Monday, March 3, 2008

Would You Let Your Child Wear a Mohawk to School?

Here's something to far would you let your child go in expressing his/her individuality through clothing or hairstyle?

Just asking because last week, a kindergartner was suspended for wearing a mohawk hairstyle to school. Now, obviously this child was expressing his parents' unique personalities more than his own, as he is a kindergartner. But if your teenage child wanted a mohawk or primary colored hair, would you permit it?

Kelly over at Don Mills Diva wrote a great post about this last week.

On one hand, I sympathize with a teen's desire to stand out or wear wacky things. In my sophomore year of high school, I wore black every single day. I had a lovely pair of skeleton earrings to complete my ensemble. And many of my friends wore out of the ordinary stuff.

I went to a small academic magnet school in downtown Nashville. Everyone at the school was smart. You had to qualify for admission. Our motto was "just a bunch of nerds having fun." This resulted in a student body of the kids who might ordinarily be outcasts in a large public high school. Instead of being ostracized, kids thrived in this environment and it was cool to be different. Some were punk. Some were more granola and dressed in hippie tie dyes. Many guys had long hair. The expression of individuality was appreciated and was never a problem for the school administration because of the nature of the school.

As a teacher though, I can very much understand why, in many school situations, this type of expression might be distracting, particularly in the younger grades. When I was teaching sixth grade before my children were born, I had a boy who got his tongue pierced mid-year. His brother was in the 5th grade at the same school and also had his tongue pierced. Both enjoyed sticking their tongues out and scandalizing their peers, often in the middle of a math or reading lesson. It became a problem. Written into the school system dress code is a provision that distracting clothing, hairstyles, etc. might be prohibited if they were problematic. The boys' father raised hell about the issue, even going to the news stations. Eventually he backed down and the kids took the jewelery out.

I also had a girl who wore provocative clothing to school, with the backing of her mother. Her skirts and shorts were too short, her tops revealed too much. Some of her pants had inappropriate words on the rear. We had to speak to this child and her mother on almost a weekly basis. The mother totally backed the clothing choices, saying that the problem was not with her daughter, but with the boys who looked at her. It became a feminist issue for the woman. She felt that we ought to focus on the boys and teach them not to look at girls and that a girl should be able to wear anything she wants to school. I agree that boys need to be taught to respect women and girls for attributes other than a nice bustline, but girls also need to know what is appropriate clothing for school or work.

I found it ironically amusing when I intercepted a note written from this girl to her boyfriend about what pleasures she was going to give to him the next time they had sex. I turned the note over to her mother who was shocked that her baby girl had any type of romantic contact with boys.

When my kids are much older, I would not have a problem with hairstyles, make-up and dress (as long as it was not sexually provocative). I would actually be overjoyed if my kids bucked the over-riding style and went their own way. I would rather them be individuals than follow the herd. Granola, skater, punk, goth, all that is fine with me. In allowing them do so, however, I would make sure they knew that they might be wrongly judged on the basis of their apprearance and that their style would not be appropriate in a work situation.

I would draw the line at permanent body art, though, before 18 and even then, I would discourage it until they are older. I have a medium sized tattoo on my back and a belly ring. The tattoo I have never regretted except perhaps on my wedding day, where it was very visible through my veil. Other than that, I am happy to have it. On a couple of occasions, people have said judgmental things about it but I chalk that up to their own uncomfortableness with anyone different from themselves. The belly ring I do regret because it hurt like hell and took months and months to heal. I don't wear anything in it anymore and I think it is almost closed up anyway.

If the school contacted me, though, and asked me to restrict something, I would with no hesitation. The moment that my child's style affects the ability of other students to pay attention in class or effects the ability of the teacher to teach, I would pull the plug on it.

So what do you think? Where do you stand? What would you allow and what would you restrict?


Anonymous said...

My son wanted a mohawk in 3rd grade - an orange one to be specific. His school dress code prohibits hair coloring but the mohawk was ok. I've always felt very strongly that kids should be allowed to express themselves. That said, the point of going to school is to learn and anything that disrupts the learning process should take a lower priority.

I've taken the time to explain to my son that expressing yourself is not the same as doing what your friends are doing just to be cool. It means that you have a personal style that projects who you are on the inside.

It all comes down to making good decisions. If you want to behave or dress or speak in a certain way, it is responsible to first ask yourself:
- why do I want this?
- how will it impact those around me?
For example, swearing. My policy is that words are just words ... until you use them to hurt someone. If you stub your toe, it's healthy to let out an explitive. If you are angry at someone, using swear words to hurt them is never ok. I've also warned him the it is prudent to consider your audience and their feelings. If you stub your toe at Grandma's house and cuss about it then you are fully accountable for the wrath you incur.

A few months ago the media was in a frenzy about a local school that banned all hugging because one student felt harassed by it. It concerns me that we are in such a letigious and defensive society that we have completely forgotten to teach our children about courtesy and also about personal boundaries. It's not harrassment until you've asked someone to stop and they refuse to.

Parenting is not just keeping them fed and clothed for 18 years and hoping to survive the ordeal with our sanity intact. Our culture seems to have gotten away from the very most basic purpose of parenting: to develop intelligent, functional, productive members of society. At the very heart of that mission is passing along (through role modelling as well as teaching) the ability to make good decisions and learn from our bad ones.

Once we make that our focus, questions about hairstyles or piercings become less daunting.

Mr Lady said...

I will happily admit that I love me some mohawks, and I live it when my kids wear them. That said, I would never let them wear one to school without the consent of the principal. Period. I also would never let my kids wear jeans to church or a baseball hat indoors. There is a just a time and a place for everything, and I have taught them that (I hope!)

jennifer h said...

I think my husband would veto the mohawk or the piercings or whatever, no matter how liberal a stand I took. Though I've got my fingers crossed that my kids won't push this particular envelope. I'm pretty sure that by saying that, I've just guaranteed that they will. (furiously knocks on wood...)

richgold said...

Considering I don't have control over my son's hair cuts (it's a divorce settlement thing - I got my daughter's hair - yes it was that bad) he gets them regularly. I haven't seen his natural hair color (it's always bleached to an Annie Lennox white) in four years!

So, I figure, this is ok. Piercings and tatoos ... that's another thing though and I'd sit on my kid to remove 'em!