ActivitiesAges 13-17 (Teen)Extended FamilyMedia & Technology

Why My Kid Had Purple Hair

Recently one of my friends polled all the other parents she knew: how terrible a parent would she be, she wondered, if she let her six year old get the mullet she was longing for?

I won’t keep you in suspense: It was about a 70/30 split, with most parents saying are you crazy, and only a few saying, you’d be an excellent parent, let her have the hair she wants.

My daughter was seven, I think, when she wanted purple hair.   I found a shop that would do it, and for the next few years, she had purple hair.  It horrified some people; others thought it was cool.  Kids in the Wal-Mart were especially entranced.  “Hey!  Hey!” they would shout.  “That boy has purple hair!”

My kid also tended to dress in jeans, dinosaur shirts, and high-tops, instead of the lacy dresses common to girls here in Arkansas.  Hence the gender confusion.

My husband, Dr. Skull as we call him, was not (at first) entirely on board with the purple hair.  He was not (at first) entirely on board with the dinosaur shirts, either.  We had a semi-serious fight over that one on the eve of the kid’s school pictures, when she wanted to wear her beloved dinosaur shirt, and he wanted her to wear a pretty dress.

Since the kid had been choosing her own clothing at that point for a couple of years, this fight astounded her.  “But it’s my favorite shirt,” she said.  “I want to wear my favorite shirt in the picture.”

“I want you to look nice in the picture,” Dr. Skull said.

“But it’s my picture.” She appealed to me.  “And it’s my body.”  (Yes, even at six!  I raised her right.)

“She’s got a point,” I said.

“Oh, come on.”  Dr. Skull was exasperated.  “One picture.  It won’t kill her!”

“No, it’s important.  You’re telling her she has to look a certain way to make you happy.  That’s just not right.  You know it isn’t.  It’s her body, it’s her decision.”

This, essentially, has always been our rule.  She can cut her hair to please herself.  She can wear the clothes she wants to wear. It’s her decision.  When she was nine and wanted to go to school in midwinter without a coat, I did reason with her – but the ultimate decision was hers; as were the consequences.

This also tended to exasperate Dr. Skull, by the way.  “You can’t let her go to school without a coat!  It’s winter!”

“Yep,” I said.  “And she’ll get cold.  And then what?”

He said a bad word at me.

“Then she’ll learn not to go to school without a coat,” I told him.  We were parked in the school parking lot watching her march toward the door in her sweatshirt.  (Arkansas winters are mild, so don’t feel too anxious.)  It was a grey and windy day, and she was at her most frail period – that stage they go through when they are all long legs and no body fat.  Very Oliver Twist.

Dr. Skull growled at me.  “We should go home and get her coat.”

“She can’t learn from experience if you don’t let her have experience,” I said, which was something I had been saying to him since she was two and started climbing things.  (“She’ll fall!”  “Yep.  And then maybe she’ll learn to be more careful?  Or a better climber?”)

Now she is fifteen and making decisions about whether to wear make-up or shave her legs or get a tattoo. These are her decisions, because it’s her body.  This is not to say that I don’t provide advice.  In fact, my kid and I have evolved a code word for when she wants me to stop advising now please: she can say moo whenever she wants, and I have to stop talking.  Kind of a safe word to get Mom to shut her yap.

I do understand the urge to control our kids’ lives.  Believe me.  If we keep them from climbing, they will never fall.  If we choose their clothing, they will always dress right.  If we forbid tattoos, they won’t end up with a giant Anarchy symbol on their cheekbone and be forever unemployable.

But the thing is, they’re not going to be seven years old forever.  Or fifteen years old either.

Soon they’ll be making decisions about things much more serious than dinosaur shirts and purple hair.  They had better know how to make those decisions. And the day they make those decisions had better not be the day they start getting experience.

(Photo by Mark Burgh)



Raised in New Orleans, Kelly Jennings is a member and co-founder of the Boston Mountain Writers Group. She has published short fiction in Strange Horizons and The Future Fire, as well as in the recent feminist SF anthology The Other Half of The Sky. Her first novel, Broken Slate, was published by Crossed Genres. She blogs at delagar.

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  1. When my son was 2, we had a large old TV that was barely functioning well enough to play Sesame Street DVDs, resting up on a low end table. The first time he knocked it off onto himself, I said “well that will teach him”. The second time he knocked it onto himself, I thought “2 points form a line, he has to know what is going on now”. The third time he knocked it onto himself, it took up permanent residence on the floor. 😀

  2. That made me LOL, Nerd!

    Dr. Skull called that operation, btw, “putting things at zero gravity,” and we did tend to practice that as well. No sense being dogmatic about these matters, after all!

  3. I’ve totally had the coat and cold conversation! I’m firmly with you on that one. Let the kid get cold. It’s not like I’m going to just stand there and let the child get frostbite.

  4. And a kid in Wisconsin is, thus, incredibly unlikely to make that choice. In AR, however, natural consequences rule on this one (says the AR mom whose kid refuses to wear shoes outside of school).

  5. Joe, it’s her body. That is the overriding principle.

    That said, since I haven’t raised her in an adversarial relationship, she doesn’t see me as the enemy. We’ve actually talked about the tattoo issue. I told her about that tattoo I would have gotten at fifteen, if tattoos had been cool then, and how appalled I would be about having that tattoo now. (The anarchy symbol is a story from *my* life, not hers.)

    So on a scale of 1 to 10, that’s not really an issue I’m worrying about.

    This is the thing, though, with the control issue — with the notion that unless you strictly control your child’s life, they’ll end up pregnant and tattoo’d and a junkie, running off with some pedophile they met on the internet. It’s not like leaving decisions in your child’s court means you disappear, you know. You’re still the parent. You can still parent.

    By this I mean, yes, my kid selected her own clothing from the time she was three or four. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t there. It didn’t mean I couldn’t say, when she came from her bedroom wearing a teeshirt and shorts on a snowy day, “Um, sweetie? Look outside. Maybe winter clothes would be a better choice?”

    Or, as I say in the article above, you can give them advice. And if you haven’t made them your enemy, they will (often) take it.


  6. Well, it’s their body, but I have a duty to get that body into adulthood in a decent condition.
    That’s why they don’t get to make choices about vaccination or medication.
    Or tatoos.
    I will let them make the decision when I’m reasonable sure that the consequences are something they can bear. So they are allowed to climb things where falling down might break their arm, but not where falling down might break their neck.
    And yes, I let them get cold, too.
    Since that day they actually listen when I tell them to put on tights.
    Choosing their clothes is a right that comes with getting dressed by themselves. The standing rule is that if I have to dress them I’ll pick those items they hate. If the weather allows I will also take them to school/kindergarten in their pyjamas. I didn’t have to do that one in a long time. Other parents think I’m cruel because of that. And that I can’t let the kid got to school in a weird combination of sweatpants, a summerdress and a hoodie on top. Well, it’s what she wanted to wear, right? It’s not like she’s going to freeze in that, right? So, what the fuck do I care?
    But I admit that I insist in having a say when it comes to school pictures. Because I pay for them.

  7. Has anyone considered Nature instead of Culture? The human body dictates when it is ready to leave the parent. I firmly believe that our culture has pushed back the normal (natural) time clock of maturity. The hormone level at 12-15 helps the brain learn how to be independent. Break the bonds with the parent. But our culture says the “child” is still a child till 18-21. Looking at history and cultures that follow the natural condition we can see that humans at age 13 are, Yes, having children and, yes, holding adult jobs. We also see that the culture of that time was to prepare those “children” to be ready to do that at age 13-15.
    Why are teenagers so rebellious? Because the natural hormone & brain works are making them break. Look at the Animal world to see how it happens naturally.
    No I am not suggesting that we revert back to complete Natural rearing of our children. But once you know how nature works you can then prepare your child and yourself for the in evitable.

    1. To suppose that other cultures “follow the natural condition” is rather racist.
      It’s also a fact that teenager brains are neither child-brains nor adult brains. They are simply not yet equipped to deal with the responsibilities of adulthood in a mature way.

  8. I admit I make my kids take coats to school, but I try not to fly off the handle when those same coats come home in their backpacks. And we’re pretty free and easy with haircuts and clothing choices. My kids would have to make do with home-dyed hair, though, same way they make do with home-cut mohawks. I’m way too cheap/poor to pay for that stuff.

    And realistically, I’d never forbid a face tattoo but we’d definitely have a long negotiation period. And I’m also way too cheap/poor to pay for it, so if any of my kids get serious about tattoos or piercing’s they’d better start saving their money. 🙂

  9. I have a tattoo rule, because of the permanence of it. The rule is this: Get a drawing of what you think you want, write at the bottom where you want it and the date. Post it on your bedroom wall, where you see it daily. If, after one year, you still want that tattoo in that place, you have my blessing. If you can’t commit for a year, you can’t commit for life.

  10. Where I’m from, for tattoos you need parental permission prior to 18. I told my kids that they could get a tattoo as soon as they were legally able to do it on their own. By the time they turned 18, they had all decided they didn’t want the tattoo/eyebrow piercing anymore.

  11. I let my son color his hair weird colors all summer long before starting high school; purple, green, blonde. I did the dyeing. I know he’s a good kid, who cares what color his hair was. He friends thought I was the coolest mom ever and so did he.

  12. I’ve had some variation on blue, pink, or purple hair for most of the last ten years, and two tattoos, so my kids are aware that those kinds of body modifications are ok in our house. (I’m highly allergic to nickel and prone to eczema, so I don’t have any piercings.) My oldest is only 6.5 so I won’t do any hair coloring that uses peroxide (kids’ scalps are too sensitive), but he’s had purple streaks in his hair from time to time ever since he was about 4. He’s never asked for his whole head to be dyed…if he did I’d probably wait until summer to avoid any school dress code problems.

    It’s illegal in NY to tattoo a minor even with parental permission, so no tats until they’re 18, period.

  13. I’ve pretty much let my kids do what they want hair-wise, with the exception of allowing my then-four-year-old daughter shave her head (and I kind of regret that).

    Tattoos I am torn on.. If they are easy to cover up, that’s one thing, but facial or hand tattoos.. Not so sure. I like the idea of making them think on the idea for a significant period of time.

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