Helping kids come to grip with image and identity

From steroid-using athletes to celebrities who bounce between clubs and rehab, today’s role models can leave a lot to be desired.

From steroid-using athletes to celebrities who bounce between clubs and rehab, today’s role models can leave a lot to be desired.

It seems the greater the fall from grace, the greater the fame – or infamy. What’s a parent to do?

Teens and pre-teens are particularly susceptible to celebrity overexposure and the media because they’re at the stage in their lives when they are trying on identities and need to feel accepted by their peers.

Mimicking the stars in behavior or dress is part of that transfer of attachment from parents to peer groups. In other words, it’s part of growing up.

But how much is too much? Do you say yes to the belly-baring midriff, but no to the navel ring?

Our counselors at Youth Eastside Services often hear from parents wondering just where they should draw the line. One mom, who was lobbied by her 8-year-old daughter for thong underwear, considered buying them so her daughter wouldn’t feel left out.

Hello! Whose values are we teaching here?

I know the pressure on parents can be intense from kids who want things because all their friends have them. We want our children to fit in, so we cave.

Believe me, advertisers know this, too. Young “consumers” are increasingly the target of messages, images and even products that are beyond their years.

As part of our dating violence prevention program, we will have teens go through magazines, cut out ads and ask themselves, “What is really being sold here?”

Young women, in particular, get the message that they have to be sexy and desirable to have power. Girls will tell our counselors that, to be attractive, women have to be blond, thin and large breasted.

Young men also have their share of body-image issues. We’ve seen boys who have developed eating disorders in their quest to look like their sports heroes.

While it may feel like you’re trying to plug that proverbial dike with your finger, you can help your son or daughter see beneath all the gloss and glamour, whether it’s a poor celebrity role model or a jeans ad.

Get them to reflect on what makes them feel good on the inside: achievements, interests, helping others. And take advantage of those teachable moments to encourage some critical thinking: “Would you rather have people like you for who you are or for what you look like?”

Of course, even with all this dialogue, your daughter may still want to get her eyebrow pierced or dye her hair orange.

Before you say no, remember that parents get a limited number of “draw-the-line-in-the-sand” cards before their child mounts an all-out rebellion.

Ask yourself: “Is this a safety issue?” If not, you might want to skip this battle and allow them their experiment in self-expression.

That doesn’t mean throwing your values out the window. In the long run, those are the values your kids will return to, even though, they don’t appear to be listening right now.

Patti Skelton-McGougan is the executive director of Youth Eastside Services. For more information, call (425) 747-4937 or go to

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in Opinion

Back to the wild — a whole new outdoor recreation world | Guest editorial

When enjoying the great outdoors, continue to socially distance and be aware of how else COVID-19 has changed our world.

Earth Month 2020 and COVID-19: Caring for the planet and each other

Here are some ways to minimize your carbon footprint and protect the planet amid the pandemic.

KCLS is stepping up its commitment to patrons

KCLS has expanding its online resources so patrons can continue to learn, build skills, stay entertained and remain mentally and physically active amid the pandemic.

The true meaning of community | Guest editorial

LWTech president Dr. Amy Morrison reflects on how the COVID-19 outbreak has brought the community together.

Deserving respect for being human | Windows and Mirrors

Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, Asians and Asian Americans have been targeted. Here’s what’s been happening on the Eastside.

Thank you grocery store clerks

Recognizing the sacrifices of our unsung essential workforce.

Now is the time to be kind to each other | Windows and Mirrors

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues, it is important for us to be there for others in our communities.

To our elected officials: Be bold, be consistent, be honest, be helpful

By Patrick Grubb, Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Governor Jay Inslee has been… Continue reading

Libraries are the place to go according to poll

Library will host short film festival on March 20.

This Boeing deal could have ‘clawbacks’ in the ‘snap-back’

The company wants a tax break temporarily repealed. Some don’t want to give it back without new conditions.

We need to think before we act | Windows and Mirrors

As coronavirus has led to xenophobia and racism against Asians, we should all stop and think before acting on our biases.

Gov. Inslee is cordially invited to Kirkland, Eastside

We need the governor here to know we’re a priority, not in Olympia or on cable news channels.