It’s More Than Just Hair Dye
by rebecca stewart
Sooo, blue hair, huh?
When your kid decides they’d like to add some fun color to their hair, get a piercing, wear something (or their hair in a way) that could be construed as outside the box, there are opinions to be had. Some are voiced; others come in the form of a look. No stranger to peer pressure, parents sometimes worry about how all of that might reflect on them or that people might get the wrong idea about their kid.
When our kids are littles, we make all the choices for them. Their clothes, their hair, the food they eat. Then, they grow, and we begin fostering their independence which can lead to days and weeks in a tutu and rain boots, a superhero's cape or t-shirt, mismatched socks, and sparkly shoes on the most ordinary of days. It is precious. Then, they get to middle school, where it's not cool to wear a coat in the middle of winter. But more than that, they walk a thin line of wanting to fit in and dabbling in finding their own style and discovering who they are, which flows, in some capacity, through high school. (And, to some extent, the rest of our days, middle part vs. side part, anyone?)
Here’s the thing, while my standard response to my kid having pink or purple added to her hair is “Eh, it’s just hair,” it is also so much more than that.
I would implore us all to consider that that hairstyle or color that you think is eight shades of crazy could actually be saving that kid’s life to some degree. Maybe it’s the thing that is bringing that teenager pure joy when not a whole lot is right now. Or giving them a much-needed boost of confidence. Then ask yourself, is what this kid is wearing or how he does his hair, does it affect me at all, even a little? Not so much, right?
By opening the door to something as simple as the cut or color of your child’s hair, it is saying to them; this is your body, you make choices about it, not anyone else. That said, self-harm is a very real concern with tweens and teens, so it's important to focus on body positivity, caring for their bodies, and treating their bodies with respect and kindness.
Encouraging self-expression in our children and facilitating opportunities for them to discover what brings them joy and bolsters their confidence could start with their hair and clothes, but it goes far beyond that. We want our kids to find and develop their voice, to make their space in this world. Self-expression comes in many forms: music, writing, art, what they wear, how they style, the actual using of their voice…The list could go on and on. “When we encourage children to be expressive, we help them to build self-confidence as they begin to understand themselves, their feelings and emotions. This will in turn, lead to greater sense of wellbeing,” Encouraging Self-Expression.
One thing we know about this journey through parenthood, everything we do, every lesson along the way, every hard thing, all the good, it is all in preparation for the eventual launching from the nest. Just as we nurtured their early independence with the little choices, we will give them space and autonomy to make the bigger ones that have more at stake, but in the bubble of boundaries and safe spaces that we’ve created. They will face both the consequences and benefits of their choices with us as a sounding board while learning the realities of decision-making.
All too soon will come the day when some of their forms of self-expression will have to be tamed in the name of professionalism. When adulthood is not just a place they visit, but the daily reality. While first impressions certainly count for something, it is the content of their character that is ultimately the game-changer. And so, we embrace the things that give them confidence and support their mental health; we fill the toolbox full, all the while remembering, it really is just hair.