When I was in high school, long hair was the fad. Cool kids had it, uncool kids didn’t. Since I was confident of my parents’ love I was certain they would have no objection if I increased my coolness by skipping a few haircuts. But when I told the folks about my plan I was swiftly put in my place.
My still-developing teenage brain was baffled at their response. I could understand if they stopped me from taking part in some dumb fad, but long hair was not a fad. Fads were stupid stuff people did in the old days. Hula-hooping. Cramming into phone booths. That kind of thing.
But long hair was different—to me it was a statement, and I desperately wanted to demonstrate my individuality by doing exactly what my friends were doing. (Which, of course, is the essence of adolescence.)
I was not a happy camper, but I was also not given to parental smack downs. I retreated to my Beatle-postered room to lick my wounds.
Eventually I got even. When I became an 18-year old college student 500 miles from home I skipped a lot of haircuts. Finally, after 2 years of shagginess I cut it all off. The reason was simple—no matter how cool you look, taking care of long hair is a drag.
There was another reason of course—I was growing up. It happens to us all. And just like the playground rhyme, first came love, then came marriage, and then came just shy of a dozen baby carriages.
Is there a parent anywhere who hasn’t secretly wished their grandchildren would provide a little Karmic back-sass to their parents? Not a lot, but just enough to one day receive that sweetest of all phone calls: “Gee dad, how did you put up with me all that time? I was kind of a jerk, wasn’t I?”
When I was a teenager, I correctly understood that fads were inherently dumb. But my mistake was believing, like the kids of every generation, that my generation was different.
The inability of adolescents to recognize fads for what they are—dumb behaviors that don’t make much sense—will be with us as long as there are teenagers. Where my cynical adult eye sees lock-step fashion styles and physical mannerisms reminiscent of bleating sheep—mullets and saggy jeans anyone?—our youth perceive only blazing cultural manifestations of self-evident wisdom and beauty. This will never change.
So what’s a parent to do? The old adage ascribed to Thomas Jefferson is still pretty good advice: In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock.
I understand that my own parents were worried about long hair as a possible gateway behavior to the drug-addled, free-lovin’ 60’s lifestyle. All I can say is that most kids only dabble around the edges of the rough stuff. It’s exciting for a while to look the part without actually being the part. It’s Halloween for late teens. Sure, it’s scary for Mom and Dad, but so is the first time Junior drives off in the family car, waving goodbye out the window while barely missing the mailbox. If you’re not at least a little scared every time your teen walks out the door you’re not paying attention.
In the end, I don’t think fashion stupidities are worth drawing the line in the sand. Save the heavy artillery for when Suzy says that “there’ll only be a little drinking.” And if your children have grown up with the no-dating-until-sixteen rule, don’t retreat.
If your child’s activities truly violate the principles they’ve been taught all their lives, hang tough. But understand that kids will always want to get a little closer to the flame than you’ll be comfortable with. You were probably no different. Teach them to be strong, love them even when they’re clueless, get used to holding your breath, and don’t withhold your love while bringing out the band-aids for the bruises of life. Just like your parents did for you.