The ultimate goal related to appearance is to help your preadolescent or early teen understand that how he presents himself is a spiritual matter. The way he grooms and dresses his body says much about his values and whether he is seeking to bring attention to himself or to Jesus Christ.

The process of shaping convictions needs to begin early. Talk with your preteen child in advance about the issues he’ll face as he moves into the teenage years. Help him begin to draw some boundaries around the issues that matter most to you as a parent. Here’s a checklist of what we talked about with our sons and daughters:

With our sons:

  • Modesty
  • Masculinity
  • Saggy, sloppy, or grunge clothing
  • T-shirts with inappropriate messages
  • Clothing with holes in it, especially in inappropriate places

With our daughters:

  • Modesty
  • Femininity
  • Swimsuits
  • Ear piercing
  • Halter tops and other skimpy clothing
  • Length of dresses, skirts, and shorts

In each of these areas, we pressed our children to tell us what their convictions were. If necessary, we would gently attempt to steer them in a direction we wanted them to go. This was never accomplished in a single conversation, but over months and years of hammering away on some of these topics.

Dads can help their daughters by teaching them how a young man thinks when he sees a young lady who is dressed immodestly. One practical way of doing this is taking your daughter on a date and going shopping with her. It will help you appreciate the challenge that a young lady faces when she wants to dress modestly. As you walk around you can talk frankly about why it’s important for a girl to dress modestly and cultivate the inner person of the heart. Talk about why some young women want the attention that dressing immodestly brings. Discuss what type of young man a young lady is likely to attract when she inappropriately flaunts her sexual beauty.

A mom could take her son on a similar date. She might point out why girls appreciate boys who know how to dress appropriately and attractively. Boys often only want to wear t-shirts—and some carry repulsive or suggestive messages. Is this an image he wants to present? He doesn’t need to use his chest as a billboard for something that violates good values and standards. We’ve even drawn the line by sending neighborhood boys home who were wearing vulgar t-shirts when they came over to see our sons.

An obvious issue is whether overall appearance should be sloppy or neat. Explain to your child that being sloppy projects an image that he may not want. For example, it may communicate to a teacher that he doesn’t care about learning.

At the same time, remember that dressing sloppy is not uncommon for teens, especially boys. If you determine it is just a passing stage, try to help him see what his image communicates, what is unacceptable attire for school, what is appropriate attire for church, and then let the rest go. We learned to flex a lot. You have to know where and when to draw the line.

If his affection for the grunge look is a reflection of his feelings about life, ask God for ways to encourage him, to help him succeed, and to communicate love and acceptance.

Here are some ways to test your preadolescent or teenager on his or her journey through forming convictions about appearance:

Ask questions. Ask your child what he thinks about his appearance. Is he satisfied with his clothes, haircut, etc.? Why or why not?

Encourage your child to observe others. Without becoming critical, help your child or teen observe what others wear and the impression that clothing styles give. A good place to do this would be while you’re at a mall or a sporting event where there’s a large crowd of people. Make an observation or two and involve your child in the thinking process by asking him questions.

Organize a panel discussion. If you are involved in your child’s Sunday school class or youth group, suggest a panel discussion on the subject of dress. You will need a strong person to moderate the questions and discussion to keep it focused. Hand-select the panelists who are three or four years older than the class—those who have standards that will represent what you are trying to teach your children. Have the guys talk about what they feel when girls wear clothing that calls attention to their bodies. Ask them to tell the girls how they should dress to help them avoid temptation.

Likewise, have the girls tell the guys what they find attractive in the way a guy dresses. Our teens need to hear the truth on this subject, and usually hearing it from someone other than Mom and Dad is very effective.

Always be ready to applaud. On the issue of appearance, the big deal is to applaud and compliment like crazy when your child makes good choices, especially on his own.

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.