Ages + Stages | Parenting Tools

From Ads to Teen Idols: When Your 8-Year-Old Wants to Wear a Thong

belly_ringFrom steroid-using athletes to stars who bounce between clubs and rehab, today’s celebrity role models can leave a lot to be desired. In fact, it seems the greater the fall from grace, the greater the fame — what’s a parent to do?

Teens and preteens are particularly susceptible to celebrity overexposure through the media because they’re at the stage in their lives when they are trying on identities and need to feel accepted by their peers. Mimicking others, including the stars, is part of that transfer of attachment from parents to peer groups. In other words, it’s part of growing up.

But how much is too much? Do you say yes to the belly-baring midriff, but no to the navel ring? Our counselors at Youth Eastside Services often hear from parents wondering just where they should draw the line. One mom recently shared how she was lobbied by her 8-year-old daughter for thong underwear and considered buying them so her daughter wouldn’t feel left out.

Whose values win when facing a choice like this — yours, or those of media-obsessed peers?

I know the pressure on parents can be intense from kids who want things because all their friends have them. We want our children to fit in, so sometimes we cave. Believe me, advertisers know this, too. Young consumers are increasingly the target of messages, images and even products that are beyond their years.

Young women, in particular, get the message that they have to be sexy and desirable to have power. Girls will tell our counselors that to be attractive, women have to have long shiny hair, be rail-thin and large breasted. Young men also have their share of body-image issues. We’ve seen boys who have developed eating disorders in their quest to look like their sports heroes. Others turn to dangerous steroids to bulk up.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You can help your son or daughter see beneath all the gloss and glamour by creating teachable moments through dialogue about a poor celebrity role model or an outrageous jeans ad.

Ask your teen to reflect on what messages are being sent in ads and celebrity stories. Then ask your teen what makes him or her feel satisfied and successful — achievements, interests, helping others. Encourage some critical thinking: “Would you rather have people like you for what you do or what you look like?”

Of course, even with all this dialogue, your daughter may still want to get her ears double pierced or dye her hair orange. Before you say no, remember that parents get a limited number of “draw-the-line-in-the-sand cards” before a typical child mounts a rebellion.

Ask yourself if it’s a safety issue. If not, you might want to skip this battle and allow your teen to experiment with self-expression. That doesn’t mean throwing your values out the window; it just means picking the right battles. In the long run, the values you hold fast will be the ones your kids will likely remember, even though they may not appear to be embracing them in the moment.

87Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay.

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