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Developing Boundaries for Your Teens About Their Appearance

These four convictions helped guide us as we taught our teenagers about appearance issues.
By Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Coming home from work one day, I happened to walk down the hall behind my teenage son. Something was precariously wrong with his jeans. From my vantage point they were ready to slide off his behind at any time. I kept my mouth shut.

Later, I found out from a more learned mother that my son was being fashionable by “sagging” his britches. After I had thought it through, I went to my son and chatted with him about the sagging fad. We talked about the pressure to conform and discussed what he ought to do. Over the next few weeks, with additional conversations, his jeans crawled back up to a more decent elevation.

Little did I know that my son’s jeans would prove to be only the first of many discussions we had to have with our teenagers about their appearance over the years. This is not an easy process for even the most “in” parent. Like so many other issues we encounter as parents, it demands that you hammer out what you really believe is important.

Here are four convictions we embraced regarding our teenagers and appearance issues:

1. Our appearance will model the right blend of biblical values to our children.

Some couples underestimate how their outward appearance influences their children. A mother’s appearance, for example, is a statement of her character and of her values as a woman.

I (Barbara) believe moms especially need to be careful. Daughters are watching what we wear, how we act, and how we present the body. Does our clothing adequately reflect the femininity we possess? Is our clothing style too masculine, too provocative, too trendy, too dowdy, too flashy? Are we cultivating the inner person so that our daughters and our sons will see what’s really important in our life? Do our actions back up our words or contradict them?

2. We will focus on the heart of our child, not just exterior appearance.

The words written by the apostle Peter are on target: “Let not your adornment be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4).

Both moms and dads need to do a self-check on some attitudes that can be subtly dangerous: Is your child extremely attractive? If so, are you deriving some unhealthy satisfaction and pride by catering to this natural beauty and indulging him or her in a closet bulging with the latest styles? Are you allowing your daughter to wear body-emphasizing outfits, thinking to yourself, She’s only 12, but she looks so cute in that outfit. These are all value-driven statements that come from the heart about what is ultimately important.

Be careful about the value system to which you would expose your child if, for example, you decide to enroll her in modeling classes because of her external good looks. Would this subtly create some wrong perspectives in your child about herself and others?

Or perhaps you have a child who is not particularly attractive or is overweight. How do you feel about your child’s appearance? Are you disappointed? Are you wondering if you should put your child on a program of diet and exercise? If so, what attitudes are you conveying? Are you showing a lack of acceptance and love based on this child’s outward appearance?

Since the next two convictions are so similar, we will present and comment on them as a unit:

3. Our daughter must emphasize her femininity while being modest and tasteful.

4. Our son must emphasize his masculinity while being modest and tasteful.

Verbally affirm masculine dress and appearance in your sons and feminine dress and appearance in your daughters.

One thing we fear is being lost in this culture is distinctive male and female dress. Encourage your son or your daughter to cultivate unique gender qualities by rejecting unisex clothing; affirm them verbally for their wisdom and attractiveness. We compliment our sons when they dress up and wear a tie. And we rave about our daughters when they wear a dress.

Formal teaching opportunities can be used to build these values into a child’s life. In a Bible study I had with one of our daughters, I pointed out how the book of Proverbs paints a picture of the harlot who used her sexual powers to trap, seduce, and ultimately destroy a young man. I shared honestly with my daughter how every woman has been given the potential of a unique, God-given power over men—a mystical intrigue and a sexual power. For a young lady, that sexual power needs to be saved and appropriately hidden until she is married.

Young men and young women are hungry for affirming words as their sexual identities emerge. Use these struggles around clothing and appearance to challenge them to become God’s man and God’s woman.

Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.

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