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Q. My 13-year-old dresses much too suggestively for her age. She says that's the way all the girls at school are dressing -- and that she has to if she wants to be popular. It's true that when I drop her off I see her friends wearing the same type of clothing -- off-the-shoulder tops, very tight jeans, short skirts, heels, and way too much makeup. I don't know how we got to this point. What can I do?
A. What is your daughter's appearance suggesting? She needs to know. In blunt terms, her attire is revealing her developing sexuality and that she's open to showing it off. To her, her clothing choices most likely mean nothing more than going along with the dictates of her peer group which is strongly influenced by teen idols.
Her interest in dressing in a way that is sexually suggestive is innocent at this point. Your job is to prepare her for the time when a boy takes her clothing suggestion as an invitation to engage in sexual activity. Your daughter needs to know that boys see her appearance much differently than her girl peer group. They see it as saying, "I'm interested in sex." Your daughter is entering into a sexual environment for which she is most likely unprepared. Will she know how to protect herself and make conscious choices?
Although you don't want to sit back and say nothing to your daughter about her clothing choices, you don't want to paint her into a corner by making the following ultimatum, "You can't wear that to school, I won't allow it. As long as you live in this house, you will not dress that way." If you do, you'll enter into a power struggle with her you can't win. She'll sneak around, argue and most likely dress more drastically than she is already doing.
While it's impossible to force her not to dress as she does, you can offer your opinion. Every once in a while when she appears in a belly button revealing outfit, tight short skirt or a shirt that is off the shoulder, explain that boys might see the fact that she's revealing part of her body as an indication she might show more of it.
Too often parents today take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to issues of teenaged sexuality. They rely on the schools to provide information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. What more does your daughter need to know to protect herself from early sexuality activity? If you asked your daughter the following questions, how would she respond?
What would you do if a boy asked you to go home with him after school? What would you do if you got to his house and realized no one was home? What would you do if he wanted you to go into his bedroom?
These questions will open up dialogue between you and your daughter. Consider reading the book The Sex Lives of Teenagers by Lynn Ponton (A Plumb Book, 2001, $13.00) to formulate your thoughts and opinions before jumping into such a conversation unprepared.
Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.