SchoolFamily Voices

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Part of my responsibility at our school is to monitor what students wear, making sure they follow the dress code. Middle school students like to push the limits of the dress code; that’s expected from adolescents when they are trying to discover who they are and who they would like to become as they mature into adults. Each school has its own dress code and its own methods for interpreting the code. Some schools are very strict—others less so. I thought it might be helpful to understand why schools need dress codes, why they’re enforced, and how the dress code at your child's school will affect your back-to-school shopping.

Every family has its own sense of right and wrong, and differing levels of parental involvement. That said, some students come to school dressed provocatively; perhaps they snuck out of the house without a parent seeing them, or they changed clothes after they got to school. As is often the case, when I speak with them about how they are dressed, they miraculously have something else on hand to change into! They know what they’re wearing is inappropriate, but they think they might get away with it. Or perhaps, they make their statement just to arrive at school dressed that way, with plans to change clothes once at school.

In general, the purpose of the dress code is to help to create an environment conducive to learning at school. When underwear is showing or too much skin is exposed, students think more about each other than what they are being taught. Many students already have trouble paying attention in school. When you add distracting clothing, it’s just that much harder for them. Other parts of the code are safety-related. For example, some students like to wear their pants dragging on the ground or leave their shoes untied, both of which are unsafe when going up and down stairs. A third purpose of the code is to teach students that what is appropriate clothing for one place (like a birthday party) is not appropriate for another place (like work or school).

Many years ago, I had a student who got his first job over spring break. He was working at the movie theater taking tickets as people entered. After a few weeks he was fired. I asked him about it, and he told me that he did not wear the white shirt and black tie that was required of him. I asked him why he didn’t wear it and he said, “It was stupid. It was too hot in there and I shouldn’t have to wear a tie.” He suffered a severe consequence for the decision he made to ignore the dress code.

My point in sharing this story is to show that dress codes are a part of life. We wear certain kinds of clothes to church, to work, to the beach, to the prom, and to school.

It is important when shopping for school clothes this summer that parents obtain a copy of the school’s dress code in advance and help their kids select appropriate clothing. This will make concentrating in the classroom easier for everyone—and it’ll keep students safe and teach them that appearance is important.

I like to tell my students that school is your job right now. Dress for success in school just like you will dress for success at your job in the future.

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No one told me teenage girls are so messy! (And stinky?)


My oldest daughter is downright disgusting when it comes to her room and her laundry, and I’m scared to look under her bed. Her little sister (poor thing shares a room with the hoarding/moping/older girl monster), however, is a neat freak and the two DO NOT a happy shared-bedroom sisterhood make!! (The photo shown is an actual picture of my daughters’ shared bedroom. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.)


Movies and sitcoms make it clear that teenage boys are the stinky ones, not girls, and so I was led to believe that:


  • Boys leave slices of pizza to mold under blankets
  • Their gym socks get up and walk away on their own
  • In general, body odors from boys are much worse than girls


Well, I beg to differ.


Girls stink. Sorry, there’s no easy way to share this with you. The teen thing sets in STRONG by 14 years old and a mom can nag and whine, but no matter how many showers—and despite industrial strength deodorant—there is still a just-woke-up, morning girl smell that could knock over a hippo.


I once heard a child psychology expert talking about teens and bedrooms. He said you really have to think about their rooms like hotel rooms. When you’re on vacation you aren’t there for the hotel room; instead, you’re all about the stuff to do in the city you’re visiting. And it’s like that for teens. Their bedroom often is simply a stopover and a refueling place for the next “thing.”


My teen lately spends more time at school and at play practice than at home (including sleeping). And since she has nowhere near enough time to do that plus her chores and her schoolwork, and spend time with the family—which is more important to me right now than a super clean room—I’m trying to let it go.  


A lot of that will change, however, when her high school musical is over (they’re staging a production of “Anything Goes!”) We’ll get her back in all her smells-like-teen-spirit glory in a month, after the play!


So which is it, SchoolFamily.com readers? Do girls win the "Teen Disgusting Bedroom Award" or is it boys who have a corner on the reeking stench market?

My freshman asked me to drop her off early for school near the corner bakery. She wanted to grab a hot cocoa with a friend before school.


Upon rounding the corner, several older students were monopolizing the outdoor seating. Without a thought I turned and looked at the group. One girl sitting down was…um… to put it nicely… showing her whole backside. Also known as her “crackside.”


I turned to my daughter and said, “THAT is why I make a big deal out of your clothing choices each day.”


What is the deal with teen falling-down pants? Who decided lower inseams are better (and “even lower” is best of all)? Belts are no help when your pants don’t reach halfway up your derrière in the first place. I don’t care if you are skinny, tall, short or muffin topped—crack is NOT attractive!


I dare you to find a pair of remotely mom-approved jeans these days from Walmart, Target, TJMaxx, or any other teen clothing mecca. You can’t do it. They don’t exist. They stopped manufacturing jeans with a normal “rise” circa 2005. (I made that up—but it totally seems like it.)


So what’s a mom to do? How do I beat the inseam lowering standards of teen youth today?


I call it saving my daughter from “crackside’”exposure. I love the increase in shirt “layering” styles. We stock up on extremely long T-shirts, tank tops and camisoles whenever we find them. All colors all the time, is my motto.


I think we’re keeping ModBod brand in business with just my two daughters alone. You can find sets of 2 pack long tank tops in Costco from time to time. LOVE that! If you haven’t checked it out… go. You’ll thank me.


Another option is the stretchy bands of fabric meant to cover from the mid-tummy down past the tops of pants, a faux under-layer of T-shirt. We haven’t gone this route. But I’m tempted to try making my own. Cheetah print anyone?


When my daughter whines at me after I ask her to add a layer or pull her shirt down, I say, “Remember, I love you enough to cover you.”


Please tell me someone out there has more solutions to the low-rise pants fashion nightmare?



It is tempting as a parent to take control of every part of a child’s life. Parents make sure their children do all their homework, get up on time, get ready for school, eat a healthy breakfast, wear appropriate clothing, and catch the school bus on time. Parents essentially decide everything! At some point in a child’s life, however, parents will not be there to make all their decisions for them.

Children need experience making decisions. They will make mistakes along the way, but you will be there to help them understand the mistakes and to do better the next time. Here are 5 ideas for questions you can ask your child, allowing him to make decisions that don’t impact health, safety, or education.

  • “Do you want to eat broccoli or green beans for supper?” They’re both green veggies, so let them choose to eat the one they like the best.
  • “What do you plan to wear to school tomorrow?” As long as they meet the school’s dress code, they should be able to choose their own clothes from a fairly early age.
  • “Why don’t you check the weather channel and decide whether you will need your hat and gloves tomorrow?” Unless you know it might be seriously harmful for them to go without the hat and gloves, why not let them make a bad decision once or twice?
  • “Are you going to start with your math homework or your English?” Children should not decide whether to do their homework, but allowing them to decide which to do first is perfectly appropriate.
  • “You can play video games for 30 minutes tonight. When is the best time for you to do that?” Some kids will choose to play right when you ask; some will choose to wait until later. As long as they are not spending too much time playing the video game, it probably does not matter.

When I’ve written on this topic before, I’ve heard from parents that they’re afraid their child will make bad decisions. To that I ask, “How will they ever learn to make good decisions if you don’t allow them to mess up every once in awhile?” Children—like most adults—are happier when they feel they have some control over their own activities.


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In the public schools I attended, the dress code was plain and simple: no shorts, no hats, and nothing too skimpy. How times have changed. This week, I read about a girl given in-school suspension for wearing Tigger socks and a boy whose battle over this anti-Bush T-shirt went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The school clothes crackdown is aimed at keeping kids from wearing gang colors or apparel that promotes drugs and alcohol, but with the zero-tolerance policies applied at some schools, common sense has gone out the window.

In the Napa, Calif., school where Tigger was outlawed, the policy bans clothing with stripes, patterns, pictures, or logos. Students there have been disciplined for the vile offenses of displaying a heart sticker on Valentine's Day, carrying a backpack with a Jansport logo, and even wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the anti-drug program DARE.

In both cases, the courts ruled in favor of the students, saying the schools could not restrict free speech rights guaranteed under the First Amendment. But don't expect this to be the last word. Elsewhere the battle continues, with students and administrators butting heads over the color of belts, the placement of pockets, and other such key issues.
Tagged in: School Clothes

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