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Parenting Teens: Skincare, Cosmetics, Tattoos & Piercings

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Although parents no longer bathe and groom their adolescent children, parents still have an important role regarding their youths' health and hygiene. Parents will need to continue to provide guidance and education to ensure their youth continue to care for their bodies in a healthy manner.

girl doing makeupDuring early and middle adolescence, parents may need to take a more active role to ensure their teen is maintaining their regular hygienic routine. It is often tempting to assume that a previously developed habit will be maintained without requiring parental oversight; but, because adolescents "live in the moment" they often fail to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. For instance, by the time children begin their adolescent period, most will have developed a regular practice of brushing their teeth without the need for a lot of parental prompting, simply because it was expected of them. However, during adolescence youth no longer do things just because they are "supposed to." So they may become lax about ordinary routines such as brushing their teeth, or even bathing. In addition, there are changes to their bodies that require special hygienic attention, and new routines and products for them to learn to use properly. For example, young adolescent girls may simply not know how to use mascara in a hygienic manner so as to prevent eye infections. Therefore, parents will need to continue to provide education, as well as clearly communicate their expectations that youth must consistently care for their bodies in a healthy and hygienic manner.

During early adolescence some teens (most commonly, guys) may attempt to avoid attending to their basic hygienic routine or they may simply fail to prioritize their hygiene when these "boring" tasks interfere with other more enjoyable activities. There's nothing particularly fun about bathing or brushing one's teeth, especially when compared to late night video game marathons with friends, or getting a bit more sleep. These teens will need to receive regular reminders to allow sufficient time to complete their basic hygiene. However, if reminders seem insufficient and a teen appears to be purposefully avoiding these activities, parents may need to reinforce the family rules about hygiene and may need to attach incentives or consequences to the regular completion of these routines.

Conversely, other teens, (most commonly, girls) may become excessively preoccupied with their personal grooming and appearance. They may spend several hours in the bathroom attending to their skin, hair, and makeup. Parents need to help these youth find the delicate balance between taking pride in their hygiene and personal appearance without becoming too fixated on their physical attributes. Adolescence is a difficult time when youth can feel like everyone is watching them and judging them at the same time their bodies are changing radically. When parents encourage youth to step away from the mirror, it helps youth to focus on other activities, relationships, and interests that offer more meaningful opportunities to build a positive self-esteem. By middle to late adolescence youth have reached a level of maturity such that they can now take over full and complete responsibility for maintaining their personal hygiene. If youth have not developed this level of responsibility by this time, and demonstrate a consistent lack of attention to personal hygiene, this could be an indication of larger problem developing. Some types of mental disorders, such as depression, can be indicated by a consistent lack of attention to grooming and personal hygiene. Parents should discuss these concerns with their child's health care provider.


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