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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Let Them Think Outside the Box

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

As children, most of us can remember wanting to look like everyone else, wearing "fashionable" clothing and having the latest hairstyles. This just seems to be in the natural progression of things. But, what about the children who do not want to fit into society's "norm?" Should they be labeled as misfits or odd balls just because they think outside the box? After all, isn't that one of the things that breeds creativity and individuality?

One of my dear friends told me recently that she let her daughter go to school in some clothes that her daughter said were "what she wanted to wear." Although they were a far cry from the cookie cutter tee's from those three teen outfitters that we who have tween to teenage children have become all too familiar with, the child's clothes were clean and, even though they didn't match, her mother did what any good mother should do, and let her go to school.

Obviously, the child was happy with her choice of clothing, so I would love to give this mother a high five for not arguing with the child and forcing her to succumb to the "norms" defined by -- well, defined by who? Other children, their parents, the media?

All too often, as parents, we want the best for our children. We influence their decisions by simply saying things like, "Well, that outfit is kind of out there isn't it?" What we should do is encourage children to be happy with themselves and less superficial in allowing a label to define a person, something that, these days, sadly begins in elementary school.

I always laugh when I recall my first experience with branding. I was in second grade and experienced my first "check" shoes. My teacher wore a pair of them and I noticed several kids also had them. Whatever these things were, they must have been cool, because I wanted a pair and I wanted them now.

Before, I had been happy with shoes from Walmart or even hand me downs from friends and items found at yard sales. I never paid much attention until that magic light came on within my mind that day -- I wanted to fit in.

Many who know me are probably laughing at this prospect, but it is true. This, in itself, is a normal part of growing up. But in my opinion, parents sometimes play such a huge role in defining a child's sense of style that they become lost in what their parents want and never have an opinion. I feel like that's taking away some sort of right from the child. As parents, we all know we can sway our children to like something we like, rather than the blinking hot pink shirt and orange pants some kids actually like.

My parents, although not poor, were very careful with money, and other than Walmart, brand names were something I did not know, until second grade. After all, you have to remember that, at that time, the closest Walmart required a ferry ride into Mountain Home (yes, I am that old). I went home on the day I discovered the cool shoes and proudly told my mom, "I want some checked shoes." She, of course, had no clue what I was talking about, but by the end of the year, I had a pair.

Now I look back and think about how much that set my dad back. He worked long hours for minimal pay in a saw mill. Unfortunately, after that first brush with brands, I guess I was out of control. I wanted to look like everyone else, and my parents did as any parent would and tried to ensure I had the things that meant so much to me.

As a grown woman, I have managed, sadly enough, to pass my love of certain name brands down to my children. If I could change one thing about their raising, it would be to never have had an opinion on the clothing they wore and to let them pick out their attire. You see, I always made sure we went to the stores where "everyone else" shopped, and felt if I bought things from places less reputable, my children would be made fun of, which is something no parent wants. What I really feared is that it would reflect on me and make me look like a bad mother.

Billions of dollars a year are spent on brand marketing and brand loyalty is something almost anyone can understand, even young children. This is just another way in which the mainstream media has managed to impact our every day lives. So, the next time your child wants to leave home with his shorts on, decked out in a Spiderman shirt and rain boots, let him do it. If he is brave enough -- and comfortable enough -- to wear it, certainly he will be able to handle anything that day. Don't we all have days when we just want to throw on sweats, put our hair up and head to work?

Now, we can't actually do that because we are representatives of the company which employs us, but kids aren't. They are only young once. Let them have their opinions, and teach them that it isn't important to be like everyone else. But more importantly, teach them to be confident in who they are inside. After all, if everyone were alike, it would be an awfully dull world.