Your Teen’s Personal Appearance: Clothing and Grooming

Adolescents are very concerned about the impression they make on others, even if it doesn’t seem that way to you. At home with their families, teenagers can look like anything and know that you will still love them. However, leaving home and going to school—where everyone is looking at them—can be totally overwhelming. Your daughter will think other girls will talk about her if she wears the same sweater twice in one week. They will say, “Wow, didn’t Tatum wear that on Tuesday? Is her family poor?” Or if your son has one pimple on his face, he will be sure that everyone in the school will notice and comment on it.

Teenage girls are especially self-conscious about the way they look. And most of them think they are ugly, at least every other day. Girls in the United States are exposed from a very early age to a world that teaches it is good to be beautiful. Your daughter is also constantly exposed to tv, movies, and social media that outline exactly what beautiful is.

You have to accept at some point that nearly the only thing that matters to your child is what his or her peers think. Try to remember that your child’s behavior is normal. But be sure to step in if you think things are getting out of control. Anorexia is a psychological disorder where adolescents starve themselves trying to become thin. It is connected to the sexual feelings that make some people feel they can never be quite thin enough. But if your child's obsession with his or her looks is not of the dangerous kind, the best thing you can do is continue to compliment, be supportive, and understand his or her feelings. 

Your teenager has the right to fit in with the current fashions of his peers within reason. You are perfectly justified in asking that your child meet the following requirements.

  • Do not dress in provocative ways: Your teen may not realize that the way he or she dresses may result in unwanted attention.

  • Do not dress in a way that will offend others: If your son wears a T-shirt to school that is covered with obscenities, he will disrupt others and is likely to find himself in the principal’s office. 

  • Dress appropriately for the situation: Explain that she will have a hard time getting around the school in spike heels. 

  • Do not dress above the family’s budget: Even if your child is making his own money at a part-time job, he should not be allowed to spend all of it on clothes.

You can express your opinion about your teenager’s appearance, especially in regard to the above requirements. But don’t impose your own personal style on your child; they have a right to their own opinions.

Keep in mind that adolescents are going through a stage where they will experiment with different looks and styles until they find their true identity. Adolescence is a very difficult and demanding time. If you and your child don’t have trouble with each other over the small things like pierced ears, a new hair color, or excessive and obsessive grooming, you will be able to communicate better about the big things. Unless your teenager’s appearance is extreme or offensive, try to express your opinions gently or not at all. In most cases, this is an unnecessary battle that is best avoided.


Steinberg, L., Ph.D. and A. Levine. You and Your Adolescent