Clothes send a message
        100% MISCHIEF: this is the caution printed across a sweatshirt worn by a kindergartener at the school where I teach. I guess his parents are trying to tell us something. My fantasy is that when his teacher calls home to talk about a problem, the parents tell her, “We warned you about him.”  Then they’re off the hook!

        A similar message that puzzles me is HERE COMES TROUBLE. And there is also one that has no words with it, but is stunning just the same: little girls dressed like streetwalkers. What are parents saying when they dress their children this way?

         Children are sponges. They absorb into their psyches the values that their parents demonstrate to them through words, deeds, and attitudes.  Above all, children hear what we say about them. Most of the time, they will live up (or down, as the case may be) to our expectations of them. Why give them low expectations?

         When they are given permission to misbehave, they begin to believe (1)  that they have no control over their behavior, and (2) that the only attention they can get is the negative behavior that parents have told the world to expect of them.

         Do we really want to tell our boys that we expect them to misbehave, thereby giving them permission to go ahead and get it out of their systems? If the “boys will be boys” attitude starts when they are younger, what will be condoned as they get older? Drunk driving? Sexual harassment? Fun and games with guns and knives?

         And if we dress our girls as harlots with makeup, tight clothing, and showing lots of  bare skin -- all before they reach puberty -- what types of sophistication will they need to seek when they reach adolescence? Smoking? Drinking? Pregnancy?

         I suggest that parents be mindful of the media images to which they expose their children. They also need to exercise their parental controls, which includes considering the messages that parents themselves are sending about their youngsters’ appearance and behavior. 

         This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s  Advice to Parents.

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