My son wants to pierce his ears and bleach his hair. I'd rather he would not. But I don't know whether this is a battle worth fighting. What do you think?

Each generation has unique ways to identify it from the generations around it. I, for instance, was a 60's kid. We were, without debate, the ugliest group of teenagers ever to grace the halls of a high school. Between long, scraggly hair, bell bottom hip huggers, tie-dye clothing, and the assortment of mismatched outfits that made up our wardrobe, we looked pathetic. Our style has seemed to be revisited lately. The best advice I can give you regarding your son is the same advice given to my parents: "Don't panic!" More importantly, don't react.

Styles come and go. Many of them are fads that evaporate shortly after they catch on. They are, for the most part, harmless. If your son wants to change his hair, he is merely asking to do what girls have been doing for decades and what men have done over the centuries (remember George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?). On the grand scale of things, the color of his hair is irrelevant. It has no bearing on what kind of a person he is, or what kind of a person he'll become.

So why do we even hesitate to grant him his wish? One reason is because our children often want to take on an exterior look that sometimes mirrors people within their culture who don't share their value system (like rock or movie stars). We're afraid that their external appearance might identify them with these people so much so that people might assume they share the same value system. This assumption, though sounding like it makes sense, is not true in real life. People who go to the trouble of getting to know us, ultimately determine their view of us from how we act rather than how we look. People who can't seem to get past superficial looks to draw an accurate appraisal of us are usually wrapped up in a lot of prejudices or insecurities of their own. I've learned along the way that these people tend to be impossible to please, so it's best to put no stock in their opinion. Another reason we hesitate to grant him his request is because we're afraid that his external appearance might be reflecting struggles going on inside of him. Although his request might reflect an internal battle with his value system, refusing his request won't do anything about his internal struggles. Your refusal will probably just make him mad and complicate his internal problems even more.

So, what should we do?

If your child is 11 or under, I'd encourage you to make the call based on their best interest and not allow debate on the matter. If your child is older and you want them to be a part of making decisions, I'd encourage you to consider the following steps:

  1. Assess their request from a moral/biblical/practical standard. Ask yourself, "Is their request against any biblical principle?" For instance, your daughter wants to wear her hair in a crew cut and dress like a man...You would find the Bible frowning on such a request. What about the issue of morality? What if your daughter wants to dress like Madonna or one of the Spice Girls? The Bible has a great deal to say about modesty, which would veto her request. Then there is the practical assessment: Your son wants to wear his hair long but he's in the ROTC. It's just not practical. He wants to pierce his ears, but he's an athlete. It may not be practical because he might risk injury to his ear during a contact sport. If they are clearly defying moral/biblical/practical laws but still want to go ahead with their request, then they are showing that logic and maturity are being ignored. It would say, to me, that they're not ready to make their own choice. I would go no further in the discussion and deny their request and refuse any more dialogue on it. Depending upon the kind of heart-to-heart relationship you enjoy with your child, this should be the end of it until they're grown up a little more.
  2. If there are no moral/biblical/practical issues at risk, then discuss with him/her what their change in looks would say to other people. Is he/she ready for the consequences, either good or bad, that their change in looks would create? For instance, your son's bleached hair may cause his teacher to prejudge him in a negative light. That might reflect how they grade him on the subjective assignments. Is he ready to either prove them wrong by good behavior or accept their grades without complaining if the can't otherwise convince them of his good character?
  3. Which brings up the main issue. The Bible says that man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart. We need, to the best of our abilities, to look on our child's heart. If we are convinced that they are walking with God and sensitive to His leading in their life, then I wouldn't worry about granting their requests. If they are wanting to do something that ultimately undermines their testimony, God will convict them of it soon enough. Let the Holy Spirit change their outside from the inside.
  4. If their looks will bring embarrassment to you, explain to them how that will happen. Assure them that you're more concerned about their joy than your own self-consciousness. Let them know you'd rather them choose to look differently, but regardless of their decision you'll love them and accept them no matter what.
  5. Let them make the call after you've given input. If you don't like the way their experiment turns out (the zipper in their nose is crooked, etc.), don't bother them about it. Just keep on loving the kid on the inside. Pray for the work that God is doing. Time, the Holy Spirit, and the public opinion usually lets them know if they've chosen wisely. In the meantime, keep on loving them.