Sara Villanueva Ph.D.

How to Parent a Teen

No Tricks & No Treats

Parental Angst over Teen Costumes on Halloween

Posted Oct 26, 2015

Sara Villanueva, PhD
Source: Sara Villanueva, PhD

Halloween is upon us. The season of cooler evenings, pumpkin spiced everything, and slutty costumes. Wait, what? As we prepare for the various Halloween traditions this week, parents of teens must contend with the choices their child is making regarding what type of costume to wear and what activities to engage in. When our children were really young, their costumes were primarily dictated by our suggestions, and typically took the form of cute mini-vampires or adorable ladybugs. The great Halloween tradition of trick-or-treating involved strolling through the neighborhood as a family, where the most difficult decisions were which street to go down next and how many more houses to hit before it was time to tuck our sweet little princess in for bed. As our children morph into independence-craving, attention-seeking, statement-making teenagers, this quaint Halloween tradition quickly becomes a fond memory to look back on and transforms us parents from easy-going neighborhood dwellers to authoritative costume-police whose primary job for the night is to patrol our teen’s wardrobe and whereabouts on All Hallows’ Eve.

One thing we know about teenagers is that they desperately seek autonomy and independence. They want to be able to have their own thoughts and emotions, express their own opinions, and make their own decisions – all separate from their parents. We also know that most teens long for acceptance and perhaps popularity. They really want to be liked by their peers (especially the cute ones!) And, to be clear, when I say “liked”, I mean both “liked” as a cool person to be considered part of some sought after crowd, and maybe even “liked” as someone worthy of a wink, wink, hummuna-hummana head-turn. Ok, fine. But, does this mean that we are destined to become the parents of a teenager who is hell-bent on flaunting the newly formed adult-like body that she now knows will instantaneously grab attention by wearing a costume that over-accentuates said bulging body parts? You know what I mean…sexy angel, sexy devil, sexy vampire, sexy ladybug. The answer is: not necessarily.

Many articles and blog posts during this time of year lament or even rant about the pressures that young women experience when faced with deciding on a Halloween costume. The pressure to walk that sexy/slutty line, whereby adolescent girls fall prey to a much larger, misogynistic and male-dominated social expectation. Some authors cite the infamous Mean Girls quote “Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it” suggesting that teen girls see this as an opportunity to express themselves via excessively revealing costumes, and do so with a vengeance on this one, judgment-free night (judgment from other women!)

Here is my take: It’s a costume. It’s not social Armageddon or the end of gender equality, as we know it; it’s just a holiday where we’re allowed to pretend and have a little fun. Most of the time, it’s also teens just being teens. You remember what it was like, don’t you? The teenage version of Halloween fun will likely not involve hanging out with Mom and Dad, but instead it might include pushing the limits a bit, and yes, maybe even trying to get the attention of other teens. My guess is that parents of teens already know this. The key is to talk to your kid about what all this really means. Letting her know that it’s ok to want to be noticed or liked, but that her beauty (both inside and out) does not have to be flaunted to be noticed. In fact there are other traits that many people find attractive such as humor and confidence. And what better way to command attention, get a smile and more than one double-take than to be a 13-year old petite girl with braces taking on the part of Public Enemy’s most prominent member? Own it! And don’t forget to have fun. Happy Halloween!