and guidance. We can choose to be accepting and supportive of the changes that our children choose to make. Even if you are not pleased with it, by showing your support and communicating with them, it would help them feel like you are interested and you care about them even through their changing years. The reason for our child wanting to change the way they look could represent something important and meaningful to them.
If you would like additional resources on children, do check out our wide range of online content, which includes educational videos, meditation podcasts, and e-books. You can also head to our Facebook page where we regularly hold live art sessions and puppet shows! The aim of our digital downloads is to provide content that can help enrich parents with some understanding of possible problems that may arise as your children are growing up, and how to deal with them.
Charoensukmongkol, P. (2017). The Impact of Social Media on Social Comparison and Envy in
Teenagers: The Moderating Role of the Parent Comparing Children and In-group
Competition among Friends. Journal Of Child And Family Studies, 27(1), 69-79. doi: 10.1007/s10826-017-0872-8
Families for Life. (n.d.). 10 Ways to a Better Relationship with Your Teenager – See more at: https://www.familiesforlife.sg/discover-an-article/Pages/10-Ways-to-a-Better-Relationship-with-Your-Teenager.aspx#sthash.ArnZ54iT.dpuf. Families for Life. https://www.familiesforlife.sg/discover-an-article/Pages/10-Ways-to-a-Better-Relationship-with-Your-Teenager.aspx
Families For Life. (n.d.). 30 Ways to Spend More Time with Your Family. Families for Life. https://www.familiesforlife.sg/discover-an-article/Pages/30-Ways-to-Spend-More-Family-Time.aspx
Nicoletti, A. (2004). Teens, tattoos and body piercing. Journal Of Pediatric And Adolescent
Gynecology, 17(3), 215 – 216.
Morelli, A. Enhancing Personal Appearance: Cosmetic, Tattoos & Piercings [Blog].
Pfeifer JH, Berkman ET. The Development of Self and Identity in Adolescence: Neural Evidence
and Implications for a Value-Based Choice Perspective on Motivated Behavior. Child Dev Perspect. 2018;12(3):158-164. doi:10.1111/cdep.12279
Watson, J. (2019, December 11). Why is Teen Identity Development Important? Aspiro Adventure. https://aspiroadventure.com/blog/why-is-teen-identity-development-important/