help me understand goth/punk
July 29, 2008 12:24 PM   Subscribe

My 15 yo daughter’s style is becoming increasingly goth/punk - black clothes, metal chains and belts, skulls and daggers, thick black eyeliner, and she recently colored her hair blue. I’ve been cool about it so far though I don’t like the whole darkness/hardness of it all. She’s starting high school this year. She’s an honor student and a thespian. None of her friends dress like this. Should I be worried, or is this just a stage?
posted by viva viola to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (79 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think you should be worried. The way someone dresses doesn't necessarily say anything about them. As long as she stays an honor student, there shouldn't be any reason she can't dress how she wants!
posted by majikstreet at 12:30 PM on July 29, 2008

Where did she get the money for the dye job?
posted by notsnot at 12:32 PM on July 29, 2008

Response by poster: She gets an allowance and babysits. She did the color herself with a bleach kit and then blue "Splat."
posted by viva viola at 12:34 PM on July 29, 2008

Just be supportive! I went through my punk rock years and my parents would always drive me and my friends to shows. It saved us catching a ride with some sketchy folks and they got a kind of inside look. It absolutely shaped my entire life, it was completely positive and absolutely necessary.

Whatever you do, don't tell her she CAN'T be xyz. You'll dip it in gold, make it irresistible. If she gets really into local punk or whatever, see if she wants to learn to play guitar. Help her learn to sew her own clothes if she gets into goth fashion. The more supportive you are without becoming an interfering force, the more she'll get out of it and the better you'll feel.
posted by GilloD at 12:35 PM on July 29, 2008 [24 favorites]

It sounds like she's displaying textbook teenagerdom; experimenting with her identity and testing the waters of differentiating herself from her parents.

If the only changes that you're seeing are in how she's dressing and wearing her hair and makeup, I wold say that it's probably not much to worry about. Of course, if she's crossing modesty lines that you feel strongly about, that's a different issue.

As with any teenager, keep an eye out for changes in behavior. Is her appetite changing? Is she remaining engaged with the things that she has always like to do? Is she maintaining the academic performance that she's capable of? So on and so forth.

If you stay cool about how she dresses, you'll find yourself in a better position if you need to confront some aspect of her behavior that troubles you.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2008 [16 favorites]

I don't know whether it's a stage or not, but you shouldn't be worried.
posted by box at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Perhaps, in order to undermine her sense of style, you should tell her you really really like it. From a teenage perspective, anything you like cannot be cool -- you're old!
posted by maxpower at 12:38 PM on July 29, 2008

I started wearing heavy metal t-shirts in the fourth grade, had long hair and a denim jacket covered in patches and studs not long afterwards and played in bands with total burnout metalheads all through high school, many of whom eventually overdosed or did jail time.

I graduated from the University of Chicago, attended Columbia for grad school and took a couple classes at Harvard along the way.

Your daughter's identity formation and your desire for her to be academically successful are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
posted by The Straightener at 12:39 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Hell no you shouldn't be worried! Theres a reason our local police department became the laughing stock of the world. Your kid's going to come out better because of this. Be supportive. Manic Panic makes a better dye, point that out and be awesome.
posted by piedmont at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

My son is also an honor student and we let him dye his hair black over the summer (he paid for the dye himself) after he made honor roll again. Goth is increasingly popular among high school kids these days. It's both a musical and a style movement, and the black eyeliner, black clothes and the rest add to the "shock value" that appeals to the rebellious in teens.

Most of the kids I know who follow the Goth movement are, like your daughter, intelligent kids functioning well in the school system, and I think this movement appeals to them in part because they get a chance to take a walk on the wild side while not risking too much IRL--they aren't on drugs, they aren't cutting themselves (this is also popular these days with the Emo crowd, and something I *would* worry about), they aren't anti-social or depressed, they just enjoy the Goth music and hanging with their friends who have similar interests.

I'm surprised none of her friends dress like this, but maybe a guy she likes does? That's a strong motivation for a teen! Anyway, as long as she isn't depressed or self-destructive, there's really no problem. Yes, goth has a some dark, disturbing images (for us), but every new music movement seems extreme to the previous generation.
posted by misha at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2008

Worry less about how she dresses and more about how she acts. In high school, I knew punks who were straight-A and straight-edge (and some who were stoners), and I knew kids who dressed "respectably" but skipped classes and created mayhem.

Ask her what she likes about the style/music/culture. And just listen, and think about what things you wore/listened to that might have scared or alienated your parents when you were her age (there was probably something, right?).

Oh yeah - and be the Cool Mom. We were at an all-ages X show a couple months ago and there was a 14-year-old-ish kid there, perfect mohawk and what looked like mom or dad's old leather jacket. Mom and dad appeared to be standing near the back, having a good time, while the kid was right up front. Drive her to shows etc. You might even like some of the music!
posted by rtha at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I am not a parent, nor have I ever been, but I remember being very impressed by something the parent of one of my brother's friends said in response to her own son going through a similar phase; although in his case it was only a mohawk. When he showed up in school with it, it was a source of gossip (we lived in a really small town) and the next time my mother saw her, she remarked on it; "how'd he talk you into that, what did you think when he asked you", etc.

The boy's mother just shrugged and said, "I just asked if he really was sure he wanted to do this, and then let him; he's not putting himself into danger; it's just hair. I figure either he'll get teased, get sick of it, and grow it back out, or he'll get teased, stick with it, and that will build character."

If the look is just a look, then it could either be just a phase or it could be the way she really feels comfortable. If it's more than just a look -- i.e., if she's starting to DO things that are dangerous, that's another thing; but often this is just a look.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2008 [6 favorites]

Another vote for: Continue to be supportive.

The worst thing you could do, imo, is to try to get her to stop. I think a lot of kids (myself included) went thru a stage where they really wanted to be "different". I look back on it as pretty dumb and juvenile, my style was based on what the cool kids did not wear and was therefore just as conforming as the No Fear wearing jocks I hated! But that is another story.

I think she'll be fine, heck you should get into it and tell her certain things look badass. As soon as my dad started helping my brother and I screw row after row of spikes into our jackets it suddenly became a lot less cool.
posted by wolfkult at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2008

Of course it's a stage. The whole world's a stage. She's just trying on a costume.
posted by Floydd at 12:45 PM on July 29, 2008 [10 favorites]

Maybe a stage, maybe not, but don't worry.

I'm 43. In the late 1970s/early 1980s, I took to dyeing my hair purple, wearing safety pins as jewelry, and listening to what was then that new punk rock stuff. My mom, of course, worried.

I still listen to that punk rock stuff, only now it's old. My hair is a normal color. I have a graduate degree, a well-paying job, and am a productive member of society.

But would I say it was a phase? Nah. I'm still a punk at heart. And my mom still worries about me :)
posted by chez shoes at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2008 [9 favorites]

As with any teenager, keep an eye out for changes in behavior

I 2nd this. Outward appearance is one thing... If none of her friends are doing this, and they're still her friends, her behavior and overall attitude is probably not changing too radically. While I was mostly "generic teenager" through JHS and HS, I've had friends who went through fashion phases with no lasting issues. That said, my fear of your situation is a slightly shameful secret of mine, as I think of myself as tolerant and openminded.... it's just easier as long as it's someone elses kid...
posted by Debaser626 at 12:46 PM on July 29, 2008

Your daughter's identity formation and your desire for her to be academically successful are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Ding ding! We have a winner!

There are all kinds of reasons to worry (like if she is on her third pregnancy before she's 18, or she starts a grow operation in the garage), but blue hair isn't one of them.

Blue hair was rebellious in the late 1970s; today, thirty years later, it's just like wearing a hippy skirt or a poet shirt or any of a wide array of semi-alternative looks available to today's discerning teenager.

Now, if her behavior follows -- she starts down the path of bad grades and late night arrests and so on -- then you will have to consider whether or not to stage an intervention. But the clothes and hair are not in and of themselves signifiers of anything, any more than her having a preppy haircut would automatically mean that she will be spending her weekends at fraternity keggers.
posted by Forktine at 12:47 PM on July 29, 2008

It's not a problem until it's a problem.

- Blue hair is fun, until she's looking for a job or doing college admissions interviews.

- Sullen gothy behavior is fine, until her grades start to slip.

Pull your daughter aside, tell her she can dress however she wants as long as her grades stay high, she stays out of trouble, continues to apply herself, etc.
posted by wfrgms at 12:49 PM on July 29, 2008

Oh my gosh, please don't make this your hill to die on. I dyed my hair black and got my nose pierced when I was in college and from the fuss and drama my mother made you would have thought I told her I was a baby killer and liked to eat puppies. She would not stop crying and screaming until I agreed to take the piercing out and go to a salon to get my hair "fixed." I mean, this fight went on for hours and was just, in retrospect, a complete waste of time. If she had just ignored it I probably would have gotten sick of the look after a few months and changed it myself, but because she made such a hullabaloo over the whole thing our relationship became very, very strained.

If her grades start to slip, then worry. But if it's just her appearance, then relax. She'll probably change it on her own when she gets sick of it (which I am sure she will).
posted by sutel at 12:52 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I was your daughter many years ago. It's kind of weird that kids are dressing exactly like I did eighteen years ago, but whatever.

My mom wasn't crazy about it, but didn't push her luck. I was asked to dress respectfully for things like church and family events, and I wasn't allowed to do anything permanently mutilating (the number of ear piercings I was allowed to have was limited, I wasn't allowed to pierce the cartilage of my upper ear, I was not allowed any other facial or body piercings or tattoos, so long as I was a minor and under my mother's roof).

But as long as I could make myself conform somewhat to my mother's idea of what a nice girl should look like when she's at the Chinese restaurant with her grandparents, and as long as I wasn't doing anything that broke school dress codes, and as long as it didn't appear to be a symptom of bigger problems, she put up with it. She never did learn to appreciate the golden throat of Robert Smith, though.
posted by padraigin at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don’t be worried. It really is just a phase, think about when was the last time you saw a Goth/punk over 30? One tends burn themselves out on it. I did. I concur with GilloD; I was for many years drastically more punk than I am now. It was something needed to go through. We all go through phases, some more silly than others, it just what happens when your young.
posted by hibery at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2008

Seconding DWRoelands advice. She's trying out identities and opinions and exploring her rapidly expanding worldview. Keep in mind that goth/punk dress is fairly homogenized these days (i.e. you can go to the mall and pick up everything you described).

Be supportive as usual and show interest in her new interests. (Also seconding being the driver to punk shows if she wants to try those out.)
posted by greenland at 12:54 PM on July 29, 2008

You say she's a thespian - so she probably has a penchant for the dramatic, right? And she's entering high school, which can be tough and scary. I'm not surprised she's creating this sort of identity for herself. I wouldn't be worried and I wouldn't mention it in a context which suggests that you think this change will lead to poor behavior - she hasn't let you down yet with bad behavior, so don't begin acting as if she will.

If she starts having problems, remember that high school is a big adjustment. Don't instantly think "She needs to drop the goth act, it's the cause!" She might feel like you're attacking her personality or style when the problem is she's just overwhelmed by x class.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:57 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was her age twenty years ago, I would'a gotten a whole lot of "not being let out of the house looking like that." In this respect, I'm glad that times have changed. After all, if you can't dye your hair blue and goth out as a teenager, when are you supposed to do it? Nthing that as long as she keeps her grades up, there's no reason to fuss over this.

She may get some guff at school or from random shopkeepers keeping the hairy eyeball on her. Presumably she'll understand that hey, when you call attention to yourself, you get...attention. (Oh, and the hair is probably going to fade to a bizarre shade of aqua pretty quickly.)

On preview, it's funny to hear from other older goth/punks -- I can usually spot "one of us" a mile away, even though we are growed up and have real jobs and relatively normal-colored hair and stuff.

The really, really important thing is...make sure you get pictures to show your eventual grandkids.
posted by desuetude at 12:58 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

In high school, I had a mohawk, wore dog collars, and cut up all my t-shirts and put them back together with safety pins. My hair's been just about every color your can think of. I loved going to punk shows.

I also didn't drink, didn't smoke anything, never engaged in self-mutilation, hardly dated, and was an honors student. Though as an adult I enjoy social drinking and have a bunch of tattoos, I also graduated college with honors and am doing really well in graduate school. Honestly, for me the appearance stuff was part of being a passionate, creative person. I had always been obsessive, and that was a stage where I poured my efforts into my appearance. Nowadays I pour that same passion into my writing and research.

Most of the kids from my high school who have become unproductive townies looked pretty normal in high school. That's not to say that this is always the case, but that there might not be any correlation between what she looks like and how "bad" her behavior will be, either now or in the future. The best thing to do is to be supportive and, seriously, don't even acknowledge the appearance stuff--this will let her feel like she has some agency over her appearance, which will help her feel confident and happy with herself and make her less likely to dress purely for shock value. Focus on who she is and what she does, not what she chooses to look like.

She’s an honor student and a thespian.

If her thespian friends look mainstream now, this will very likely not be the case a few years down the road.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:59 PM on July 29, 2008

I applaud your concern for your daughter, but at the same time—c'mon. I did the exact same thing at her age, and I haven't killed anyone, gotten hooked on illegal drugs, contracted an STD, been arrested, or turned into a sociopath. This is part of growing up, and it's actually quite wonderful. I wouldn't trade my punk rock days for anything.

Frankly, I worry about the kids who don't do this kind of thing.
posted by greenie2600 at 1:00 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

As my mom used to say back when my hair was purple, "it'll grow out." She also made it clear that she didn't really care how I dressed, as long as I remained academically motivated and intellectually curious. In short, she treated me like an adult. Which was the best possible thing she could have done.

Now, while I may have a tattoo (which she loves) and slightly stretched ears, I can pass for preppy in the right clothes, but still don't feel the need to unless I'm visiting my grandparents or interviewing for a job. I'm starting grad school at UChicago this fall, after spending the four years since I finished my undergrad working a very respectable job in marketing.

It's fair to be worried, but you've got to trust your daughter. Chances are, you've spent years instilling her with your values, and those are still in there, even behind the ridiculous eyeliner. Either she'll get over the hair or she won't, or she'll land somewhere in between, but no matter how she looks, she's still your same brilliant daughter, and that's the important thing.
posted by dizziest at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2008

Simplest thing to remember is (a) teens dress and make personal grooming choices based on what they think looks cool and (b) cool is subjective. You don't have to understand it to accept it.

Personally I think there's nothing wrong with setting some limits on it - one of the valuable things we can learn (and some people never seem to) is that the choices we make have repercussions, both overt and subtle. Insisting she tone it down for some events or places and letting her suffer the inevitable consequences of standing out in the crowd will be good for her. And I say that as someone who thinks that it's a great thing to stand out in a crowd.

Some of us didn't always manage to express ourselves and make choices that let us succeed at the same time. Sounds like you've got a good situation to me.
posted by phearlez at 1:02 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

My 11 year old had a Mohawk for a year when he was 9. Last year he let his hair grow to below his shoulders. Now he is sporting a buzz cut.

I agree with all the previous posters who said to watch behavior not appearance. Your children have very few areas where they can make real choices. Hair, clothes, food, etc are areas where they can make choice. Let them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:08 PM on July 29, 2008

That was me about ten years ago. My parents shrugged. I grew up to be steadfastly awesome.

I had straight As in school, I edited the newspaper, I was involved with art and music, I didn't drink, do drugs, or have sex, and I still wound up getting voted "most rebellious" by the khaki-clad J.Crew shoppers who passed out drunk in their parents' fancy hot tubs and smoked pot in their parked cars at lunch.

Appearances can be deceiving. Of course, they can also be accurate sometimes. Plenty of goth-dressing kids are into drugs, etc. But plenty are not. Just like any other kids. But my experience has taught me that the especially preppy-looking ones are the ones that have something to hide. It's a lot better to act out with hairdye and makeup than to act out with other things.
posted by millipede at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Amen to what GilloD said!

I'm 24, no kids yet, but the memories are still fresh. Whatever your daughter is into, get into it with her! Don't just help her sew clothes or take her to concerts though, because I promise you, there's a lot for you to learn here too. Get goth with her! Direct her to cool music (pitchfork, no matter how cliche it is, is always an awesome resource for this stuff). Help her learn about the philosophical and historical basis of the "goth" movement (Satanism, did you know, is centered around the belief that the human ego, i.e. free will, is the strongest force in the universe, and there's no way to help ground your daughter in reality than exposing her to the idea that she, not God, is responsible for her choices), help put her in touch with Wiccan communities (feminism and veganism, anyone?), and then you get into "goth" and Gothic art, which are some of the most creative aesthetic traditions alive today. There are so, so many positive things that could come of this - I'd say she's exploring, and even if that's not it, this is an opportunity for you to help show her a whole new facet of existence. Really, don't be afraid of what your daughter is becoming. Learn about it, embrace it, and continue to be a role model and interested parent.

I was an honor student too, and at the time, I don't really remember going through "phases". My aesthetic and artistic tastes solidified about that time, and (not to brag but) I think I was a little too "smart" to feel the need to explore too much. I figured I learned everything I needed to learn from watching from a distance, and most of the substantial changes I made at the time have endured (I still read TONS, I still dress in a quirky, but fairly stylish way, I still have a deep appreciation for long, quiet walks and still make most of my friends online, all things that my parents discouraged at that age). My guess is that if your daughter is the only one in her group of friends who does this, then there's something deep and meaningful to her in that aesthetic, and I doubt it's the death-worship, rebellion, or irresponsible hedonism. People who identify with these things because of a taste for the dramatic, a concern for social justice, or an attraction to an alternative lifestyle, all decent things of themselves, usually end up on that path for life, and they're preferences that tend to stick with people for life, or at least a long time. Whatever she's going through, learn about it, find the good in it, and help direct her to it.
posted by saysthis at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2008

I went through the same thing when I was heading into high school (about ten years ago now. yikes). As everyone above me has said, she's probably just carving an identity, and just because her outward appearance is different doesn't mean the inside has changed. If she hasn't had any significant behavioral/emotional changes and hasn't lost a ton of friends all of a sudden, I wouldn't worry much at all. I mean, what's the difference between blue hair and the girl who has dark hair and bleaches it? Or girls who get really obvious highlights? It all looks unnatural and "distracting" as most student handbooks describe it.

I grew out of dressing up about halfway through my first semester of college (laziness + super liberal school = "meh"). I think I started the whole rebel thing because I was at a conservative Catholic school and wanted to test the boundaries. This one nun absolutely hated me because I looked different, and I thought it was the funniest thing ever. Actually, I think that sort of thing is par for the course for most teens. The border thing, not the nun-hating-you thing. Anyway, I turned out fine. I pay my taxes, I recycle, I would pass a drug test if I had to take one right now and I don't have a criminal record.

As a slight aside, at least if your daughter's goth, she probably won't want to go tanning all the time like her peers. Healthy skin! Kids still do this, right?
posted by giraffe at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Alot of excellent answers above for you to chew on.

First i want to say that misha is not talking about "Emo" in fact, thats something more Goth than emo any day. I was considered "emo-ish" in school I was the first guy in my little country school to get my lip pierced but it was in fact the Goths who were cutting themselfs up and catching trash cans on fire, so take all this advise with a grain of salt. It truly depends on the person.

My parents were intolerant when it came to things like that and in return, and no I am not blaming them, I went out and got tattoos all over my body, and now I am stuck with them because of teenage "rebellion".

Now that I have 4 kids of my own, I have been very open about their extra-needs, like when my then 6 year old son asked me to get his ears pierced, no harm there, took him in, got them bot done and he's still doing superb in school. It truly depends on the person.

Sadly, however, when you follow a certain "life-style" much harm can come from that, its just knowing your kid and seeing the signs. At this point, I would say there is no reason for alarm, no reason to halt the chains and hair dye. But do a quick search on google for Goth and/or Goth lifestyle and you will see some downright disturbing stuff, stuff that might eventually find their way into your daughters choosen lifestyle.

Know, your kid and love her and you guys will be ok...
God Bless
posted by TeachTheDead at 1:14 PM on July 29, 2008

As a 33 year old woman who only started dyeing her hair pink/purple/etc at the age of 30, I gotta' say that high school/college is the best time to do it. As a SAHM, I"m lucky enough to not be looking for work or worried about what other people think of me - but in my corporate jobs I'd never have been able to do it.

My kids, age 11, 8 and 4 are encouraged to "express themselves" physically. Dyed hair is not an issue around here, nor is funky dressing, etc. I realize that many people consider my kids to be an extension of me - but they're their own people with their own tastes, likes and dislikes and I want them to experiment while it's safe. And while they don't have bills to pay or job interviews to ace.

Judge your daughter based on her actions and attitude. Is she still a good kid? Is she still hanging out with friends and enjoying life? If so, all good. If not, don't blame it on the appearance - look deeper.

(And, really, the fact that she's the only one of her friends who does this? It just makes her seem, to me, to be a strong and confident woman and, zow, the world needs more of them!)
posted by VioletU at 1:20 PM on July 29, 2008

It isn't her appearance you worry about-you need to keep track of a) behavior and just as importantly b) her friends' behavior.

THAT is what you keep an eye on. If I could tell any parent of a teen anything it would be to KNOW YOUR KIDS' FRIENDS.
posted by konolia at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I did all that stuff and I'm still punk and I'm 36.

My hair is black, most of my clothes are black, but I don't have visible tattoos or any piercings.

My parents were at first appalled, my father has cried about it, sent me emails about going to hell as recently as last year, that sort of thing. My mother told me I could do whatever I wanted as long as I got good grades and never did anything that would get me arrested. With all that freedom, I had nothing to rebel against. I ended up attending a very conservative Catholic school with pink hair; the administration fought me completely, but surprise! I ended up teaching Journalism there my senior year of college... those same professors fought for me, helping me get fellowships, and apologizing to me for judging me by my outside.

I have multiple degrees and have a better job than my father and live in a very tasteful, completely contemporary house I designed myself.

I have never been denied a job, although I have struggled to fit in many places (I worked a corporate job for a while where pantyhose, suits and conservative hair were the only acceptable options) and I did fine having two lives.

I have never been to jail, overdosed on drugs, gotten shot, destroyed my life or career in ANY way. I am a good girl. I just don't always look like it.

Even if she's a lifer, she can still be a good, supportive, tax-paying member of society.

Recently, I have decided enough with the bondage pants at work and am in a dress-and-heels buying frenzy. Who knows, maybe I'm not really punk anymore.

Maybe your daughter is me. Maybe she just doesn't feel like Miley Cyrus is "her thing." Maybe she wants to explore the depression that comes from being almost old enough to do things (drive, vote, live on her own, etc.) and this is her way of expressing it. Maybe she's crappy at coordinating colors, or has a phobia of bright clothing (I had this). Maybe she feels dressing in black helps her feel "hidden" by conforming to a different social group that will accept her no matter what her problems or personality issues are.

Maybe she is body-conscious and wants to hide what she perceives as flaws as her body changes. Maybe she doesn't want boy attention just yet, and this is her way of making herself less attractive to them. Maybe she wishes she were living in Japan or loves Clive Barker novels.

The more you can get her to open up about it by seeming excited that she's trying to find her own style and way of expressing it, or even offering to help her color her hair next time, she will tell you the real reasons why she's doing this. It may be a lot different than what you fear it is; you say her friends don't dress or act like this, so maybe this is her way of standing out in "her crowd."

Let her tell you or explain it when she's ready; but always be loving and supportive. 15 is a rough year. She needs to feel unconditionally accepted by someone so make sure it's you and not some dude or weirdo at school.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 1:30 PM on July 29, 2008 [17 favorites]

TeachTheDead has a great point; subcultures generally don't consist simply of dress codes, though that is the entry point into most subcultures for teenagers. Once you start to circulate in the subculture you're sure to encounter the drugs, sex attitudes and possibly anti-social behaviors that typically sets subcultures apart from the mainstream. I was offered angel dust and cocaine as early as age 13; by 14 and 15 a lot of my friends were already starting to experience the consequences that come along with using those drugs like dropping out of school, getting in trouble with the law and other risky behaviors that correlate with addiction.

As a parent you can stick your head in the sand or try to totally control your child's environment, which will likely engender resentment and will also likely fail to alter the course of your child's decisions. Or you can keep an open line of communication where your kid doesn't feel like she needs to hide things from you and you can assist her in forming an ability to make healthy decisions on her own.
posted by The Straightener at 1:32 PM on July 29, 2008

If I could tell any parent of a teen anything it would be to KNOW YOUR KIDS' FRIENDS.

I would agree. My kids friends are awesome so when they're doing stuff like this I'm not too worried. and yeah, worry less about how she looks and more about how she acts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2008

"Should I be worried"

Grades have been okay? Attitude and relationships remain healthy? Great! Then no, don't worry. Instead of being worried, be supportive. Spot some awesome silver skull earrings or a piece of vintage clothing she might incorporate? Grab it! Sale on Manic Panic? Stock up! You don't have to go overboard and pretend to be Best Friend Parent, but acknowledging her sense of style as her own and accepting it as a part of her gives validation to her currently-forming sense of self. A change in fashion sense isn't a crisis, it's an opportunity to reinforce the trust relationship in a new and interesting way.

Be glad you have a kid with a personality. Even though the pseudogoth/mallgoth thing has turned into a kind of generic cookie-cutter scene with the current generation of kids, it still represents a (fairly minor) departure from the mainstream that should be celebrated, not cause for worry. I'd be more worried if one of my kids turned into one of those dime-a-dozen airhead celebrity fashion imitator / buzzcut mook dude than something like this.

"is this just a stage?"

Maybe. Some people wind up building a part of their adult identity from these Hot Topic mallgoth images of themselves -- I know a couple of people who fit the description -- and others give it up when they enter new phases of life. Don't trash the parental relationship by overreacting, and maybe you'll stay close enough to find out.
posted by majick at 1:41 PM on July 29, 2008

When I was a teenager, the only rule was that I couldn't change my appearance in any way that was permanent. My mother and I fought for a little while over the fact that she wouldn't let me get a second set of piercings in my ears, but when she didn't say anything after I came home from summer camp with pink hair, I pretty much let the matter drop. My parents were personally conservative, but I recognized how good I had it, and it helped improve what was otherwise a somewhat strained relationship with them.

Don't look at her appearance; listen to what she says and watch how she interacts with you and with her peers. Is she still the same good, sweet kid she's always been? Is she still engaged with the world and interested in things and laughing and having fun? Then everything else is just funny colors. She may or may not grow out of it, but it doesn't really matter as long as she's interacting with the world in a positive way.
posted by decathecting at 1:42 PM on July 29, 2008

The only thing you need to worry about is getting enough photos, so as to suitably embarrass her in ten years.

Seriously, she'll be fine, just keep an eye on her behavior and make sure she's not, you know, getting arrested. Goth/punk ethos can run self-destructive, or it can run creative and amazing and produce a strong, intelligent young lady.

Whatever you do, don't freak out. Mom sighed and moaned and disapproved when I dyed my hair and got a tattoo and buzzed my hair and became a Wiccan. We have a polite relationship, but the downside is she doesn't know an enormous amount about me, because I don't trust her, or our relationship, to accept things like bisexuality, a few more tattoos or anything outside the mainstream. your daughter, and let her have control over her own body, okay?
posted by kalimac at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2008

It wouldn't hurt to mention to her that she may have to be a better thespian than before to overcome that big flashing "character" sign on her head and be cast in anything but The Smurfs. Auditions are an awful lot about appearance.

I would be proud of her for being so expressive and creative, for caring so much that she goes to such lengths to show who she is to the world. I was a drama kid in school, too, and wore a cat collar... the pink hair came later, but the rule my Mom had to devise was "no lingerie as outerwear," if that gives you an idea. I knew, and your girl probably does too, that college is where the party REALLY is. Talk with her about what her plans are and help her achieve them.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2008

Bands like Bad Religion, VNV Nation, and Anti-Flag have distinct philosophies and extremely complex lyrics that display a wide-ranging and sophisticated use of language.

Consider every album bought an investment in not having to pay for SAT tutoring later.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2008

Here are some more thoughts...

Teenagers like the dramatic (you said she's even a thespian), and there's nothing more (melo-)dramatic than the macabre romance of goth. Go read the original Frankenstein if you need evidence of this.

If your daughter is anything like my friends and I were, part of what she's doing is removing herself, visibly and by her own choice, from her mainstream peers. This is not a bad thing: mainstream teenage culture is ugly, vicious, stupid, petty, shallow, and self-defeating. The punks and goths I knew were the smartest, most creative, most free-thinking, and most tolerant kids in school. Everyone needs a tribe, especially in hostile territory; my punk friends were, among many other things, allies against the barbarians.

She is, probably, also rebelling against the school itself—the teachers and administrators. This is also not a bad thing: the American public school system is ugly, vicious, stupid, petty, shallow, and self-defeating, especially if you're a smart, creative, free-thinking teenager.

Perhaps most importantly, punk rock taught me that I can do any damn thing I want to. It's the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethic: my friends and I organized concerts, recorded and distributed our own albums, published zines, made our own clothing, designed our own flyers, printed our own stickers, held our own fundraisers, organized our own political protests, and fed the fucking homeless without help, approval, or involvement from adults. This is a very powerful (and empowering) lesson for a teenager.
posted by greenie2600 at 2:11 PM on July 29, 2008 [24 favorites]

Throwing another vote on the "unless her behaviour changes, be cool" pile. I'm 25, was a drama kid in HS, went to lots of metal shows in undergrad, dyed my hair blue and got a geeky tattoo in grad school and now I'm a successful software developer. Blue hair and leather jackets are not a cause for alarm.

It may be a phase or she may be a punker forever. Either way, as long as the rest of her life is healthy, you should be okay with what she's doing. For a lot of teenagers, it's empowering to realize you have control over how you present yourselves to others. Properly cultivated, this can help your child grow into a creative, free-thinking, driven person who realizes they can accomplish nearly anything they set their mind to. Greenie2600 just said this way more eloquently above.

(And say what you will, I'd much rather have my kid be a punk/goth than some suburban "gangsta" enamored with bling, hip-hop and anti-intellectualism)
posted by Nelsormensch at 2:15 PM on July 29, 2008

Good advice all round in this thread.

However, I feel like I have to point this one comment out:
The more supportive you are without becoming an interfering force, the more she'll get out of it and the better you'll feel.

Don't hedge your bets on it 'just being a phase'. It's likely, yes, but don't put your own well-being (and her's) on the line in the hopes that she 'get out of it'.

Some of my best friends started doing the goth thing 10-20 years ago and simply never stopped. And, in spite of the stigma that still persists, they and their friends who I've me are the safest, nicest and smartest people. The majority of whom are in excellent, well paid and respected jobs. The unpopular kids in their teens make for more interesting adults, I find.

Fwiw, I'm not a goth but I love the music and dig the style (just not on me).
posted by slimepuppy at 2:20 PM on July 29, 2008

I got into punk rock at an early age and I consider it one of the more positive influences on my life. I honestly can't even imagine what kind of person I would be now without that experience growing up. I think a lot of people hear the angry sounding music and see the clothes and can't get past that - I know my parents didn't like it when I was getting into it around 13-14.

For me and most of the people I knew, punk was about doing whatever the hell we wanted, but not in a destructive, snort-angel dust and kill hobos way. It was about community, DIY, and creating your own life and your own culture on your terms. For every drug addict I met I knew many, many more straight edge or vegan kids who were devoted to keeping their bodies as clean as possible. For every dumbass who started a fight at a show, there was the rest of the room who got together and threw them out, no adults or security guards necessary. For every high school drop out loser, I knew 10 kids who were starting their own businesses, planning cross country tours, writing zines, helping run venues, running record labels, designing posters, volunteering in their community, etc. and these were all people age 14-17 for the most part.

I personally started a screen printing shop in my parent's garage to print shirts for friend's bands, wrote and self-published a zine that sold several thousand copies all over the world, and first picked up a camera to bring with me to a show (I'm now a professional photographer). I would never have done any of those things if I hadn't been surrounded by motivated, intelligent, passionate kids my age that I met through punk rock.

I mean, what else would I have done in high school? Played a sport and drank crappy beer with the nice, clean-cut kids? Fuck that.
posted by bradbane at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

You've got plenty of people telling you it's fine. Me too. My now 16 year old daughter started going goth/punk when she was 12. WTF?!! My cute little blonde daughter looked like she could rob somebody. Oh wait, that's my prejudices (and a bunch of staid middle-aged people in the shopping centre). I got used to the look, bought her fun pieces at birthdays and Christmas, and she grew out of it. I bet if I'd argued the point, about her right to choose her appearance etc, we wouldn't have the fantastic relationship we do now. Yeah, she's still getting A's and choosing to wear odd coloured (one black & one red) 2nd hand Doc Martens to school, but that's got to be the safest form of rebellion, I think.

One of her friends in a relationship with a guy who pierces body parts and she's hoping to have a baby as soon as possible because she can't see any other future. Now, that's scary. Seriously. Clothing, nah, not so much.

BTW, the goth stuff covers a whole lot more body than some of the role models out there.
posted by b33j at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

My daughter went through the punk-friends phase (she couldn't indulge in the look because she was a competitive figure skater and the judges won't tolerate it), bringing home some really alternative-looking folks, and stories of their not-terribly responsible behavior. I grinned, and bore it, and talked about it, and was nice to her friends, and she came out the other side holding onto the worthy friends and dumping the idiots. Keep her engaged and talking. Demonstrate trust, set reasonable limits. She will most likely be fine.

Myself, I couldn't say much about odd hair colors, as my own is pink.
posted by nax at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2008

Watch out, she could turn into....a librarian! That's what happened to this erstwhile metalhead (OK, OK, I still listen to metal a lot, but don't sport the t-shirts emblazoned with skulls like I once did).

My mother was a little leery about it all at the time, but I really have to give her credit for attending a Slayer concert with me (I think her last concert had been Paul Anka?).
posted by medeine at 2:51 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wasn't a goth, but I did go the extra mile in being a weirdo in high school. My junior year, I decided to shave my head and wear red lipstick and big thick-rimmed glasses every day - even though I have 20/20 vision. My fashion choices were limited due to my school's dress code, so I usually took to wearing as many bright colors as possible in the same outfit.

It was an interesting time.

My mom took it well. She liked my fuzzy head and just asked me to wear a nice shirt for family photos. When I went on to get facial piercings and tattoos, she was supportive - if initially wary. I eventually took out the piercings and my hair has grown back, but I can tell you without a doubt that if my mother had at any point lectured me on my appearance, I would still have a fuzzy head in firm defiance.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 4:00 PM on July 29, 2008

I just finished reading "Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes" by Sharon Lamb, Ed.D, and Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.. Not only was this one of the best books I've ever read, but if you want REALLY, really recent/modern thoughts on the clothes, styles, and trends that it sounds like your daughter is participating in, in addition to useful suggestions and strategies for talking to her about her appearance and her "image" while still being supportive and understanding, this is definitely a book to read. The link I provided will even let you preview a few pages of the book about the clothes that teens and young girls wear (she probably shops at Hot Topic?) and some of the meanings behind this, and provides an interesting perspective on your daughter's behavior. Definitely check it out. But to agree with everyone else-- these outward displays are not necessarily a reason to worry about her mental health, but it's important to be involved in your daughter's life and hear what she's going through, and actually listen to her without judging (try to squash the impulse to viscerally react to the blue hair, or piercing, tattoo, whatever).
posted by potatopeople at 4:46 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Note that she's changing her look this summer, right before her first year of high school starts. She's shaping up to tell her peers and her teachers and advisers who she is. The look will be a shorthand for her -- it tells people that she thinks differently from the mainstream, that she's strong enough to withstand people's comments on her looks (usually negative comments), and that she's creative. All in all, I think it's a valuable position for a young woman to take. She may well change her friends too, as a result. This is not necessarily a bad thing -- it all depends on who she chooses. Maybe she has access to more people in high school, and she'll choose people who match her interests better. I know I was frustrated hanging out with the other straight-A students in junior high, since we had nothing in common beyond doing well academically. It wasn't until high school that I met enough diverse people to find people who helped me to grow.

Her look will most likely challenge the adults in her life and at school, and they will reveal their prejudices. I was accused of being in a cult, myself. (Goth fashion + B&W long exposure photography of cemeteries.) The experience made me realize how superficial many adults are, how narrow-minded and petty. As her mom, it would be great if she didn't have to file you among them.

I understand the worry about the dark/bleak tone of that subculture, if you don't enjoy that kind of energy yourself. But think of it like achingly sad violin music; isn't it understandable why people would listen to Albinoni's Adagio for Strings? Goth culture gives its aficionados the same feeling. The world is a sad place! And taking on the hardness makes a person feel strong, brave, capable. I think it's brilliant that young women in our culture can envelope themselves in that feeling at as young an age as 15, and I hope your daughter can continue to revel in it.
posted by xo at 5:04 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

I am a walking warning to parents- if you don't let your kids dye their hair blue at 15, they'll do it at 35.

Sounds like you've got the right approach.

I don't know about now, but back in my day most of us suburban punks and goths had a good sense of humor and irony about the whole thing. It was rarely as hardcore as it looked- there was usually a wink and some tongue in cheek.

We also knew that most of us were poseur dabblers compared to the hardcore gutter punks, who rarely lived past 17. And speaking for myself and for my friends: We were okay with that. Their lifestyle looked like no fun at all.

There WERE some addiction casualties, though, and they weren't the people you'd have pegged for it by looking at people's fashion choices and apparent hardcore-ness.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2008

I think she's just exploring an identity that counterbalances her successful straight-A persona. It's less about fitting in with a group than illustrating to others that she does NOT fit in with the other "normal" "smart" kids. That's why you've so astutely noticed that none of her other friends dress like this. For one reason or another, she wishes to stand out from them distinctly, especially as she enters a larger social arena.

This look may attract some real losers. But it will also attract the more sensitive and intelligent and interesting people at her new high school. As a parent, try not to get too swept up in discerning which of her new friends fall into which categories. Ultimately she will have to learn the hard way who she can trust and who she can't.
posted by [NOT HERMITOSIS-IST] at 5:22 PM on July 29, 2008

If I had a son/daughter who started dressing goth/punk, I'd do the same thing just to mess with his/her head.
posted by titboy at 6:19 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

I went through this stage when I was a teenager and came out the other side educated, employed, healthy and happy in every other way. I even look like a normal citizen! I would say that it's an indication that you have a kid who is thinking, and this is a point to congratulate yourself on.

Far from rebelling against my parents, who were supportive, for me it was about rejecting everything I felt was pushed onto me from the outside world regarding what is considered valuable and attractive, and what I was expected to consume, product-wise. In my case, in Australia, the fair, sun-tanned, outdoorsy, lean girls were considered the most attractive, and as a dark haired, dark eyed Maltese girl, I felt like I couldn't be the ideal, so I took it to another place which said to everyone who took the time to look at me that I rejected all those ideas. I probably would have been able to articulate this at the time, but I know it's the truth.

Look after her, treat her with respect and demand respect from her. Even if it isn't a stage (which it most likley is) you can do worse than having a unique individual who isn't afraid to do things differently to her peers for a child. If she knows you are proud of her, and love her regardless, that is all that matters.
posted by lottie at 6:49 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I started my (short-lived) punk phase the only thing my dad did was hand me a of copy of the Clash's first album so I would stop listening to bad wanna-be bands in the house.
posted by doppleradar at 7:19 PM on July 29, 2008 [8 favorites]

Awesome thread. I dyed my hair black at 15 on the suggestion of my father, dressed very lolita goth in secondary school (didn't know there was a whole subculture about in in Japan when I was doing it 20 years ago). I wore corsets and visible garters to school and still kept up my straight A average. I'm in my thirties and recently had a a year of colouring my hair a rainbow of colours (gonna dye it cherry red this week). Like medeline I am a librarian and I am not the only goth/pierced/tatooed librarian at my work by a long shot. My 8 year old is super smart and getting into the steampunk goth look via A Series of Unfortunate Events. My 4 year old son has classmates with mohawks (he has a huge afro instead). I live in a small town too, not an urban bleeding edge environment. Working in a secondary school I always found the goth/straighedge/punk students to be smarter and more open-minded (since they dealt with prejudice regularly). My mummy did not like my pierced nose and I would be surprised if that is why I ended up getting a bunch of piercings.
posted by saucysault at 7:19 PM on July 29, 2008

You're going to hear a bunch of people recommend that you get her a copy of Joy Division, or Bauhaus, or Sisters of Mercy, or even Skinny Puppy or Cabaret Voltaire.

Fuck that noise.

If you want to be the greatest mom who ever lived, you need to send your daughter a copy of Einsturzende Neubauten's "Silence is Sexy" and Test Dept's "Legacy". Buy the CDs from Amazon, rip them to mp3, and send them to her via e-mail or IM or whatever.

Those albums will make her the coolest fucking kid in her peer group, period. As soon as she shares them with her friends, and they fall in love also, bam, no more fishnets and safety pins, guaranteed. Alternatively, she will realize that nothing she does is really rebelling against you, and that you just out-cooled her by several orders of magnitude. She'll look up to you, and she'll be a more well-rounded person. Neubauten tends to have that effect on people.
posted by mark242 at 7:42 PM on July 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a former high school teacher, I always found the kids wearing Goth styles, dyeing their hair and listening to punk rock were more intelligent, better motivated, and had sweeter personalities. So I think you should be happy your daughter is the way she is.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:07 PM on July 29, 2008 [3 favorites]

The minute I saw your question I smiled, because you picked the perfect place to ask it.

Although I was a fairly goth kid myself I don't want to lay out a lot of personal details, but there is one thing you should know: she needs your love, but she also needs you to simply like her. You can love your child but still treat her like an irritating subordinate at work, with an approach full of impatience and punishment. It doesn't sound like that's what you are doing at all, but it's a problem that can develop if you spend enough time assuming she's up to no good.

As others have mentioned, she's wearing those clothes not just to express herself but to find her tribe, the people who share her values (which amongst goths are usually stringently ethical -- my friends tended to be rather like little old Victorian ladies with their "meat is murder" and "no sex please we're trying to be British" affects). She's achieving in mainstream culture but it's not speaking to her. She's trying to find her way, and dyeing her hair and wearing black is a quick signal to others like her that they have that search in common.

Please try not just to tolerate her attempts, but respect her for them, encourage her to share her beliefs and perspectives with you, and take visible pleasure from her company. Though you will still have normal conflicts she'll stay open to you, and she'll bloom.

Forbid her the dye, lay down the law, roll your eyes at her quirks, and she'll snap shut and stay that way for a very long time. You may just pointlessly lose a lot of years over so very little. I am sad to say I know whereof I speak.

Best to you both.
posted by melissa may at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2008 [5 favorites]

2nding mark242 - my dad and uncle got me into all the coolest music, so it wasn't like I could just shun adults' judgment. I'd say probably if I ever have kids I'm going to bring them up on Captain Beefheart just to guarantee they're cooler than anyone else in any room they happen to walk into.

I don't have much to add other than, I was yet another one of these kids, and my mom didn't care what I wore but she gave me a frickin' tiny allowance. No Hot Topic budget for me - I got all my clothes used right down to my bright green Docs and spiked collar, bought all my CDs at the Moby Disc down the street, cut my own hair, and made my own damn fun instead of shelling out the hundreds of dollars it cost to go to Warped Tour with all the skaters at my middle school. For many reasons, getting a job wasn't realistic for me in high school so I jsut had to work with what I had.

My parents really encouraged me - as I said, we were into a lot of the same music, and my mom still had some of her old punk clothes which she gladly pawned off on me. I have Levi's that were purchased in 1979 by my grandma, stripey sweaters my mom used to wear to shows...I felt like, unlike my friends, being into punk music and dressing crazy was my birthright and was proud to be from my family. Eventually, my dad got to meet X (right on, rtha!) because I'd gone to the trouble of befriending Billy Zoom. It was one of the most awesome nights of my life and I'm so glad my dad got to be there with me. You may not have the same personal history, but if you take the time to learn about the bands your daughter likes and see if you can turn up any interesting finds in your own record collection you may end up surprising her - and yourself!

I actually really toned down the dressing up after 9/11 because I looked at myself in the mirror and decided there were more important things in life than getting up every day and spending 15 minutes draping myself in jewelry. Also, I got extremely into Tolkien around that time and was trying to go for a more Galadriel look, so I was working on growing out the bangs. Teenagers, man.

I turned out pretty normal. I'm a software engineer, getting married, all that. And every once in a while I drop some knowledge about old school punk that blows everyone's minds.
posted by crinklebat at 10:57 PM on July 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

Another thing to add:

The punk/goth scene tends to be have much healthier ideas about women than, say, the preppy scene, and certainly the hip-hop scene. True, there are versions of the goth look that are pretty sexualized—but goths and punks generally don't expect women to meet some unrealistic physical ideal, and they generally are strong believers in gender equity (I don't like the word "feminist"), and these are generally conscious and deliberate attitudes.

This can only be good for your daughter. Being a teenage boy was tough. I get the impression that being a teenage girl is tougher.
posted by greenie2600 at 5:54 AM on July 30, 2008

Her appearance is nothing to be concerned about, and it's probably best if you just accept it, support it, or don't comment on it at all. When I was in high school I would sneak around with extra clothes and change at school or a friend's house because my mother was so judgemental that it was easier to hide whatever I did from her than to deal with her snide comments and disapproving looks. To this day (I'm nearly thirty) I still have difficulty telling her what I'm doing in my life (I find myself not telling her anything still, even though I live a fairly normal to boring life) and even when we go shopping together I'm not upfront about the things that appeal to me.
posted by Polychrome at 6:24 AM on July 30, 2008

Response by poster: Wow - what a great response! Thank you everyone for your insight. This has been so helpful.
posted by viva viola at 6:55 AM on July 30, 2008

One last thought, I forgot to include this before: I always felt different from other kids and felt like they were staring at me for whatever reason. Maybe because I was pale or short (like, a foot shorter than most of the other kids my age).

Dressing the way I did and dyeing my hair PUT ME IN CONTROL OF THE STARING. I made sure that if they stared, I'd know why. I found it incredibly empowering. In a world full of drugs for social anxiety, altering my appearance was my "medication."

You might open up a discussion with her that and see if she feels the same way; just be careful with the wording. I found a way to make my mother understand this and that's why she supported it vs. my father who only saw that wearing all black to family events was disrespectful and made me park my car three blocks away from my grandfather's funeral and WALK to meet the family because he was ashamed.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 12:10 PM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


haha seriously, my mom was always cool about everything from the blue hair to the jnco jeans.

i was also an honors student and thespian!

i eventually grew out of it, but i am SO GLAD i went through that stage.

my mom always would tell (rude) strangers...'if it's the worst thing she does...'

and it was. and it still is.

so props to you!
posted by thisisnotkatrina at 7:45 PM on July 30, 2008

Can't let it go yet-- reading this thread has been like living through my daughter's high school years again. miss nax hung out with the friends and listened to the music, but her VERY cool jazz-musician older brother really mitigated her attempts at the look because he would let her know in no uncertain terms which friends/looks were idiotic and which were cool. Don't know if that adds to the conversation, but reading all these great stories just really made me miss my kids. The creative, engaged, engaging, artistic ones always manage to stand out in some way, and I just want to give all of Metafilter's former, budding, and parents-of goths and punks a great big group hug.

There. Thanks. I'm better now.
posted by nax at 5:35 AM on August 1, 2008

When I was in high school and came home one day with a really terrible dye job (aqua and chartreuse patches), my mom asked me if I liked it. I told her, well, I liked not having brown hair anymore, but I wasn't thrilled with how my friend had done it. She promptly took me out to buy some better dye and we spent the afternoon bleaching my hair and dying it this really beautiful shade of purple. She and I spent that year trying out different techniques, different brands, different colors, deciding on our favorites. And then when it was time for senior pictures, she took me to a hip salon where they did a really nice professional job of blue and white stripes.

Looking back on it, I'm really impressed that I never felt like my mom thought I was stupid or immature or crazy for wanting to try things like that. She treated me like I was normal, like I was interesting, like I was smart, and like she respected my tastes and my decisions. We never had an argument about small things like hair or makeup or clothes or music or books. In fact, she did her best to ask questions about whatever the latest band I was listening to was all about, or how I was liking that novel about the rave scene.

Her interest in and respect for my interests meant that we ended up talking about a lot more than just hair, music, or books, too. She was by far the person I trusted most throughout high school. Of course, she still is.
posted by mosessis at 12:55 PM on August 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

On the other side of the coin, you might consider that either intentionally or unintentionally, your daughter is testing you as a happy side-effect of her change in appearance. She might be checking to see if you still love her (either by accepting her or not accepting her).

When I got my ear pierced (in the best circumstances: a dorm stairwell, needle, cork, Sea Breeze), I pretty much knew what my parents' responses would be (reluctant acceptance from my dad and eager acceptance from my mom - she gave me all her singletons). A guy I knew who got pierced at the same time got the highly unexpected response, "ONLY GAY MEN GET THEIR EARS PIERCED!!!" followed by her hanging up. Fortunately, he was emotionally rock solid enough to laugh, since her response was laughable.
posted by plinth at 12:06 PM on August 20, 2008

Definitely just a phase. In college, I did hippie -> goth -> nerd. Nowdays (15 years later) I do "fat armchair mercendary" on the weekends.

When I told my mother four years ago (at the age of 30) that I'd gotten an ear pierced, she looked at me with that disdainful expression and said "Oh, Bill."

I looked back at her and said "HOW old am I now? How many years have I been supporting myself? Didn't you mention not long ago that you got some cosmetic tattoo work done on your lips and eyebrows? Also, what about that butterfly tattoo that I know you've got..."

She finally had to laugh and agree that I was right.
posted by mrbill at 1:58 PM on August 20, 2008

- Blue hair is fun, until she's looking for a job or doing college admissions interviews.

Pre-work age is the best time to fuck around with clothes and hair and whatnot. Plenty of time to have to worry about looking like a good little drone later.
posted by rodgerd at 7:24 PM on August 20, 2008

late to the show; just saw this via a metatalk thread.

without having read any of the other answers, let me assure you that you might not have anything to worry about. goths & punks - despite their 'scary' appearance - are almost always the sweetest, kindest, loveliest people around. the rebellion is often a resistance to the kinds of things that many people would rail against - banal craving for material wealth, commodification & commercialisation of every last drib & drab of life, that kind of thing.

it's one way of expressing a yearning for something beyond the general shit that television, advertising, etc puts forth as things to aspire towards. you could make parallels with religious impulses if you wanted to get into the sociology of it all. it hearkens back in a way to the romantic poets opposing the industrialisation of society & the bland rationalism of the enlightenment.

and for what it's worth, i'd bet that a sample of goths would outscore a general sample of the population by - hm - about five to one on educational achievements. i've known *SO* many PhDs (etc) from that scene that I wouldn't be able to count them.

relating this back to your situation, i'm thinking of an ex who decided that a law degree was too bland & soul-destroying, won the university medal in arts & proceeded to a PhD in english lit. typically, intelligent people will rise to the top, whatever they do.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:55 AM on August 21, 2008

I don’t like the whole darkness/hardness of it all.

seriously, this. is. not. a. problem.

it might look all dark & hard, but like i said (or implied) before, you're really talking about people who are generally sweet, deep & sensitive romantics at heart. not even at heart; i mean in the very core of their being. they woudn't torture a kitten any sooner than they'd throw their first edition of Wuthering Heights into the fire.

for what it's worth: *years* in goth/punk scene til about 23, still in contact with people from those times & they remain excellent, the best people one could ever hope to meet.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:18 AM on August 21, 2008

Sorry I missed this when you posted it! Just saw it in MeTa.

My husband and I met at the Rocky Horror Picture Show, so we know a little something about this stuff. We qualify as ones that never actually grew out of it, although we both have good jobs, and we own a house, etc. We currently have two goddaughters who are deeply enamored of pink and princess stuff, but their parents are not despairing yet. They hope it's just a phase!

I'd like to suggest this book by this guy. He's a friend of a friend of ours, and a parent himself. He has appeared on news shows explaining that goth is not a violent or morally corrupt lifestyle.

And, FYI, there are a lot of parents and even respectible professionals who continue to identify with some sort of counter-culture. So don't despair, even if she doesn't grow out of it.
posted by Fenriss at 1:17 PM on August 21, 2008

hibery: It really is just a phase, think about when was the last time you saw a Goth/punk over 30?

desuetude: On preview, it's funny to hear from other older goth/punks -- I can usually spot "one of us" a mile away, even though we are growed up and have real jobs and relatively normal-colored hair and stuff.

Hear, hear. There's a lot of confirmation bias going on, but I find I can pick ex-goths with reasonable accuracy in the corporate world. There's always some kind of stylistic hangover, in the form of too many silver rings, a facial piercing or two, dyed hair (blue black or jet black, normally), something vaguely fetishey in the clothing or accessories (patent handbags or shoes, black gloves, a liking for boots, etc) and a preponderance of black, purple or red in the wardrobe.

In fact, it's slightly disappointing when somebody in the office who looks like a cross between Beatrice Dalle & Bettie Page turns out to not have a drop of gothic blood in her, but somehow arrived at that kind of fetishy look via some other route.

ps - desuetude: i have no idea what that means, if anything, but the name itself is a giveaway with around 95% probability
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:04 PM on August 21, 2008

ps - desuetude: i have no idea what that means, if anything, but the name itself is a giveaway with around 95% probability

check my profile and yeah, probably guilty

posted by desuetude at 6:32 AM on August 22, 2008

If you can't look ridiculous at fifteen, when can you?

I didn't fit in when I was her age and didn't really want to. If my school had allowed it (UK schools have uniform, mine was v.strict) I would have been dying my hair all the time. When I was seventeen I did it pillarbox red, and in retrospect it looked a bit odd with thickframe nerd glasses, but I wasn't feeling too happy so I was playing with new looks and identities. It's a good time to do it and if I had a daughter I'd rather she did that than tried to mould herself into someone else. And I really wish I'd done more dying and painting now that I have to be a grown-up.

I think it's great that you're concerned about her and want advice, rather than forbidding it. My dad wanted me to turn out according to his views; my mother wanted me to be whoever I wanted, as long as I didn't take drugs or get a tattoo. And I could share a lot more with my mum as a result. Talk to her, find out what she likes, and like posters have said above, if she wants blue hair you'd be doing it a favour by making sure she has it done properly.
posted by mippy at 2:37 PM on August 24, 2008

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