Dear Cici,

My 13-year-old daughter’s best friend is wearing skimpy clothing and posting pictures of herself, with butt cheeks hanging out, on her social media. I do not want my daughter dressing like this. Help!!

Disapproving Mom

Dear DM,

You are not alone. These days teens are navigating a vast social media landscape that is promoting female empowerment and “body positivity” while simultaneously flooding them with images of idealized (and highly sexualized) beauty. Teens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in this context and fashion can be a way for them to express their creativity while trying on different ways of being in the world.

This can be a touchy subject, so it’s smart to think about how you want to approach this conversation before talking with your teen. Pick a relaxed time. Don’t try to bring it up as you’re scrambling to get ready to leave for school.

Most importantly, avoid slut shaming. Don’t start out by telling your daughter her outfits make her look trashy or that she may cause certain people to feel uncomfortable because of the way she is dressed. 

Instead, try to engage her in a dialog about her personal style. What message is she trying to convey with her wardrobe choice? Who or what influences her ideas about fashion?  Is it about self-expression or does she feel pressure to look a certain way?

Consider asking your teen show you some images of styles she’s interested in and ask what she likes about them. In this way you are showing that you’re interested in her opinion and not just trying to control her choices.Invite her to comment on your wardrobe so that it’s less of a one-way conversation.Take the opportunity to bring up issues of empowerment and objectification and encourage her to think critically about her choices.

Think of this as the beginning of an on-going dialog you’re going to have with your teen as you’re unlikely to resolve this issue in one sitting.  Choose your battles, in the end, your daughter is going to wear what she wants and that’s not the end of the world.

By keeping an open mind, listening more and judging less you’re more likely to keep the communication going. 

Cecilia Ortiz, LCSW is a clinical social worker and a mom. She has nearly 20 years of experience including working with kids, teens and adults in the areas of sex education, abuse, trauma and prevention. Email your questions Cici to [email protected].