How should I handle fads?

All kids are attracted by fads and want at least some of the latest, short-lived styles in music, haircuts, clothes, gadgets, or games. At the beginning of the school year, they may be wearing their pants a certain way. Two months later, a sixth-grader says, “Nobody wears that anymore.” A rock group that a girl has idolized may be quickly forgotten. A sports hat that a boy wants may soon end up in the back of his closet.

Fads are popular because kids want to be like their peers. If enough kids have a particular object, others want it too, since no one wants to feel left out. In the same way, younger siblings desire what their older brothers and sisters have. Kids are also heavily influenced by television commercials and magazine ads. Just as young children want the toys they see on TV, ten- to thirteen-year-olds think that much of what is advertised for them looks wonderful.

Of course, adults can be attracted to fads of their own. But most adults know which styles will last awhile and which will quickly vanish. Children don’t distinguish in the same ways. A child wants a gadget because it’s appealing now, and he’s not thinking about its value or looking ahead.

That difference in perspective causes tension when parents discuss fads with their child. They may feel that a particular fad is too expensive or a waste of money: “I’m not paying that much for cheap-looking jewelry.” They may disapprove of a fad or be completely against it: “That band sounds terrible—how can you listen to such junk?” “You’re too young. You can’t wear that lipstick.” “You may not pierce your ear.”

Many parents try a rational approach with their child: “You shouldn’t believe what you see on TV.” “It’s better to think for yourself.” “You don’t have to have something just because other kids do.” But what appears silly or wasteful to a parent may be important and fashionable to a child. That’s why kids react defensively when their parents dismiss their requests: “You don’t understand!” A child feels frustrated because, unlike an adult, he can’t buy something simply because it attracts him. He needs approval, permission, and money, and he often has to listen to a lecture.

When your child wants something badly, hear him out. Don’t label his request “just a fad.” He’ll feel better knowing he can talk without being put down or dismissed.

It’s all right to let him follow a fad that’s harmless and inexpensive. If you recall your own pre- and early adolescence, you’ll remember longing to be like others. If a fad seems acceptable but you don’t want to pay for it, let him know he’ll have to spend his own money.

When you have some negative feelings about a fad, explain your point of view and then, when appropriate, compromise: “You can listen to that music, but only with your door closed or your headphones on.” If you feel a fad isn’t right, set firm limits: “You can’t wear clothes with rips and holes in them.” “You may not style your hair that way.”

While an interest in fads is normal, your child shouldn’t become too involved with them. If he cares excessively about clothes and possessions, help him to broaden his interests. If he follows fads in an attempt to attract friends, encourage him to find other ways to connect with peers. Finally, model the kind of common-sense approach that you want him to follow. If you communicate your sense of values, he shouldn’t get overly caught up in a quest for whatever is new.

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