This weekend saw an epic battle in my household. M, a Looked After Child is a Young Person of 14 who has been with us since she was 12 years old and we’ve been through the wars alongside her as she fought personal demons and learnt she is safe. Instead of dealing with her extremely challenging behaviour ultimately caused by anxiety and fear of the future, we are now dealing with ‘normal’ teenage issues.
Like most teenagers, M likes to sleep late, avoid showering, refuse dinner then eat her way through a family size pack of Cheese & Onion crisps and Peanut M&M’s, is permanently attached to her phone and only wants to wear branded clothing. And this is the issue that was causing warfare in our house on Saturday. To be precise, trainers and trainer brands.
Being a teenager is hard; alongside all the embarrassing bodily changes, exams and assessments, they have to deal with social pressure from their peers to conform. Social media is constantly comparing them to their friends, YouTube celebrities and magazines and together with body image and dieting, what to wear is up there alongside ‘does my boyfriend still fancy me’? Social pressure is not to be ridiculed in adolescents as peer opinion is more important than family or parental opinion and exclusion from peers can cause long standing negative feelings long after school is finished. They seek social acceptance from their friends and to not conform is social suicide. In M’s eyes, wearing Nike trainers is a sure way to accept entry into the elite group at school. On the negative side, bullying often starts because a teen will stand out for not looking the same or not wearing a cool accepted brand.
Branding and marketing allows teenagers to evaluate their peers and sort them into subcultures. Before becoming a fashionista, M was into Hello Kitty as an ironic statement and her closest friend went from the subculture of skateboarding to surfer dudette before also adopting Hello Kitty. They are now both highly brand conscious and can breakdown the brands within the brands (Nike Classics, Nike Air Max, Nike Huarache (a big brand in 2015) which is now superseded by Nike Roshe. Wearing Nike Huaraches are still ok but to gain real respect within the peer group and an elevated status, wearing Nike Roshe is a must. Teenage boys are just as susceptible to this peer pressure and M is often comparing brand knowledge with her boyfriend. Alongside peer pressure there is also the multimillion pound investment from companies who tell teens in adverts, magazines and online that unless they wear their brand, they will be social outcasts.
After M’s stomping and pleading for Nike Roshe trainers and her wailing that I didn’t understand, I took some time out while she commiserated with her friends on Facebook. One of my most embarrassing and shattering moments at school was caused by the major fashion faux par of wearing something my mum had lovingly made for me and it took me a long time to live it down. I can also remember pleading with my mum at 15 for Pixie Boots; must have, highly impractical suede boots with tassels. I begged and pleaded that all my friends had them and I was the ONLY one not wearing them. My mum, a Clarkes Shoes devote, eventually relented and I got them for Christmas and I wore them with my classic drainpipe home tie-dyed jeans. I felt amazing and cool and one of the crowd and it DID change my social status. I felt confident enough to hold me own because I owned a pair of Pixie Boots! I was no longer different and I was good enough to belong.
Later that day I took a slightly bemused but grateful M to the shopping mall and we purchased a pair of Nike Roshe One’s. They cost £70 but the sheer relief and delight from M were worth it. I didn’t capitulate completely. They were over the limit that I was prepare to spend and she made it up with pocket money and a promise to vacuum the house that weekend (which she did). Before we were out of the shop, she had snapped them on her camera phone and they were on Instagram by the time we were back to the car. M put them on and took photos to upload to Facebook and I remembered how good I felt walking around feeling confident in my Pixie Boots.
It’s important we don’t encourage consumerism as a hobby and that they learn to budget their money but we need to take the need to fit in seriously and create a balance of the brands.