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Back to School Shopping with a preteen/teen girl


This past week I happened to be in a store watching an interaction between a mother and daughter. I am pretty good with age so I will put this daughter at 8th or 9th grade level. Mother kept picking up things and the daughter would either give a grunt, eye roll or reply with a curt no. This went on for a while and I gave the mom props for sticking with it and making an honest attempt to find things she thought her daughter would like, without any success. I knew what was coming and I knew it would be soon. Then, it happened.

Mom - I am trying to help you and you are giving me nothing to go on but attitude

D - I am not giving you attitude you’re just picking out clothes that a 5th grader would wear.

Mom - Fine, we are done.

D - Fine, whatever….

Both walked away one looking angrier than the other and the shopping trip was over.

We all remember with joy the days of Gymboree, Gap Kids and Children’s place. We had complete control and our kids always looked so cute. Then you may have gone through the horror of Justice or Limited too as it was called for my children. Everything was a bright gaudy color with peace signs everywhere. Neon pants and bedazzled cat t-shirts. I pass that store and smile that I will never have to go in there again. That stage was the process of us losing the cute and getting a child that was establishing their own style.

I know you were different when you were a teen. Not like these kids today, but let’s just say there were some teens back in our day that would wear clothes out of the house and change and put makeup on while they rode the school bus. Not me of course the other kids. We would say our parents didn’t get it as we changed our style mid ride to school. We challenged our mothers with mini skirts and jeans with rips. I still remember my mother saying why would I spend good money for clothes that already have tears in them? We are just on the receiving end now and that end is not so much fun.

There are ways to make this process a little less painful.

Steps before shopping with a Middle/High school girl.

  1. Set expectations before back to school shopping. Have an upbeat conversation. I cannot wait to take you back to school shopping but before we go can you make a list of what you think you need. If the answer is I don’t know, then she doesn’t need anything and you are done! Whohoo. Tell her that and I guarantee you will get a list.

  2. Sit down and go over the list. Talk about things you think she is missing and pare down things that she may have too much of already. This can go smoothly if there is give and take and come up with a list you both can somewhat agree upon.

  3. I then would have my daughter try on a pair of shorts/dress that she already had and she loved. I took a sharpie and made a small line on the outside of her thigh where the item of clothing fell. This was the "must cross line". Anything that was purchased must cross this line or it was a No Go. Now the length of clothing has been set and agreed upon before we entered a store. This prevented me from being the bad guy. If she went into dressing room and tried it on and it did not make it to the “must cross line” she just took it off and moved on if it did not meet the standard we set.

  4. Set a budget before you go shopping, even if you are not worried about money. This will teach your daughter boundaries and limits. She will then get to start making decisions about a tank top at Abercrombie for $35 or one at Target for $8. Tank tops are not noticeably different have her make the connection and become a smart shopper. She may not like the budget, but frankly, who does? She will need to figure how to work within it and you can make suggestion on how to make her money go further without sounding like you are lecturing just trying to help her make the set budget.

  5. The key is to remember the goal. Shop for some clothes that are appropriate and make her happy. That is it. It’s that simple. It is not about what you think she would look cute in or that blue brings out her eyes and everything doesn’t’ have to be black. You are not her stylist, you lost that job around 9 years old. Be her non-emotional adviser and the shopping will be more enjoyable for you both.

  6. Stop making suggestions! Enter the store go to the department and smile & watch. I am saying this for your own good, your job now is to follow and be supportive. WE are not in Gymboree anymore. We often try to “help” by offering up item after item and while we are trying to be helpful, every time you hold up an item and see an “eye-roll” you lose credibility. Wait and see what she starts to pick up. Smile and make mental note when you see what she likes, you now will know the look she is going for, even if you hate it.

  7. Try and make sure she thinks of outfits when shopping. I must remind myself when I shop and see a top that I love to make sure that I have things to accompany it and change it up for different looks. Gentle reminders work. That top is good, do you have something to put with it or do we need to look for that while we are here.

  8. Pick a few stores to go through. Let her lead the store choice and start with the most reasonable priced store. This will allow her to get many more yes items before budget comes into picture. If she starts at Lu