Teaching Your Daughters to Value Modesty
Reality TV is all the rage these days. Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice – they all share the same premise: ordinary people confronted with extreme adversity.
I have an idea for a great new reality show – one in which the task is so challenging as to be nearly impossible. Take a typical mom, dad and daughter, and drop them in a shopping mall with $500 to buy the daughter a new wardrobe. The catch: everything they buy has to pass the modesty test.
Sound simple? Let me tell you, it’s not. When my daughters were small, the fashion world had little impact on their clothing choices. Dad and Mom made most of the decisions for them. For many years, in fact, I made their dresses for special occasions myself, and these were always received with great excitement. As they grew and their worlds enlarged, so did their perceptions of fashion. Our shopping expeditions became exercises in endurance, rather than enjoyable outings.
As just one sample of what we’re up against as parents, one very popular store markets thong underwear emblazoned with sexy slogans like “eye candy” and “wink, wink” to girls aged 7-14. Asked to defend their product, the company spokesperson said, “It’s cute and sweet and fun.”
Granted, this is an extreme example. But even when shopping for basic items like jeans and t-shirts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find attractive, fashionable clothes for young girls that don’t show off a whole lot of skin. Tube tops, crop tops, clingy fabrics, low-cut dresses and low-rise jeans are all the rage. CNN and Fox News Channel commentator Betsy Hart complained about one national retailer, where she found everything for her young daughter to be too tight, too low-cut and too short. In her words, “dressing my not-yet-six-year-old like she is Britney Spears is at best silly, and at worst unnecessarily sexualizing our littlest girls.”
In this cultural climate, what is a parent to do? Drawing from my experiences as a mother of three daughters, I’d like to share a few suggestions that might be an encouragement in this critical parenting issue.
1. Embrace modesty
Given the current state of things, does modesty even matter anymore? Our culture tells us no and sometimes we don’t even stop to think about what our appearance says about us. What once would have been considered unacceptable and risqué is now not just accepted, but commonplace. Commit to making modesty a virtue you will actively teach your children.
2. Define a family standard
What is modesty? The dictionary tells us that to be modest is to avoid impropriety or indecency, to be reserved in sexual matters, and to be unpretentious in appearance. A modest person does not call attention to herself by the way she dresses.
In order to teach our daughters to value modesty in a world where it is seen as prudish, we must make the effort to establish clearly what we consider to be modest. Ultimately, it is up to you as parents to set the family standard. Discuss it with your spouse and come up with some guidelines that you can pass on to your daughters. Determine what you consider to be acceptable clothing choices. Talk about a specific age when it comes to wearing make-up, heels, etc. and be prepared to explain your decision-making process.
Modest clothing can still be stylish and attractive. Be prepared to spend some extra time searching out suitable fashions for your daughters. They are out there, but you’ll have to be willing to cheerfully make the effort and, in some cases, spend a little extra.
3. Get the kids onside
Once you’ve set your standards, the next key is to get your kids to buy in without a full-scale revolt! It’s easy to say, “I’m the parent and you will do what I tell you,” but while that approach may bring about outward conformity to the standard, it will not help your daughters to begin to value modesty in their own hearts. Instead, you want to help them to understand why modesty is such an important character issue and teach them to make good decisions on their own. We’ve found it very helpful to be able to give our daughters reasons as to the suitability or unsuitability of a piece of apparel.
Be on the lookout for good role models that are older than your own daughter and allow these friends to influence them; they can be a tremendous help to you. Also, watch for positive examples in the world of entertainment and introduce your kids to them.
4. Counter the media onslaught
Realize that fashion is big business. Kids’ and teen clothing represents a multi-billion dollar industry, and the advertisers know exactly how to entice our children. Your daughters are bombarded from an increasingly early age through the media. In fact, marketing that used to be aimed at teens has now shifted to the tween group (ages 8-13).
This shift is having a noticeable impact on girls in this age category. Adult clothing styles are being mini-sized to fit young girls. Kids are being made to grow up faster than ever before. We can diminish the influence of media by helping our daughters make wise choices concerning TV programs, videos, movies, music and reading material. Talk about these choices in entertainment and fashion selection with your tweens and teens before they ever become issues.
5. Value character over appearance
It is important to tell your daughter how beautiful she is, so that she doesn’t have to go outside the family to hear this message. Even more vital than praising her appearance, though, is affirming her character. We need to counteract our culture’s influence by placing value on the inner heart and character of an individual. Compliment your daughter on her inner character frequently.
6. Recognize Dad’s critical role
Never underestimate the influence of a Dad. My husband went on many shopping trips, even though this is not his favourite activity, in order to show his interest and have some input into the selection process. Dad’s approval is extremely significant in a daughter’s life, so fathers need to be careful in how they relate to them. Both words and tone matter greatly. Even though she may act like she resents your intrusion in her life at times, your daughter really does care about what you think of her. Dads, let your daughter know that you think she is beautiful – that she is unique in your eyes and God’s. Your girls carefully watch your reaction – your opinion counts!
Preparing your daughter to embrace modesty is a gift that will last a lifetime. I like to think of modesty as a pattern that I am helping my daughters weave into their lives; a pattern that will become so much a part of their moral fibre that it will enable them to freely and fully enjoy being the women they were born to be.