Reality TV is all the rage these days. Survivor, Big Brother, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice – they all share the same premise: ordinary people confronted with extreme adversity.

I have an idea for a great new reality show – one in which the task is so challenging as to be nearly impossible. Take a typical mom, dad, and child. Now, drop them in a shopping mall with $500 to buy the child a new wardrobe. The catch: everything they buy has to pass the modesty test.

Sound simple? Let me tell you, it’s not. When are children were small, the fashion world had little impact on their clothing choices. Dad and Mom made most of the decisions for them.But as they grew and their worlds enlarged, so did their perceptions of fashion. Our shopping expeditions became exercises in endurance rather than enjoyable outings.

As just one sample of what we’re up against as parents, one very popular store markets thong underwear emblazoned with sexy slogans like “eye candy” and “wink, wink” to children. When asked to defend their product, the company spokesperson said, “It’s cute and sweet and fun.”

Granted, this is an extreme example. But even when shopping for basic items like jeans and t-shirts, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find attractive, fashionable clothes for youth that don’t show off a whole lot of skin. CNN and Fox News Channel commentator Betsy Hart complained about one national retailer, where she found everything for her young child to be too tight, too low-cut and too short. In her words, “dressing my not-yet-six-year-old like she is Britney Spears is at best silly, and at worst unnecessarily sexualizing our littlest girls.”

In this cultural climate, what is a parent to do? Drawing from my experiences as a mother of three children, I’d like to share a few suggestions that might be an encouragement in this critical parenting issue.

1. Embrace modesty

Given the current state of things, does modesty even matter anymore? Our culture tells us no, and we’ve been so affected by the world around us that sometimes we don’t even stop to think about what our appearance says about us, or how it measures up to God’s standards. If we embrace modesty as parents, our children will find it easier to do so.

God calls us to a life of purity, and modesty is a natural outworking of a pure heart.

A speaker I heard recently told of young men in her church youth group who were complaining about what the girls in the group were wearing. These boys were sincerely coming to youth group to worship God, and they really felt that they were being distracted from, and even led astray, by the immodest dress of the girls in the group. They didn’t know where to look, and it was very hard on them as they tried to obey God and keep from lusting. Of course, the girls are not to blame for the boys’ inability to keep their thoughts fixed on God. Boys do need to learn to see theirs sisters in Christ as children of God deserving of all honour and respect, at all times. But girls can really help them by choosing clothes that demonstrate that they also see themselves as called to honor their Father in all they wear, do, and say, just as boys are.

Yes, Chrisians have a responsibility to control their thoughts and attitudes towards one another, but they also have a responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.

If Christians have a hard time keeping their thoughts fixed on Jesus when tempted, imagine the impact of improper dress on people who have serious lust problems, or who don’t even recognize it as a problem. I think that the proliferation of pornography and blatant sexual messages in our society today encourages widespread immodest dress. What once would have been considered unacceptable and risqué is now, not just accepted, but commonplace. No wonder some people have great difficulty in this area! It is a battle for them to protect themselves from the onslaught of our sex-crazed society, and many of them are not being trained effectively to do so. Yes, Chrisians have a responsibility to control their thoughts and attitudes towards one another, but they also have a responsibility not to add fuel to the fire.

The way in which a person dresses will also impact the kind of person they attract, which will in turn impact their behaviors and attitudes toward sex. As one young lady shared, “I know that the kind of things that I wear draw a certain kind of guy. And ultimately the guy that I want to have as a husband is a guy that’s committed to purity. If I’m dressing kind of seductively in what I’m wearing, I’m going to be attracting a guy that is okay with that; whereas, if I’m dressing modestly, it’s going to attract a guy that respects that and appreciates that.” The same principle holds for young men: their way of dressing and of behaving will attract a certain type of girl.

Ultimately, the most important reason for embracing modesty is that God’s Word tells us to do so. If the Holy Spirit lives in us, our bodies are God’s temple, and we want all we wear, do and say to honor him. We also want to honor our spouse (or future spouse). Our bodies are meant for our spouse alone to enjoy, so persons who display their body publicly or enticingly are actually defrauding their future mate.

2. Define family modesty standards

What is modesty? Modesty means different things to different people from different cultures and, like other words, its meaning has undergone a metamorphosis over time. The dictionary tells us that to be modest is to avoid impropriety or indecency, to be reserved in sexual matters, and to be unpretentious in appearance. Perhaps it is best to focus on the idea of being unpretentious in appearance. A modest person does not call attention to themselves by the way they dress.

Kids are being made to grow up faster than ever before.

In order to teach our children to value modesty in a world where modesty is seen as prudish, we must make the effort to establish clearly what we consider to be modest for both boys and girls. This is made more difficult because society’s standards of modesty have changed so much over time. When I was in high school, for example, exposing a bra strap would have been extremely embarrassing for a teen girl, and showing one's underwear would have been mortifying for a boy. Today it’s considered no big deal.

So how do we determine what constitutes modest apparel and what doesn’t? Ultimately, it is up to you as a family to set the standard together. Discuss it with your spouse and come up with some guidelines that you can pass on to your children. Determine what you consider to be acceptable clothing choices and be prepared to explain your decision-making process, inviting your children to give their input freely before the standards are set. I’d encourage you to give this some serious thought and refrain from changing the standard if you have more than one child. With an eleven year span between the eldest and youngest of our three children, this has been a test of our memories!

In developing your standards, you may also need to educate yourself on current fads and slang. Some clothing and accessories may look innocent, while actually conveying a much different message. For example, a lot of kids today are wearing t-shirts carrying slogans of a sexual nature. Because the terms are different from what we grew up with, this often flies under the radar of parents – but rest assured, the kids all know what they mean! If your child wants to wear something and you suspect it may convey a hidden message, ask them about it.

Be assured, modest clothing can still be stylish and attractive. Be prepared to spend some extra time searching out suitable fashions for your children. They are out there, but you’ll have to be willing to cheerfully make the effort and, in some cases, spend a little extra.

3. Get the kids on your side

If your children do not understand how their clothing choices reflect on them and on their witness for God, they will not follow the standards the family has set. It’s easy to say, “I’m the parent and you will do what I tell you,” but while that approach may bring about outward conformity to the standard, it will not help your children to begin to value modesty in their own hearts. Instead, you want to help them to understand why modesty is such an important character issue and teach them to make good decisions on their own.

We’ve found it very helpful to be able to give our children reasons as to the suitability or unsuitability of a piece of apparel. It’s good to be able to explain how what we wear can influence people's opinion of us. This explanation, of course, must be purposeful and age appropriate. Your children may honestly not realize that the item they'd love to wear may cause some people to look at them in a way they were not anticipating. They may respond by saying that this is their problem and that they should have more self-control. And, again, this is true, but our children need to understand that we want to glorify God at all times, in all we wear and do, and some clothing hinders us from doing so. We are not responsible for other people’s reactions, but we can dress in a way that does not encourage such ungodly reactions.

4. Offer a role model

The teaching of modesty should begin as early as possible. Model a modest form of dress yourselves as parents. Provide bathrobes for family members and be aware of the way you dress both within and outside your home. Minimize the impact of the brand name mentality by avoiding such behavior yourself. Often we get our kids hooked on brand names by dressing our young children in these clothes, and it becomes hard to backtrack when the price tag inflates or the styles become racier.

Be on the lookout for good role models that are older than your own children and allow these friends to influence them. They can be a tremendous help to you. Also, watch for positive examples in the world of entertainment and introduce your kids to them.

Encourage them as well to cultivate a vibrant walk with Jesus Christ by being models of such a walk yourselves as parents.

5. Counter the media onslaught

Realize that fashion is big business. Kids’ and teen clothing represents a multi-billion dollar industry, and the advertisers know exactly how to entice our children. They are bombarded from an increasingly early age through the media – music, videos, TV and technology. In fact, marketing that used to be aimed at teens has now shifted to the tween group (ages 8-13).

This shift is having a noticeable impact on children in this age category. Kids are being made to grow up faster than ever before. Adult clothing styles are being mini-sized to fit youth. As Betsy Hart pointed out, this has led to the sexualization of children seeking to emulate their media heroes. And it’s not just the clothes that are being adopted, but also the attitudes toward life in general and sexuality in particular.

We can diminish the influence of media by helping our children make wise choices concerning TV programs, videos, movies, music and reading material. It’s important to begin at an early age to instill values and guidelines for making discerning choices. Talk about these choices in entertainment and fashion selection with your children before they become tweens and teens. And mention the dangers posed by porn of all types, as children are being exposed to such things earlier and earlier in life. You want them to understand the importance of treating themselves and others with respect, and you want to help them to understand how porn devalues people.

6. Value character over appearance

It is important to help your children value who they are as persons. Affirm their faith in God, their talents, their character, their service, their love for others, and not just their appearance. We need to counteract our culture’s influence by placing value on what God values – the inner heart and character of an individual. The Bible says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). Compliment your children on their inner character frequently. Most importantly, pray for your children daily. It’s a very different world than the one that we grew up in and the temptations are more overt and bold. Pray fervently that they will have a heart that seeks to know God and see every person as of infinite worth to God, deserving of respect.

7. Recognize your critical role as a couple

Never underestimate the influence you both have on your children. My husband went on many shopping trips — even though this was not his favorite activity — in order to show his interest and have some input into the selection process. Dad’s approval is extremely significant in a child’s life, so fathers need to be careful in how they relate to their children. Both words and tone matter greatly. Even though children may act like they resent your intrusion in their life at times, they really do care about what you think of them. Dads, let your children know that you are proud of them and that they are unique in your eyes and God’s. Your children carefully watch your reaction. Your opinion counts! And make sure you are keeping your thoughts on Jesus and are not allowing lust to begin growing in your own heart, as children will pick up on this more easily than you might think.

“For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.” Proverbs 2:10-11

Preparing your children to follow God’s standards in this area of modesty is a gift that will last a lifetime. I like to think of modesty as a pattern that I am helping my children weave into their lives — a pattern that will become so much a part of their moral fiber that it will enable them to freely and fully enjoy being the people God has designed them to be.

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Photo Credit: Brook Cagle