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Why Dress Codes Matter for Teenagers

Adolescents go to school for a number of reasons beyond the fact that they are required to. If you ask them why, it is likely they will tell you they go to see their friends. (They have a different agenda than their parents and teachers.) This leads to why I am writing about school dress codes once again. Dress codes exist to ensure an environment in school where students can learn and not be distracted by what everyone is wearing. In my many years teaching middle and upper school, dress code issues are the most frequent complaints I hear—from teachers because of what some students are wearing, from parents because their child does not want to comply, and from students because they feel it infringes on personal freedom. Why do dress codes matter?

Dress codes are important for a number of reasons.

  • How we dress sets a tone for behavior. When we dress in flip-flops, shorts, and a tank top, we behave like we do at the park. When we dress in business casual attire, we behave like we do at work. This is the same in schools. I have personally witnessed this time and again with my students. On days when we ask students to dress up for a special occasion, they generally behave in more respectful ways.
  • Adolescents want to both fit in and to be different. Often, they individualize by what they wear to school. If their choice is too revealing or distracting, other students pay more attention to them than what is going on in class. Some students wear clothing that meets the dress code when standing and everything is adjusted perfectly, but when sitting down it does not meet code (skin or underwear shows). It is helpful for parents to help their children check for these issues before they come to school.
  • Dress codes are a part of our society. Many workplaces establish them, and employees are expected to comply. Employees who push the limits can receive lower performance reviews or even lose their jobs. If students complain about their school’s code, it might help to discuss real-life situations that require similar attire.

You can help set the appropriate tone for learning in your child’s school by encouraging good choices while shopping for the new school year. And, as I have said before, you should know your school’s dress code when shopping for back-to-school.

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