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September 19, 2023

Ask Lisa Podcast - Episode 136

Should I Allow My Tween to Wear Crop Tops?

Episode 136

A parent feels uncomfortable when her preteen daughter wears crop tops. She worries about the attention her daughter might receive, but also wonders if she’s the one who’s out of touch. Dr. Lisa and Reena address the complexities of setting boundaries around what kids wear and how to balance policing attire with allowing kids to express their own style. Reena asks what parents should do if they suspect that a child sneaks prohibited clothing to wear when they’re out – and if clothing choices are really a big deal in the grand scheme of parenting.

September 19, 2023 | 28 min

Transcript | Should I Allow My Tween to Wear Crop Tops?

TRANSCRIPT | SHOULD I ALLOW MY TWEEN TO WEAR CROP TOPS?

Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 136: Should I Allow My Tween To Wear Crop Tops?

The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

The following transcript has been automatically generated by an AI system and should be used for informational purposes only. We cannot guarantee the accuracy, completeness, or timeliness of the information provided.

——

Reena Ninan
So we’re tackling an issue today that I am on the cusp of dealing with. What is the crop top age when you need to have a conversation with your child about that?

Lisa Damour
You know, I think it depends on the community. I think I think it’s very different region to region. So I think there may be parts of the country where this is popping up by ages. I don’t know maybe even 9, 10, 11. And I think parts of the country where it’s coming up later.

Reena Ninan
I’ve never been a fan of a crop top or cropped anything. Cropped pants, cropped anything. Like I’m paying full price. I want the full shirt. I want the full pants.

Lisa Damour
I will tell you with my own adolescent daughters, when I’ve seen them all like, oh, did you pay half off for that? Which they do not find to be funny. They don’t.

Reena Ninan
They don’t find it to be funny in the slightest. I want to read you this note that we got Lisa, this letter from a parent it says Dear Dr. Damour, I have an 11 year old who really wants to wear crop tops. crop tops are installed for teenagers. But I am not comfortable with them. For a preteen. We’ve been very clear about this as a boundary, but she uses her own money to buy her crop tops. And we’ve caught her sneaking them to school with a sweatshirt on top, which she of course takes off when she gets to school. I understand crop tops are in style. But if you’re an 11 year old who’s developing, wearing them attracts attention that’s inappropriate for her age might just add a touch and need to accept that this is her style expression, or is it okay to have certain boundaries around what’s appropriate, particularly during those preteen years. Thank you. Well, first, I’m just curious, is this mom out of touch?

Lisa Damour
I don’t think she is. But I think the question is, what is she in touch with? Right? I mean, this is a really complicated one. And I think Reena, the place we have to begin with this is that if we picture a crop top, or you know, an 11 year old and a crop top, the way this is viewed by the 11 year old. And the way this is viewed, let’s say by her, you know, let’s say 40-something mom are completely different. And we have to start there.

Reena Ninan
I get the mom, I’m happy to hear more about mom, but I really want to hear what’s going through the mind of the tween who thinks this is fabulous. And my parents had attached I’m just not gonna listen to them at all.

Lisa Damour
Okay, here’s what’s going through the mind of the tween. Number one, all lots of kids they know are wearing them, right? They’re like, I’m looking at this right like, and, you know, no one’s bursting into flames. The sky is not falling. Like, I don’t see what the big deal is. Number two, it matches what often they’re seeing in the media, right? They’re seeing imagery of often very, you know, young ish looking girls wearing clothes like this. So they’re like, what’s the big deal? I’m seeing it in my real life. I’m seeing it in my digital life. And then the other thing that is so essential 11 year olds, 12 year olds, 13 year olds, 14 year olds, 15 year olds, I mean, I would say well into adolescence. They do not they can not perceive the adult sexuality piece, right. That’s what the mom is, is referencing. You know, I’ve got a developing kid, I’m worried about how this is going to come off. I understand where the mom is coming from the tween, and I will say a lot of teenagers. They have no way to understand that concern. It’s not that they’re dismissing it. It’s like it’s a dimension They do not yet have access to. And so when the mom or any parent is having a strong, relaxing reaction of like, oh my gosh, that looks really sexy. Yes. Which of course, as adults, we understand sexuality in a particular way we understand sexiness, we understand that kind of signaling that, you know, whatever you want to call it, the kid has zero access to that dimension. And I think that that’s the piece. So what the mom is in touch with is maybe adult understanding this, she was hard to be in touch with once you kind of cross into that dimension. And you can see the sexual implications, or you know, just the sexiness, like, we’ll just call it, the sexiness of it. It’s hard to unsee it, and remember what it’s like to not have that piece of understanding.

Reena Ninan
So how could you explain to a tween that crop tops are not cool that you should not be wearing them?

Lisa Damour
Okay, so if we’re gonna go down this road of like, the mom wants to, like, have some line about like, we’re not crossing that line yet. So given that, like, let’s really think about this, like they’re looking at the world with two different sets of glasses, like the mom understands it, all sexuality, and the sexiness of this the kid does not cannot. So I think in terms of how not to explain it, I think going for the sexual ankle won’t work, because you’re talking to a kid about something that they like, it’s like talking to a colorblind person about color, like, ascribe to you and persons like that doesn’t make me see the color. Right?

Reena Ninan
So he has a parent saying these crop tops are not cool, stop wearing them is not going to work. So don’t go down that road.

Lisa Damour
Yeah, or these crop tops look too sexy, you’re not wearing them the killaby. Like, I don’t know what you mean. And they really won’t know what the adult means. I think if the parent wants to draw the line, a reasonable way to do it, is to talk about, there are different clothes we wear at different ages. And crop tops are more adult. And what it reminds me of as I think through this letter, eight years ago, I was at a wonderful talk by a psychologist named Catherine Adair, who was at Harvard for a long time, and I think may still be there. And she talked about high heels, right? That we don’t put little girls in three inch heels. But we do put little girls in those like little like, kind of stack heels, you know, like if you’re like dressing up for the holidays or whatever, totally. And that over time, if you’re going to move into high heels, the height changes. And so it’s fine for adult women if they want to wear very high heels. But none of us I think feel like it’s appropriate to put a 4-inch heel on, you know, a 10 year old. And it’s not about exposure or anything, it’s just like, it’s just too adult, for that child. So I think that the way I would go at it is to say, crop tops are kind of adult, and you’re still an 11-year-old kid. So I’m not saying you can never wear it. And I get it that other people are making other choices, as families always will make their own choices. But I want to table this for a couple of years. We can revisit it later. It’s just too adult.

Reena Ninan
So what do you do? They’re on the verge of tween years, they feel like they’re getting ready to be super independent, you are in your mind thinking you’re nowhere near being super independent. They think it’s cool. We want nothing to do with it. How do you set up rules on this that makes them feel like okay, they’re moving up into the grown up category. But you can rein them in a little.

Lisa Damour
So I think so reality of having rules should do that. Right. So this mom, if we sort of play this out of the way, we’re recommending that she says, You know what, it’s just too adult in the same way that you’re not wearing four inch heels yet. You’re not wearing crop tops yet, like End of story. So she’s made a rule now, and we’ll come to this, the kid is already pushing against the rule and is going to sneak out in the house. You know, like we’ll come to the way in which the kid is going to get around the rule. But the rule making a rule that you actually cannot have come even completely have enforced right? I mean, this Mom’s already said, she’ll go to school and like have a cropped up under the sweatshirt that she left the house and there’s still value in the rule. And Reena, here’s why. To be a teenager, part of what is healthy and that is to push back against the adults to find friction with the adults. And teenagers are going to do this one way or another. And so what I would say to any parent of a teenager is roll up your sleeves, get ready for some friction and even get ready some front person friction around things that you may never be able to fully enforce. Or you may never win. The other classic is the kid’s room and how the kid keeps their room right? Like you can say your room’s got to be tidy. And if you don’t have a kid who’s inclined in that direction, you will stay in a many year dispute about the tiny tidiness of the room. You won’t win on Any given day, you may be in ongoing disagreement about this. But my rule on this arena is give teenagers the friction they were looking for on the small stuff on their room on the shirt style. Because in my experience, if you don’t give it to them on the small stuff, they’re like, Okay, I’m looking for the friction, I need to know that there’s a grown up in the room. So you don’t mind that my room is a disaster. You don’t mind that I am blasting music, you don’t mind that I’m wearing stuff that like I think other adults may not be cool with. Alright, what do I need to do around here to get an adult to step in and find some friction with me. And that’s often when you see kids ratcheting, and ratcheting and ratcheting up the misbehavior. So long way of saying, this is not the worst fight to have with your kid and you’re going to be having a fight with your teenager if things are going exactly as we expect they will.

Reena Ninan
I want to know what that list is of the small things because in my mind, everything is a big thing. It’s like what are the small things that are okay to have friction with that are better, but that way to have friction with with your good?

Lisa Damour
Okay, well, do you want to know my rule for that? Yeah, tell me like teenagers do all sorts of things that are annoying to adults, right? They do all sorts of things that are not our cup of tea, right? So it’s their room, it’s the music they listen to, it’s where they dump their backpack, it’s, you know, maybe like the way they wear their makeup or the color of the nail polish they want to wear or like even the style, like they may just even if it’s not a question of coverage, or appropriateness, like the style may not be appealing, they will start to refuse to go to church, they will use slang that we find obnoxious. They will find ways to tweak the adults and you don’t have to fight with them about everything. Right? Like it’s not worth it to get in and on everything. But pick a couple that really matter to you. And then if you’re like, should I let it go? Right? Is this one worth fighting about? One of the questions that I always have had in my own life as a mom is, will this matter when she’s 30?

Reena Ninan
That’s good. It’s a good one really good.

Lisa Damour
So if it’s gonna matter when they’re 30, you should definitely have that fight. So I’m thinking about like smoking a lot of marijuana or, you know, not taking good care of themselves in like really important ways. And then there is the tremendous gray area of annoying to the adult, but will not matter when it’s 30. And what I would say in that gray area is pick your battles. And I would say that gray area very much crop tops fall cleanly into the category of will not matter when she’s 30 What she wore, that you were cropped top at 11. But annoying to adults. And it sounds like this is a battle this adult may be like I’m gonna pick it.

Reena Ninan
Lisa, I want to pick back up on that last thought you were saying, when you decide to go blow to blow, mano to mano with your child. Just ask yourself does will this matter when they’re 30? That is such a great way of looking at it. The fact that this child is sneaking the cropped up under her sweatshirt and then taking it off at school. You think that’s a problem?

Lisa Damour
Reena, I’m like, beaming. I’m beaming. You make I am like, the biggest smile on my face. This is why I love teenagers, right? That they come up with these ways to be naughty, right to push back against the adults that are really, I would say by and large, I mean, quite harmless. And I can say quite harmless because I deal with teenagers across a very wide range. Like, I know what harmful behavior really really looks like. And like sneaking a crap out of the house is not believe me. Consider the alternatives. It’s a pretty good one. It’s a good point. It’s a good point. Okay, so here’s what I remember it I just have such a vivid memory. I write about this in untangled. One of my dear dear friends from high school, a guy named Andy his his older brother went to college and gave Andy a t shirt from the college and it became Andy’s favorite t shirt. And Andy Ward, like tried to wear it every single day. And because he worked so often it soon became very very threadbare. It was like, you know, almost translucent. But he loved loved loved it and his mother banned him from wearing it. She’s like, you cannot wear that out of the house. It’s like so like Adelaide. And so Andy everyday and this is how threadbare the t shirt was used to jam it in the back pocket of his jeans. Leave the house. And the friend who was carpooling over them would pull off. And Andy would in Jays car I remember who it was. switch into the forbidden t shirt. Okay. Andy, best guy ever. Right? Totally solid citizen, terrific student, wonderful human being, you know, dedicated athlete. This was his grand rebellion. This was his way of like sticking it to the man in his household. Okay, so this is how we want to think about it. Like they have to be naughty. Yeah. It’s weird when they’re not like, I am actually much more concerned about the teenager who’s like, I am incredibly obedient and does ever do everything my parents say I’m like, Okay, this is not going well. Like there’s something amiss. And so if you put it in this broad picture of like, this is the grand rebellion, right? Like, sneaking out of the house and wearing something that like a lot of kids are wearing. It’s a perfect solution. And so I would say to the mom, like shirt, like have like, give the kid this thing to fight with you about. And if it’s part of a broader picture of where she’s terrific, and thriving, and doing all the right things, and getting along well with other grownups and like taking the dog out for a walk, like, you have crushed this, this is terrific. She’s doing a great job with it. And so are you.

Reena Ninan
That is a great reminder, because never feels that way, right? And you get caught up in these things and just go head to head and that that 30 year old rule is great. will it matter when they’re 30? I’m gonna hang on to that. So in the big picture, when you’re talking about crop tops, you know, the child might not get the sexuality, the tween might not get the sexuality component. And you notice I didn’t say tween I said child initially first, because that’s how I feel there is still my child.

Lisa Damour
Eleven is young. No, they’re their little kids still, in many ways.

Reena Ninan
So should we be pushing back on this?

Lisa Damour
Well, I think yes, that I can like this question of like, the how, right the how. And I’ll tell you arena, what the line the minefield you want to stay out of, and it’s a very easy minefield to wade walk into, is, and I’ve totally seen this happen so many times in family life, where the 11 year old comes up and down the stairs in her crop top. And the adult goes, Oh my God, you look like a whore.

Reena Ninan
Oh, people just say that?

Lisa Damour
I mean, people say it, and you can totally see, like, and I don’t think they mean it, and it but like, they’re just like, it’s very jarring. And I will also just say this, it’s very jarring as a parent to have this kid and you know, you’re on the, you know, like on the cusp of this. Yeah, to have this kid who has been your little kid. And to see their bodies change, it’s actually very, it’s a very jarring thing as a parent, and then to see them experiment with how to dress that new and evolving body. And it’s even like the kind of thing that will happen and I’ve heard this from other parents is, you know, say and it’s often girls where this ends up being you know, more of an issue because their secondary sex characteristics are so much more public as they go through puberty. Yeah. So like you hear all the time of a parent where, you know, maybe the girl had like a little skirt that was like one of her favorite skirts from last Summer. And last summer she was taught. And this summer, she’s 13. And so she pulls her favorite skirt out, and she pops it on and it still fits. But oh my goodness, it now looks really, really different on this kid. So it’s actually the same clothes totally on an evolving body. And so I mean, nobody should call their kid a whore. Like, I’m not saying this is ever okay. But I totally get it where the parent has this, you know, very strong reaction to seeing this sweet child of theirs now, looking very sexy. I mean, just for lack of a better word looking very sexy. And so it comes sometimes people say things that are terribly regrettable. So number one, don’t do that. Like don’t do that. Like you could think it, you could think it don’t say it. Because again, if we go back to that idea of like, there, this has been proceed through two different sets of glasses. The only way the kid can take that, and it’s like, what you think I’m a whore? Like, they have no way of understanding the perceptual piece. They’re like your calling meal or right? I mean, like, it’s so painful to the child. So in terms of like, when you’re saying pushing back, okay, so don’t do that. And then I would say, and this gets into very complex questions as girls get older, don’t be like, it’s too sexy. Don’t display your body in that way. Because what a lot of 13, 14, 15 year old girls will start to say is, it’s my body, I can display it any way I want. And actually, this is how I exercise my power, right? Whereas I think you and I came up through a time where the idea of objectification and showing one’s body was seen as somehow giving away one’s power. Totally. That’s right. Today’s teenage girls would be like, Oh, no, no, no, this is how I claim my power. So you probably don’t want to go down that road, because you’re not equipped to have that conversation often. Or you may not be there yet. Or you if you’re gonna go down that road, which I would say, you know, feel free to go down that road, be prepared for a very complex conversation about power, perception, and women’s bodies. Right. Okay,

Reena Ninan
Good flag. Good. Lisa, I want to ask you that, you know, you know what it feels like when, especially if you’ve been working out, and you’re in a dress, and you feel good and strong about your body. I also am careful what I say to my daughter about my Wait, about how I feel. And I worry having the cropped up conversation that somehow I’m going to give her some sort of a body? How do we have the conversation? You’re telling me don’t bother telling her about how it sexualized her she’s not going to get it? She’s not there, it’s on her head. So don’t go down that road. But how do I talk to her about a crop top and why I don’t feel comfortable with her without bringing up all these other body image issues.

Lisa Damour
These are so important, these are so important. So let’s just rest for a minute on what you said about adult women talking about their own weight and shape in front of their adolescent girls or their daughters. What we know is basically don’t write that when when we see younger girls starting to talk about weight and shape. It’s not always the case. But it’s sometimes the case that they’re mimicking things they’ve heard said at home, that strike them as adult that strike them as grown up to worry about your blood or worry about how your thighs look in this thing. So what I would say, and this was, again, a complex thing for us as adult women, but I would say, you know, to the degree that you may have your own, you know, complex feelings about your body, which it’s basically impossible to be a woman in this culture and not try to really focus on strength and health and taking good care of oneself and you know, enjoying like, physicality for its own sake. And so, really try to have that be the front facing conversation with your kid. Alright, so what to say to her that doesn’t seem like you are not celebrating her. I think you can say look is adorable, like, I won’t fight you on that one. And you look adorable in it. Here’s the thing. elevens too young, that, you know, that kind of clothing comes with being older. So you can actually have it. You can have your cake and eat it too. You can say Yeah, you look really cute. Like it’s working. I get it. And 11 is not crop top age. We can come back to this in a couple of years. See where we’re at.

Reena Ninan
You know what we did at the start of school year because we were starting middle school for the first time. What I had to do at the start of the school year was read the dress code, which I would never ever normally do. But because we’re in this kind of fine line of and she looks cute, she looks great, you know, but she does not see that her body has changed at all. She doesn’t get it you know.

Lisa Damour
They don’t get it. Dress codes are complicated too.

Reena Ninan
Oh, tell me. Wait, did I just do the wrong thing?

Lisa Damour
No, you did a great thing to bring it up because you know schools really struggle with dress codes because a lot of times the dress codes like it’s a lot about what the girls are wearing. Right that you know that like the boys And the exposure of their bodies does not get much traction in the dress code. Because usually boys are wearing big blue, they’re wearing big, you know, you’ve got to sound like they’re being like those horribly long shorts. So the dress codes can disproportionately land on the girls. Yeah. And so schools really struggle, or they schools should really struggle with how to make dress codes if they’re going to make them and to how to not have dress codes. Seamless text, and seem to be targeting the fact that girls bodies are heavily objectified in our culture, and schools sometimes, you know, trying to figure out what to do with that. So if your school has a dress code, which it sounds like they do, I first hope that they’ve given this a lot of thought about how to have a dress code that does the feels even handed and does not, you know, sort of center very heavily on police and girls bodies. But to the degree that your school has a dress code, like they’re doing you a huge favor. If you like where their dress code is headed, you can be like, Look, it’s an ambience the school, right. So I think that’s a nice way to go about it.

Reena Ninan
That’s great. Wow, well, so much to talk about crop tops, who knew there was this much in parenting to discuss and be aware of? But what do you have for us Lisa for Parenting to Go?

Lisa Damour
Well, there’s another little nugget in this letter. That is, I think terrific, which is the kid is buying the crop tops with her own money. And I think this is one of those things that we should remember is a real opening for us as adults when we’re not in agreement with kids about things. Which is, they may want us to buy things for them that we don’t want to buy. They may at times use their own money to sneak things that, again, we don’t want them to own. But again, will it matter when they’re 30 I want parents to have available as a conversational trapdoor that they can say to their kids, for as long as I am purchasing, you’re gonna have to negotiate with my wishes. But as you make your own money, you will get to have much more freedom. And that’s one of the best things about making money. It’s one of the best things about being an adult. So the situation we’re in, it won’t last forever, increasingly, you will have say and you will have choice because you will actually have your own resources that you have earned through your own work.

Reena Ninan
But for now, you have money. I will be deciding what you’re going to wear.

Lisa Damour
I think for now on this one, you can say, You have money. I understand that you can buy crop tops on your own time. My rule right now is 11 is too young.

Reena Ninan
So on this issue 11 is too young.

Lisa Damour
Yeah.

Reena Ninan
Lisa, thank you, I think there’s so much, you know, what I loved also was how the mom brought up expression, you know, using clothes as a way to express themselves what you highlighted earlier in our conversation, but it’s a good way to thread the needle by saying that, you know, at some point, you’ll be on your own and fully able to purchase everything and you can make that choice then but the time will come, the time will come. Well, these are on a more serious note, we’re gonna next week take up an issue that I think it’s so important. It’s apparent writing in about a team with a chronic health condition. What do you need to keep in mind? What should the community keep in mind? And how do you address it? I’ll see you next week.

Lisa Damour
I’ll see you next week.

The advice provided by Dr. Damour here will not and does not constitute - or serve as a substitute for - professional psychological treatment, therapy, or other types of professional advice or intervention. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being, consult a physician or mental health professional.

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