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A Holiday Dress Code? Teens and Their Holiday Outfits

At the heart of the holidays are traditions, family togetherness, and the annual exchange of presents and goodwill. But most of us also want the holidays to live up to an ideal in our head. “People want to show they are holding it together—whether it’s true or not,” explains Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parent and youth development expert and founder of the advice site AskDoctorG.com.

This can be especially difficult when your teen is not cooperating with your clothing expectations and wants to, say, wear army boots in your khaki-and-white annual family photo shoot, or show up for Christmas at Grandma’s in a midriff-baring t-shirt. What’s a parent to do?

When your teens won’t dress for the holidays

First, says Gilboa, you need to figure out what your irritation is really about. Are you upset because their outfit choices are disrespectful to your family’s cultural or religious traditions, or does your irritation have more to do with your own ego?

If it’s the first scenario, you may need to put your foot down Dr. Gilboa says. “If your children are part of a larger family whose religious beliefs involve not showing parts on their skin, then it’s reasonable to require your teen to cover up those parts of the skin,” she says. But there’s still room for individuality within these limits. “If your teen wants to cover their shoulders by wearing a rainbow shirt, that’s totally reasonable,” she says.

the struggle of holiday clothes for teens

If your objections to your teen’s clothing choices have more to do with concern about how others might perceive you, consider biting your tongue.

“Figure out a dress code for teens. Maybe it’s that your children need to be dressed up. Or you might decide that they can’t wear anything that shows off the bottom of their glutes. But once you decide the dress code, back off,” Dr. Gilboa says. You can enforce that dress code, but don’t nitpick other things. “I know how much fun it is to have your family dressed in matching clothes, but the unifying theme you really want from your holiday memories are smiles.”

Rebecca Meiser

Rebecca Meiser is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio, and frequent contributor to Your Teen.