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I agree that there are some parents these days who seem to believe that setting rules is a bad thing. As an experienced mother now, and as a developmental psychologist, I think there's good evidence that children do need some structure and guidance, applied compassionately rather than harshly. Research shows that the best style of parenting is authoriTATIVE rather than authoriTARIAN; it's unfortunate that they chose such easily-confused words, but here's a good explanation of the difference.

As regards clothing, my goal is to teach my children that being comfortable and liking the way you look are important factors in choosing what to wear, but dressing appropriately for the situation is also an important skill. Suppose you are going to ballet class, and you feel like wearing a baggy sweatsuit. That's not appropriate because your teacher needs to be able to see the exact position of your legs and torso to make sure you have good form in your dancing. But you're going to walk a few blocks to and from class, and if you're out on the street in a form-fitting leotard and tights, you might get whistles or other unpleasant attention from passersby. So you need to wear your leotard and tights, but wear your sweatsuit OVER them and take it off when you get to class--at the last minute, if you prefer. No, you can't wear your ballet shoes to walk to class!! They'll be damaged by walking on concrete. Put them in this bag and wear your waterproof boots, because it's slushy today and cold, wet feet would be very uncomfortable during dance class. You don't like that bag--okay, choose a different one.

My daughter is too young to be choosing her clothing (beyond expressing preferences among items she already owns) but I think my parents handled the issue of suggestive clothing pretty well. For school, compliance with the dress code was obviously necessary. In 1988 I bought acid-washed jeans with my own money because my parents refused to buy them for me, citing concern that they wouldn't be durable enough to be worth the money. Indeed, after a few months they shredded apart at the back of the upper thigh--so I put on my hot-pink spandex tights, put the jeans over them, and came out of my room ready for school. My parents said, "Wait a minute! Can you wear that?" We discussed and decided that it was not so obviously inappropriate as it would be without the tights, so if it was okay with me that this outfit might get me some unwanted attention (either boys leering or my being sent home to change) then they were willing to let me try it. One of my teachers did send me to the vice-principal for evaluation; his decision was that ripped jeans worn over an opaque garment, such that no skin was visible above the line that was minimum length for skirt/shorts, were acceptable. But my parents told me not to wear the ripped jeans to church or to my grandparents' house, and I complied. I felt that was a reasonable compromise.

My summer clothes were quite minimal when I was little--I used to wear those calico sunsuits with spaghetti straps that tie over the shoulders and legs that only just cover your panties, for example, or a triangle halter top and short shorts. These were practical clothes for 100-degree heat. When I was 9 or 10, I expressed discomfort with these clothes and a preference for covering my shoulders and upper thighs--and my parents were very encouraging about how it's good to recognize when you feel self-conscious and adjust your clothing so that you're comfortable. That helped me to avoid the most suggestive clothing later because--this is CRUCIAL--it felt like a choice to show my body at a level that was comfortable to me, being careful not to put myself in an awkward situation, rather than conforming to arbitrary rules laid down by my parents.

By my late teens I sometimes wore clothes in public that many people would call "skimpy and suggestive" (for example, a button-front shirt tied to expose my midriff, with shorts that extended only a couple inches down my thighs) and I appreciate that my parents allowed me to make that choice most of the time. They might raise questions about whether I would be warm enough (if going someplace air-conditioned) or whether my outfit was appropriate to the particular situation (would others be dressed similarly, or would I stand out?), but they made a firm request that I dress differently only if we were attending something as a family where they felt my outfit would be inappropriate. Because it was so infrequent, and they approached it calmly, I always was willing to change or at least compromise.

For decisions like these and for curfew, bedtime, how much and what content on TV/computer, and many similar things, I think parenting should be a gradual progression from parents making most of the decisions to 18-year-olds making their own decisions, with in between a lot of guidance that gradually turns into negotiation. Here's an article about gradually allowing my son to go places alone, for example. You can see that we definitely do have rules, but we loosen the rules as he shows more competence. Does that make sense?
 

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I see now that I have been thinking of parenting in the Authoritarian way. But honestly, it's not because I'm some sort of control freak, but instead it's because I often see children as needing to be protected at all times.
I feel that this is a very helpful organizing principle: "I'm not raising children. I'm raising people." They won't always be children. If I protect them at all times, they won't be able to learn how to protect themselves.

I was just thinking about it this morning as I was taking my daughter to childcare on my way to work. We walk 2 blocks from our house to a bus stop and then ride a city bus. Until a few months ago, I carried her in a sling, but now I'm recovering from surgery and can't do that, and she is 21 months old and can walk well and weighs 25 pounds. Anyway, today the sidewalks are very icy. She was walking holding my hand as usual, but she slipped several times. Part of my mind was freaking out imagining her falling and breaking a bone, sliding into the street and being run over before I could grab her, etc. But I kept talking to her about how it's tricky to walk on ice, but we can look for the best places to step where there's more crunchy snow. I could see by where she was stepping that she was listening to me and watching where I was stepping. Then I lifted her onto the bus, and while I was paying she started down the aisle to get into a seat, when the bus started moving. For an instant I thought she would fall, maybe bash her mouth on the edge of the seat or otherwise get hurt. But she threw her arms out, shifted her weight, and didn't fall. She is learning because I teach her but also because I let her practice, even when it involves some risk.
 
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