I always find myself between a rock and a hard place when I think about the well-being of children versus the benefits of technology. Years of working with children as a nanny, especially teenagers, have left me a “cooler” adult because I could keep up with current technological affairs. In reality, I was a bit shocked when I realized my knowledge of the latest trends was influenced by being around teens who were under pressure to be in the know.
Nothing in the history of humankind has developed as fast as technology has in the last 30 years. Online gaming, shopping, and learning have almost taken over our lives, and we are often overwhelmed as a generation that spent our school days armed with a notepad and a pencil. Our biggest problem was the ink in our pens drying up. Now kids go ballistic when the internet connection drops for like 5 seconds. Digital devices are actually a form of addiction.
Today, teenagers spend more time online than ever before, with Amazon rated the top shopping website in the US. I mean, you can purchase anything with just one click.
The pressure to have the latest gadgets and follow the latest fashion trends has been influenced by either tech pressure, industry pressure, or peer pressure. Let me explain.
Can tech pressure negatively affect kids?
Kids are especially visual when they’re young. Technology may have its advantages in our ever-evolving world, but not everything about having these digital devices is sunshine and roses.
Shocking stats reveal that 88% of teens in the United States already own an iPhone, and 90% expect it to be their next phone, putting parents under immense financial pressure. Why do kids want the latest iPhone specifically, and why is it so important to have the cream of the crop or the best of the best at the turn of every season? I mean, what is so wrong with other brands?
It has to do with marketing. These are the silent workings of the industry. Apple is incredible at marketing and has gone to great lengths to create a hugely appealing image. It has a wide range of accessories that are very trendy. As it is, having a worn-out phone cover is disastrous for a teen, so having an iPhone 8 when everyone has moved onto the new iPhone X is like standing on the platform when everyone has already boarded the train.
Let’s face it, we all know these smartphones are designed to have a battery life that lasts a year, maybe two, and to reach year 3 of an iPhone’s lifespan is “not cool” in a teen’s book. As technology advances, so does the frequency of release of high-end flagship phones with improved cameras and features touted as the future. The first kid to show up at school with the latest gadget gains popularity for being up-to-speed with the latest tech trends. Hard as this is for us as adults to fathom, it’s why kids want the newest phone. This is the pinnacle of peer pressure as we know it. “Aiden has one. It’s so cool, dad. Can I have one, too?”
The unhealthy need to own and keep up with the most modern gadgets can affect teens in different ways. Simply seeing other children with any sort of battery-operated or rechargeable device (it doesn’t even have to be a phone) makes them feel left out and, well, quite literally empty-handed. When a child sees another playing with a Polaroid camera, he may not even necessarily see the camera for what it is but for what it represents.
Kids fear being bullied, and now bullying is not only of the physical kind; we also face cyberbullying. Your child may be safe at home while still experiencing some form of online bullying that impacts their self-esteem. Having the latest high-tech device or wearing the right clothes also serves as a cover-up for issues like these.
The impact of fashion trends on teenagers
Back in the day when options were limited, my one joy was to buy the latest fashion magazine. I knew that I couldn’t possibly afford any of the clothes being advertised and on display, but I wanted to be in the know.
As the times have changed, so has the impact of fashion trends on teenagers. Now it’s not only the monthly issue of InStyle that we wait for every month. We also have the internet. Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok have completely changed the way fashion is perceived. One out of every four people working in the fashion industry is likely to suffer from some form of mental illness due to the pressures of staying abreast with the latest trends.
As adults, we know that marketing and sales pitches target the young and the vulnerable. This doesn’t exclude the older generation, and I myself have fallen prey to great sales pitches in the past. These conglomerates know precisely how to reach those most likely to fold under the media’s pressure and buy their airbrushed product.
So, how exactly do fashion trends affect teens? Incoming: the industry power of brands and celebrities!
- Brands: Pressuring teens to wear fashionable clothes has become so much easier with fast fashion and mass production, which kind of destroys the idea of being unique since every other person is wearing the same tapered jacket this season because it’s trendy. It makes me feel like we are being mind-controlled by aliens. Wearing the right label will apparently give you brownie points as a teenager and supposedly help you fit in with the “it” crowd. The social pressure of brands on teens is greater than we may understand. The need to belong greatly determines where you shop and what you wear.
- Celebrities: With TV shows and movies pushing almost unattainable beauty standards, teenagers fall prey to the fashion trends created by their favorite celebrities and try to dress just like them. Now thanks to fast fashion and mass production, staying up to date with what your favorite celebrity wears is easier than it seems. Big mainstream fashion brands know this and specifically market the type of clothing you may have seen music artists wearing at their latest concert. Whether we like to admit it or not, these are the clothes and things teens buy because of celebrity influence and peer pressure.
What is the psychological impact of fashion on teenagers?
Celebrities, high-end brands, and unrealistic fashion standards play a role in teens wanting to attain the “perfect body image.” It’s well known that certain brands only manufacture clothes up to a specific size as they don’t want their fashion offerings associated with “bigger” people.
Many teens succumb to eating disorders such as body dysmorphia (BDD), anorexia, and bulimia to fit into these clothes and (supposedly) look beautiful. The part that makes it worse is that if they don’t lose weight and can’t fit into miniature sizes, they feel worthless and well…ugly.
Our role is to guide and teach today’s youth that a healthy body image and lifestyle aren’t determined by what they weigh or wear. A teenager may not easily understand this concept, so we need to help them buy smart, think smart, and act smart.
Peer influence on teen fashions and trends
Does this classic type of peer pressure influence your teen’s purchasing decision? Kids follow the masses, and though they may not yet worry about buying the latest BMW or a house with a pool in the right neighborhood, they will quickly feel the impact of being outside a specific social media group.
Sitting in an airport some time ago, sipping my latte and observing people, I noticed a group of teenagers all dressed the same. By the same, I mean there was a trendy style that every young girl was following that year. I found it rather hideous, but what do I know?
Most of these teenagers hardly gave thought to what they purchased. I’m running with the assumption here that each one of them bought those outfits because they wanted to fit in, not because they actually even liked them. The teens following that year’s fashion trend were most definitely brainwashed by their peers and the media. The need to belong was the overriding factor, and that thought unsettled me. This need to purchase items just to fit in plays on repeat every year.
Peer influence on teen fashion and trends is inevitable. We can’t simply wish it away. Hard as it may be to admit it, this is part of the process of growing up. Learning how to cope with external factors, such as people not liking you, is very difficult even for adults, so imagine how challenging it can be for a teen. Not being liked by their peers is the worst form of punishment society can bestow upon them.
What can we do for teens then?
If we steer teens in the right direction, we might just be able to guide them away from the cliff and help them develop their sense of self while supporting them as they navigate their way through this thing we call “life.”
Parents cannot altogether withhold technology from their teens or lock them away from social media and fashion exposures, so how can we manage it? How do we deal with nagging teens craving to get their hands on the latest iPhone? Peer pressure will last into eternity, but there may be ways to manage it.
Here are some tips:
1. Pocket money
Help your child or teen understand how to use money and what it’s worth. When they are old enough, encourage them to go shopping with you to see what everyday items cost. Create an account for them or simply use a cash system.
Receiving a weekly allowance that your teen can either save or spend on whatever they want will encourage them to save-perhaps for an iPhone?
We live in an era of instant gratification. Kids “expect” parents to make everything happen with the click of a button. If they learn to save up and then carefully choose their smart device, the likelihood that they will also take care of it doubles.
2. The capsule wardrobe
Instead of defying the herd, let’s help teens with their wardrobe decision-making. Following and changing fashion trends in all 4 seasons of the year can be costly, and these costs often fall on parents.
The capsule wardrobe consists of a few fundamental pieces a person can wear together and mix and match interchangeably. The idea is to decide which key pieces of the season you want to invest in and determine how they can all link to each other. In this way, you don’t break the bank, can buy higher-quality items, and, most importantly, can still keep up with your friends and the latest in the season’s fashion.
3. Let them help out in the house
Children in the US are legally prevented from working until the age of 14. You can encourage your kids to find a weekend job as simple as delivering newspapers (although I’m not sure that’s even a thing anymore). They can also help out with simple tasks, like taking out the trash or mowing the lawn.
In doing so, your teen gets a credit that will help them (and you) to buy them that much-desired iPhone.
4. Advocate for positive influence
No matter how many steps we take or what course of action we follow, our deeds as adults also speak louder than words, so we need to set a good example for teens.
I’m a big fan of supermodel Ashley Graham, who keeps her social media and interaction with her fans so real and relatable and promotes a healthy body image. If not at home, then find other forms of media that can positively influence your teen to maintain healthy life goals.
Celebrities and influencers such as Ashley Graham can help inspire more women and young girls to be and love themselves, to stand out, and to be proud of not going with the flow, creating instead their own flow. And even though I advocate for healthy parent-child relationships, sometimes your teen just needs to hear about body positivity from someone other than their parent.