Modesty and Clothing Battles Between Parents and Teens

How do I handle conflicts over clothes and fashion with my teen daughter? This is becoming a real battleground at our house. She insists on wearing outfits that are inappropriate, immodest, and revealing. I won't even begin to tell you what we go through when it's time to shop for bathing suits. What can I do?

Perhaps the first thing you need to realize is that, as the parent, you are the boss. Don’t be afraid to act like the boss. In cases like this it is entirely appropriate to say: “My house, my rules.” Remember, the family is not a democracy. Teens have to understand this. It’s not a question of a simple difference of opinion between equals. When push comes to shove, there are times when the only correct response on their part is to get with the program and bow to parental authority. Our sex-saturated society has created a situation in which moms and dads have no choice except to take decisive action. They simply must set guidelines and see to it that they’re followed.

If they’re to be effective, those rules will have to be reasonable and defensible. “My house, my rules” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “Because I said so!” Your daughter will be more likely to cooperate if she can see the inner logic of your position. So take some time to sit down with her and discuss what your family believes. Talk about what the Bible has to say about humility, modesty, chastity, integrity, temptation, lust, and the importance of preserving her sexual purity. Get her to think about the reasons behind the rules. Ask questions such as, “Why do you suppose I have objections to that bathing suit?”, or “How does your choice of clothing reflect your self-image and the way you want to be perceived by other people?”

Keep the conversation congenial and two-sided. At the same time, don’t give your teen the impression that you’re negotiating or bargaining with her. Conclude the discussion by establishing some clear and mutually understandable guidelines for acceptable clothing choices. State plainly what the consequences will be if those guidelines are disregarded. If necessary, write down those guidelines and consequences and post them on the refrigerator or the door of your daughter’s room.

Once the rules have been set, don’t make the common mistake of assuming that they will be followed automatically. It’s up to you to take an active role in upholding them. This means being prepared for some fights. Like it or not, conflict is part of the job description of every parent of teens. When your daughter pushes back, stand your ground. If she buys inappropriate clothing in direct defiance of your standards, don’t be afraid to confiscate and dispose of it. If she hits you with, “Amy’s parents allow her to wear this kind of top,” or “Jody’s mom isn’t as strict and old-fashioned as you are,” simply remind her that Amy and Jody don’t live at your house. Don’t fly off the handle or lose your cool. Just keep your word and quietly implement the consequences you put in place at the time of instituting the program.

Remember to be sensible, patient, and fair throughout this process. Don’t pass any “ex post facto laws.” In other words, if your daughter has bought immodest clothing prior to having this discussion with you, don’t punish her for breaking rules that didn’t exist at the time of the purchase. Demonstrate your good faith by buying the clothes back from her before disposing of them. Then say, “From this point forward, these are the guidelines we’ll be following in this household.”

To sum up, then: 1) clarify what’s acceptable and what isn’t; 2) buy back any inappropriate items purchased prior to the agreement; 3) set guidelines for the future; and 4) be ready to put up with the guff when it comes (as it certainly will).

If you’re a single mother, you’ll probably need some help and support along the way. Talk to other moms of teens who are dealing with similar issues. If necessary, set up an appointment with a pastor, a church youth leader, or a professional counselor. You can also contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling department for an over-the-phone consultation if you think it might be useful to discuss your questions with a member of our team. Our counselors will be happy to speak with you.


If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Losing Control & Liking It: How to Set Your Teen (and Yourself) Free

Boundaries With Teens

Why Christian Kids Rebel

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens

Parents of Teens (resource list)

Parenting the Heart of Your Teen (broadcast)

Other resources for Parenting Teens

Teen Parenting Channel

Tips for Communicating With Teens

Parenting Teens

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