Too many children dressing like adultsSunday, May 20, 2007
BY PETULIA CLARKE
SHANTELLE Weiss threw herself on the ground in a crying fit when her mother insisted that the jeans jumper, plaid blouse and sneakers that she had picked out for her was what she would be wearing to her fourth birthday party.
But Shantelle had other ideas. She complained that her clothes had to be colour-coordinated. And after a few minutes into the tantrum, Lorraine Weiss decided to give in to Shantelle's demands, and allowed her full rein of the closet.
The little girl chose white capris, pink halter back with the leggy blonde Bratz doll on the front she had received as a gift, the Chinese slippers her aunt had sent, and the tiara a godmother had bought.
"'This matches mommy'," Weiss recalled her daughter saying.
"I was surprised. Shocked," Weiss said.
"I didn't expect to be going through the drama with clothes for another decade. It's hard enough trying to buy appropriate clothes in Kingston. But when you do get something decent, to have a four-year-old tell you that she doesn't like it, is like a slap in the face after you've walked mall after mall trying to find sensible clothes."
Blame it on cable TV, teeny bopper magazines or the rising popularity of teen idols in skimpy clothing, but today's pre-teens are increasingly throwing 'mommy's concerns' out the window, and are opting for barely-there clothing and adult-like shoes, as they become more image-conscious.
And more and more, retailers are going with the trends and filling store shelves with the outfits the children demand.
"You have to move with the market," said a salesperson at one of the few stores with an exclusive kids' department in the Portmore Mall. "When these little girls come in and kiss [hiss] their teeth at what you have, and take their parents by the hand and lead them to the other stores, you realise that to make a living, you have to get the things they want. This is what they want," she said, pointing to a rack with what looked like mini corsets.
In downtown Kingston, where shoppers can get a bargain, it's much of the same. The frilly dresses, Mary Jane shoes, conservative jeans and T-shirts have been pushed to the back of the stores, and on display up front and in the streets are an array of clothing that can mimic any adult closet.
In the arcade at the bottom of Beckford Street, the focus is on summer wear, with brightly coloured spaghetti strap tops with fur piping, capris, belly-baring pant suits and mini versions of the adult wedge heels and clogs on sale.
"Is what is in we sell," said Princess, a female vendor. "You should see the amount of sale we get. When the girl them want to bling out like them mother, is here so dem come. We sell everything fi both of them, we sell suit that match fi pickney and dem madda. Just come right here, to Princess stall."
Sutanya Prendergast and her daughter Bre-Ann, both seen dressed in jeans and pink spaghetti tops, were browsing the wares looking for something to wear to a friend's party.
"She wear what she want," Prendergast said, adjusting the child's low-slung jeans over her underwear, after the Sunday Observer brought it to her attention. Prendergast went on to select a jeans skirt and fishnet tights for her daughter.
"It nuh mek sense mi stop har. Everybody a wear it, so mi nuh badda stop har fi do what she want," Prendergast said.
The eight-year-old expressed a preference for the China Doll line, which she said has "sexy shoes".
Explained Zhara King, a precocious 10-year-old student from Portmore, seen at the Mall in hipsters jeans and tank top: "My friends bring the 17 magazine to school, and lunchtime we look at the hair and make-up tips. You can't be boring, they'll tell you that you dress like old women if you wear old lady jeans on a trip. That's any jeans that's not hipsters," she explained. "We're not doing anything wrong, it's just fashion. You have to be hip and just get with it."
While pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera got the bad rap years ago for corrupting the youth with their questionable fashion tastes, today the girls will admit that they're taking the lead from those like Ciara and Rihanna, who King explains are "classier, but still sexy". It's these stars who're not only on the kids' walls on posters, but are finding themselves in their closets too.
Sheneika Braham, an 11-year-old in grade six at a Mandeville school, explains how much pressure it is to conform to this, even if you don't want to.
"Even things like your hair is a problem," she said. "They don't like when I canerow my hair, they don't like when I wear jeans my mother buys ... I can't do anything to please them. I went to school one Friday, it was jeans day, and I went in my regular jeans and a blouse, and a group of girls started laughing when my father dropped me off. When I watched them I realised that they were dressed differently. After my mother told me that I wasn't getting any new clothes, I just stopped going when it's jeans day," Braham said.
Eleven-year-old Ayanna Fisher, seen with a group of classmates touring downtown, explained the attraction to styles being promoted by the Bratz dolls and others.
"The clothes are creative and comfy," she said, pointing next door to a wholesale where a 'hula hoop' adult outfit was on display. For the uninitiated, the hula hoop outfit consists of a jeans skirt or tiny leather shorts with fishnet tights, made popular by Macka Diamond in the song bearing the same name. "But I prefer the normal tights under mine," Fisher said.
And the pressure is not only on the kids to be trendy, but on the parents who have to struggle with these youngsters.
"I see her take up the magazines when she follows me to the hairdresser and I see the way she looks at the clothes," Weiss said. "And to make it worse, when we go to the store, everything for the girls is a replica of what adults - and not decent adults, but adult hookers - are wearing!"
Kevin Bailey, family therapist and associate at Family Life Ministries, said that parents of older children (12-16) will have more of a problem with fashion, and they should first try to understand the stage their teens are going through, and try to empathise with their situation.
"Put yourself in their shoes, things have been changing drastically. The influence of the media, music videos and movies is tremendous. Having this understanding will make it easier to allow for discussion," he said.
But what about when your six-year-old tells you that she MUST get that sexy new blouse all her friends are wearing? "The younger child has to have boundaries," he said. "The six-year-old is definitely a child and she has to be trained to accept and respect parental authority. At this age you can tell them what to do. Let them pout and rant, but let them know that you are in charge, that you're not abusing them, you're defending them."
Added Bailey: "Adult clothing forces children to a stage they haven't reached, and their mind will think of adult things. Sex predators will see that and react, even if they're just kids. When kids should be concentrating on education and their mind is towards fashion, that's not good."
And for mothers who dress a little sexy themselves: "Be careful how you dress. The way a child's mind works is that they'll gravitate towards wanting to be like you," Bailey said. "Practise what you preach. Tell them that when they get to a certain age they can do it. Tell them why you're saying no. If you allow it, you'd have lost control ...You don't want to bend to their demands. Children must be allowed to grow in innocence and enjoy their childhood. Don't do the opposite of what you say."
And there's also good news for resilient parents.
Most of the traditional stores still carry the more conservative lines.
Veronica Watson, supervisor at the Azans's Orange Street branch said that unlike in the past, most parents come in to ask for knee-length jeans skirts, and dresses, which the store has in stock.
"Most of them say that they don't want the kids to be exposed, especially now that so many children are being targeted," she said. "They want nice modest dresses and dress skirts. Even with bathing suits, they want the one-piece. Sometimes the mom and kids come in and the kids want the two-piece, but the moms will ask for the one-piece, or the two-piece with the covering (wrap)."