Modesty Matters: How To Talk to Your Teen About What They Wear

by Mark Gregston

June 1, 2020

I recently read an interesting quote about the need for modesty in our culture: “Dear Girls, dressing immodestly is like rolling around in manure. Yes, you’ll get attention, but mostly from pigs – Sincerely, Real Men.” Ouch! That’s pretty scathing. 

I prefer the more positive spin: “When a woman veils her body in modesty, she is not hiding herself from men; she is revealing her dignity to them.” And consider these wise words from actress Emma Watson: “The less you reveal the more people can wonder.”  

I think we can all agree that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “wonder” left in how many young women and men (yes, men can dress inappropriately too) are attiring themselves these days. Sociologists and fashion historians claim that this slip down the “less is more” slope began in the Roaring 1920s where cropped-haired flappers began wearing shorter and tighter dresses. Decades after, we saw women modeling after Marilyn Monroe and Bridget Bardot.

Then the free-love 60s brought us the infamous Woodstock and other rock concerts where a “clothing optional” climate seemed to prevail. While mainstream American remained (thankfully) fully clothed, nonetheless, the declining social mores from the 1920s onwards have influenced fashion styles enormously. And it’s been no turning back from there. 

You Wear What You Honor 

Today the idea of modesty seems archaic and constrictive. Even say the word “modesty” and many people immediately think of certain strict religions or cults. Yet I can’t say these religious groups are completely wrong in their attempt to exercise modesty, albeit some do so out of legalism. As a Christian, my behavior is informed by my personal relationship with God rather than a list of “do’s” and “don’ts.” This goes for my children, as well. I raised them to believe that rather than thinking about what they can or can’t do—or how much they can get away with—they should think about how their behavior and style of dress reflects on the God they love versus the “friends” they want to have like them.  

In other words, I told them it was fine to want to be fashionable. Just don’t be so fashioned by culture that you lost the core of who you are—that includes having a sense of dignity, worth and self respect. You don’t even have to be a Christian to understand the value of that concept. 

“Trending now” – What Should Parents Censor? 

As the director of Heartlight Ministries, a residential boarding school for troubled teens, my wife and I live with 35 high school girls. And while these girls fully understand the need for modesty, they’re still challenged to “fit in” to a culture that doesn’t exactly affirm the values they know to be true. My staff and I face this issue on a daily basis. It’s a delicate balance to be sure. But let’s be honest. I’m sure there are things your parents didn’t like about the way you dressed as a teenager. Chances are, you don’t dress that way today, and when you look at those old pictures you may giggle or guffaw, as I do, about how foolish you looked back then. Remember those “groovy” tie-dyed shirts, beads, headbands, and peace symbols? I do because I was wearing them! When I was in high school my dad hated my bushy sideburns and long hair, purple bell-bottoms and boots that came up over my knees.  It was a fad to look like the rock idols of the day and I thought it was groovy, man. My parents? Not so much.  

But fashion trends—whether it’s the bell bottoms and go-go boots of the sixties, or distressed jeans, vintage plaid shirts and fitted hoodies of today’s hipsters—are one thing, but being sexually provocative is quite another. Case in point. Recently, a pastor of a church was put in the embarrassing position of having to ask the young women of the congregation to please wear longer tops when sitting down on chairs that gave, shall we say, the male congregants a rather distracting view of their fashionable, but inappropriate underwear. I get that. For guys, it would be a challenge to focus on the wonder of God during worship, when there’s a lack of wonder (sort to speak) distracting you in the seat in front of you.  

The problem is real. I can’t tell you how often I hear from concerned parents of teenage girls who want to dress too seductively. I empathize with their plight. Today’s teens live in a world heavy with sexual innuendo, where outward packaging and presentation is all important. The definition of modesty has changed for them, not so much because of the lack of values taught by parents, but because of the overwhelming exposure to seductive lifestyles. 

When a Teen Idol is a Parent’s Nightmare 

No doubt, fads can be a challenge for parents to manage, since the Internet, coupled with books, television, music videos and movies, have all inundated our kids with seductive images and inappropriate suggestions. Highly sexualized lifestyles are touted as normal, so girls face extreme social pressure to look and act seductively as well. In the 90s, it was Madonna who tested the limits. Today, the bar for inappropriate behavior has been raised even higher (or lower)—especially when the most popular young female “shock pop star” today was, just a short time ago, a parent-approved teen idol. Her TV show was Disney-rated and harmless. Today, Miley Cyrus has turned stoner/singer/songwriter, and many of the early fans continue to idolize her today.  

Many parents are at a loss on how to deal with this problem of their teens worshipping inappropriate role models and then subsequently emulating their dress and behavior. As one parent remarked, “Parents tend to have high hopes for their children and it’s typically not a parent’s dream for them to prance around with not a lot of clothes on, partying their lives away.” 

Girls from good homes often tell me they are torn between doing what is acceptable by their peer group to “fit in,” and doing what is taught them by their families and church. More times than not, the social pressures for the teen to look and act like their peers will win out when they are in school or out with their friends.  But they will soon realize that the end result of their seductive presentation — when guys do pay attention — is not always what they expected, or what they really want in the first place. 

My advice for parents is to remain calm when your daughter is trying to fit into the culture or her peer group.  Using harsh words that defame her character such as, “you look like a …” will only push her deeper into the negative behavior. Rather, calmly and regularly address the more important issue of modesty and the “why” behind it.  At the same time, make sure your teen understands that modesty is an important family value that will be enforced for her own good—no matter what the prevailing fashion trends say.  

A Vote for Values  – Guiding Your Teen to Make Good Fashion Choices 

But it’s all how you present and discuss the issue. Focusing on modesty, versus putting down the current fashion as our own parents did with us, will eliminate the perceived generation gap. And that way, when the next fad comes along she’ll understand the boundaries. And moms, depending on your relationship with your teen, you can give her a little practical guidance. Offer to go shopping with her—to help steer her fashion choices in a direction that’s acceptable to both of you. Affirm her when she tries on something that’s flatters without flaunting. (But be genuine and understated in your tone when you do or she might feel manipulated.) And dads, your affirmation of how your daughter looks when she dresses appropriately will also go a long way to reinforce her self worth. Much of a girl’s core identity is formed by how her father treats her.  If you say the right things, then your daughter won’t go looking for the wrong things … especially “Mr. Wrong!” 

Is maintaining modesty going to be easy? No. But by being diligent and also showing that you understand her need to fit in with the culture she lives in, you’ll be able to maintain a great relationship with your little princess as you navigate and struggle through these tough waters. In the long run, a strong and open relationship with your child, coupled with uncompromising values of modesty, will best insure that she maintains appropriate dress, even when you aren’t looking. As Martin Luther said, “…hav righteous principles in the first place…they will not fail to perform virtuous actions.” 


6 Ways to Use Summer to Your Advantage

#582 – Student Story: Rachel

with host Mark Gregston

Summertime is rolling around again! And it can either be a season of strife—or a rewarding and rejuvenating break. Which will it be for your family?

This weekend on Parenting Today’s Teens, Mark Gregston outlines six ways moms and dads can use summer break to their advantage.

For free parenting resources, please click here.

For the latest on how to parent your teen, please visit the Parenting Today’s Teens website or our bookstore.

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For any more info on Parenting Today’s Teens or Heartlight, please visit https://parentingtodaysteens.org/  or  https://www.heartlightministries.org/.


Turning Over Control to Your Teen

by Mark Gregston

We’ve all heard the old adage that kids will be kids, but the same can be said for parents, as well.  Parents will be parents.  Protecting our kids is ingrained in us from the moment we become parents.  Every part of us wants to shelter them, but as they grow and mature, it’s important that we begin to turn over the reins of control in order to help them exercise their decision-making muscles which will propel them towards adulthood. 

If you’re curious to learn how and when to hand over control, keep reading.  This article is going to give you some helpful tips to navigate those turbulent teens years with success. 

How and When to Hand Over Control 

The process of turning over control should happen during the seven-year period between the ages of 12-18.  This the is time of life when kids begin to understand that their actions have consequences.  And it’s also the time of life when they are able to begin processing the world around with sound reasoning. 

Kids typically go through three phases of learning.  The first is the grammar stage where they absorb everything they’re being taught and parrot it back to parents, grandparents, and teachers.  That’s phase is followed by the logic stage where your teen begins learning how to think critically.  Most parents refer to this phase as the arguing stage, and it contributes to why those two or three years of middle school are brutal. 

It’s the wise parent who realizes at this stage that they need to train their children for what lies ahead instead of merely teaching them how to behave.  In doing this, they’ll be giving their kids a leg up for the final stage, which is known as the rhetoric stage.  In those final years from 9th grade to 12th grade, your teen will begin to take all the information that they’ve learned from you, from their teachers, from their friends, and from life around them, and they’ll start putting that knowledge into practice. 

The more control you turn over to your teen, the more you may find out that they disagree with your views or your input.  They might even tell you that they want to spread their wings and fly in a different direction.  That’s all part of the process, too. 

It’s better to allow them the freedom and flexibility to have a say in whether they want to wear a certain clothing style, or hair style, or even if they want to go to church.  If you’ve done your job as a teacher and a trainer during the grammar and logic stages, they’ll come back around.  You may have to swallow your pride for a while and allow those decisions.  But it’s better for you to give them the power to decide now than when they’re 18 and they decide not to do whatever it is, just to prove a point that they now have the power and control. 

Some mistakes will be made.  As scary as it seems, this is part of the process in allowing them to exercise their decision-making muscles.  Mistakes often go hand-in-hand with learning, and it’s better for your teen to learn in your home than out on their own. 

A Few Things to Remember 

Giving up control doesn’t mean there are no longer house rules or consequences.  So, give your teen freedom, but make sure you’re communicating what will happen when they step outside the bounds. 

When your teen makes a poor choice—not simply a mistake that most teens make because they’re teens, then make sure they “feel” the consequence. 

Don’t rescue your teen from their consequences!  Proverbs 19:19 tells us that if you rescue an angry man once, you’ll just have to rescue him again. 

When your teen makes a mistake, don’t ridicule them.  Be calm and allow the consequence system you’ve put into place work as it’s been designed.  Move towards repairing the breach while speaking wisdom into their lives. 

Be continually training your teen to move toward their goals.  If you do that, you’ll get to see them mature into wise adults who make good choices. 

Conclusion 

Mom, Dad … I’ve never met a set of parents that want to be in control of their adult child.  But I know quite a few who have kids in their twenties who have no control over their lives.  A parents’ intent to provide for their kids can quickly move into enabling.  So, quit enabling, and start equipping.  I want you to hear this: a bumpy transition into adulthood is usually the fault of the parents who won’t relinquish control of their child’s life.  It’s time to start plotting a plan for how you can give a little bit more control to your teen through their adolescent years.  They want it, so give it to them!  And be present in their lives and help them learn how to take control. 


Tough Guys and Drama Queens

Tough Guys and Drama Queens

For almost 40 years, we’ve been passionate about guiding kids and parents through the turbulent teenage years. Tough Guys and Drama Queens has been a huge part of that mission, and we’re thrilled to be able to offer it now, to you, as a free online course!

This two-week course will give you a look into why traditional parenting techniques aren’t as effective as they used to be, the pressures they face in today’s culture, and how to build a stronger relationship with your teen throughout the tricky experiences they’ll have during these years.