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Battleground or Quality Time?: When Shopping with Teens Becomes More than You Bargained For

Michal Eisikowitz

Teenage girls love to shop. Their mothers often do not. With increasingly vulgar clothing styles and ever-rising price tags, how can well-meaning mothers turn shopping trips into a positive, growth-filled experience for everyone involved? Family First spoke with a host of mechanchos, mothers, and teens themselves for some insights on the issues.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times.

It’s shopping with teens.

For conflict-weary mothers, shopping presents an enormous challenge. Aside from the painful doling out of large sums of hard-earned cash, there’s the inevitable emotional stress that takes over when mother and daughter don’t see eye to eye. In place of a special bonding experience, the clothes-buying process often becomes the backdrop for a struggle of wills.

Despite the potential for tension, however, most fashion-conscious teens view shopping as a much-loved pastime, an exciting pursuit that satisfies their genuine need to “look good.”

According to an International Communications Research survey (2005) comprising over 150,000 teenagers across America, teens spend over $150 billion a year, making them the most highly sought after market segment in the United States.

And what won’t be surprising to any experienced mother is that the female half of this adolescent population is primarily culpable for the staggering numbers. In another research study conducted by Mediamark (2004), teenage girls were consistently found to spend more time than teenage boys in shopping environments and outspend boys in every category except video games.

What can we do to make sure that money our daughters lay out is well spent — on clothing that is both tasteful and tzanua?


Anatomy of a Problem

“My mother used to bring a measuring tape with her to the store,” shares Avigail,* now a high school senior, who was featured in 6 Diaries: Six Teens Take a New Look at Tznius (Targum Press).

“I wasn’t an easy fourteen-year-old, and she saw that I had real difficulty keeping to the spirit of tzniyus; at that point, tzniyus to me meant covering my collarbone and knees, and that’s where it ended.

“In response to my rebellious streak, my mother created homegrown gedarim [boundaries] to ensure that I didn’t cross any lines. For example, she insisted that any skirt I’d buy needed to be a minimum of twenty-four inches in length. Looking back, I appreciate where she was coming from; she wanted to accustom me to proper dress. But I wish she would have sat down and explained the concepts rather than presenting me with a seemingly unreasonable set of rules.”

“Shopping was never enjoyable,” echoes Sarah,* a high school senior who was also a member of the 6 Diaries group. She explains that the stress resulted from several factors.

“For one, my mother hates shopping. She always just wanted to get home already, and that made me upset; this was my time!

“But more irritating than that was when I’d show her an outfit that I liked and she’d say ‘Hmm ... Let’s see how it looks when you try it on.’ In hindsight, I realize this is the most logical reaction to a questionable item, but at the time — as an insecure preteen — it made me feel that she didn’t trust my judgment.”

In contrast, ninth grader Rikki Schick proudly relates that she thoroughly enjoys shopping with her mother, even though her friends don’t share her experience.

“I guess they don’t really value their mothers’ opinions,” she says candidly. “If their mothers don’t approve of a particular outfit, they want to buy it anyway. In my case, though, even if my mother’s disapproval stems from style differences rather than a halachic problem, I just wouldn’t be able to buy the objectionable piece. I respect my mother’s opinion too much.”

Whether the issues center on tzniyus, taste, or plain logistics, it’s clear that the shopping experience can be an exceptionally volatile one. Frustrated mothers and daughters wonder: What is the key to a peaceful, problem-free purchase?


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