Q. How do you get a 7-year-old to understand that she should wear appropriate (not too tight, revealing or racy) clothing?
A. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you can’t.
A 7-year-old child cannot begin to understand the implications of wearing racy or revealing clothing. We can’t expect them to. Developmental science tells us that children are good at learning moral imperatives. We are hard-wired for empathy. As children, we learn quickly that we should share, use kind words, and help others. However, children are not particularly adept at learning social customs. As children, we have to take at face value admonitions to chew with our mouths closed, refrain from picking our noses, or say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ Fashion falls into the social customs category.
Unfortunately, we are driven to the dilemma of your question because of a downward extension of a fashion industry that now markets racy clothing to children.
“But I only let my child watch G-rated programs,” you protest. “Where does she get this from?”
Take a closer look at that G-rated programming, and the advertising that goes along with it. What are the themes? What are they really selling? Do we need high school romance musicals aimed at children? Have you seen an ad for Brat dolls lately?
Children may clamor for the outfits they see on Disney or Nickelodeon, but it is parents who purchase clothing. We seem to have developed what I call a ‘mini-me syndrome,’ whereby it has become fashionable to dress children in miniaturized versions of adult designer clothing. There is now status not only in what one wears, but in what one’s child wears. Narcissism does not mix well with parenting.
So what is the solution?
Tell your 7-year-old daughter the truth.
Here’s an example of what you could say: “I know that you may not understand this now, but that (shirt, skirt, etc.) is not appropriate for you to wear. When you are a grown up, you will understand why I am not letting you wear this outfit. When you are a grown up, you will be able to choose what cloths you wear. For now, though, all you need to know is that it is my job as your mommy to make good choices. Other children’s mommies and daddies may not agree with my decision, and that is OK for them. I am not going to change my mind about this, so please stop asking.”
Be firm but gentle, and do not give in. Your daughter will thank you someday.
Editor’s note: For a scientific look at the issue, check out this Science Daily article, which reports on a study showing that up to 30 percent of young girls’ clothing available online in the U.S. is ‘sexy’ or sexualizing.