What’s the Message We’re Sending?

This summer our family welcomed the arrival of an exchange student from Spain. She is sixteen years old and, I imagine, typical in her manner of dress for teens in her country. When she unpacked her suitcase, I realized she was going to basically have to buy a new wardrobe in order to follow the dress code of our small-town American high school.

For instance, most of her shirts were tank tops with spaghetti straps, and most of her shorts, skirts, and dresses barely covered her private parts. I’m not judging her. I’m just stating the facts.

I informed her of the dress code at our high school, which calls for at least three inches of fabric going across the shoulders and short/skirt lengths no more than five inches above the knee. Her simple question, “why?” brought up some wondering for me. After blurting out the truth that came to my mind: “because we’re sexually repressed here in America”, I began to think more about the whole issue.

Why DO we send messages to our teens that their sexuality is not okay, through things such as strict public school dress codes? What negative impact is this having on the ways they think about and experience their bodies and their sexuality? Does this type of policy contribute to the shame that many adult Americans feel about their bodies and their sexuality, not to mention the rampant sexual dysfunction?

I realize some of the arguments might be: Well, it will be too distracting to the students if others are flaunting their sexuality at school. They won’t be able to concentrate on their studies. This policy is teaching them good values.

To all of this I say, well it’s true, perhaps some students will find that distracting. But at what cost are we to avoid distractions of this nature? And, what is wrong with letting nature take its course? Aren’t the teenage years the years of budding sexuality? Isn’t learning about their sexuality an important part of a teen’s growth experience, too? Is it really the job of our schools to teach our children “good values”? And, who’s to say what “good values” are?

What do you think? Do you have children in school? What are their dress code policies? What impact do you think they are having, positive or negative, on your kids?

2 Replies to "What’s the Message We’re Sending?"

  • Tony Bogardus
    January 29, 2012 (11:39 pm)

    I don’t have a lot of strong opinions on this particular subject, having never had children. Because of this choice of mine, my policy has always been, “I didn’t have kids, and don’t know what parents have to deal with these days, so I will do my best not to make any judgements on how others raise their kids.” Having said that, I know that, having been a horny teenage boy, allowing provocative and/or revealing clothing at school would have been a MAJOR distraction for me! I had a tough enough time with snug jeans and any hint of cleavage. I agree that teens need to explore these areas and learn about sexuality, but I’m not sure the school hours are the best time for it. Tough call….

    • Maria Merloni
      January 31, 2012 (2:06 pm)

      Hmmm. Thought provoking response. Coming from someone who is as liberal as I know you to be, I have to say this makes me reconsider my position on this…Having not been a teenage boy in THIS lifetime, I’ll have to take your word on what it’s like!

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