How does a 6 year old realise that his mom’s clothes are not up to the mark for a birthday party? What makes a 9 year old feel embarrassed about his father’s grey hair? Is it that children are image conscious or is their overexposure to media making them so?
If you read on child psychology and child development, the only thing it states is that children have role models that they would like to emulate, so if a child’s role model is Barbie then she would want to dress like her etc, but does this need to imitate a role model extend to their parents appearance too? Ideally it should not, because kids accept adults the way they are, they have never questioned the way a father or mother or brother should look. Then why the change now? Maybe it is the heightened stereotyping that is played on to them all the time in movies, ads and television serials. Previously reel life would imitate real life, so a grandmother in a film would be dressed in the appropriate way that grandmothers in the society look and behave. Not so any more, have you seen some of the latest serials, you have moms who are made up all the time, even in bed! They wear the latest jewellery, clothes and do not look their role (mother, grandmother) or age.
Today’s world of commercialism has brought along with it a new emotion, that of envy. Television ads teach you to envy the whiteness of your neighbour’s clothes. His child is stronger, taller etc are being played out over and over again on children’s brains and hence bringing about this artificial stereotyping in the minds of kids,
To look good is now considered synonymous to being good, so the meaning of ‘good’ in lost in looking better and best. And so you have kids who compare their mom’s clothes with that of their friends or his dad’s branded t-shirt or lack of it with that of friends and neighbours.
I have to be the best is being drilled out to kids by both schools and parents, so then why should not kids also want to be the best, the one with the best dressed mom, the one with the youngest looking father are all aspirations that kids are having.
So how does one deal with this?
Well, if your child is embarrassed with your sloppy dressing, maybe he is right and you need to do something about it. But if your child has started to make unreasonable demands about the way you look or dress or what you buy then it’s time to dig deep and find out the cause of these likes, is it friends? It is television? Then you need to sit with your child and reason things out and come to an acceptance that is acceptable to both after all a kids needs to be proud of one’s parents too!
Its’ also important to remove the notion and pride in such superficialness from your child’s life as in the long run it will be detrimental to his choices in life both of career and life partner. Because looks and clothes or image will be more important than decisions will be made on first impressions and not on lasting bonds or emotions.
Somewhere this need to stereotype is also laid down by the parent, when a parent tells a child, ‘look how nicely Dhawal is behaving and look at you’. This is the first step to teaching children to compare and then don’t be surprised if one day they tell you, ‘look how pretty Dhawal’s mom looks and look at you!’
Being image conscious is good, but it is more important to set and define your own yardstick rather than setting it on others. So the next time your child is embarrassed about your greying hair, talk to them about why you are proud of them and need not hide them.
Let’s teach kids to be super and not superficial in the way we judge people.
Dr. Swati Popat Vats
Parenting Mentor and Coach