Kids often want a unique color or haircut that may turn heads. Is it OK for them to express themselves this way?
- Parker Barry
Rockin’ a new hairstyle can be fun for anyone. But if a kid wants a unique ‘do, they may get tangled up in tensions with parents, school rules or the social norms in their community.
There’s a lot of ways to wear hair, from an array of colors to an asymmetric cut to a shaved design to dreadlocks and more. But are all of them OK for kids?
When Shane, age 10, asked his mom if he could dye his hair back when he was 8, he didn’t get the reaction he wanted.
“She said no,” said the sixth-grader from New York.
By Shane’s 9th birthday, his mom changed her mind.
“Originally, I dyed it with highlights in blond,” Shane said, “then green, then blue and now it’s blond again.”
Shane’s mom said she changed her mind when he settled on a streak of highlights, and when she realized that her son was trying to express himself through his hair.
“If you tell somebody ‘You can’t express yourself,’ they’re suppressed,” she said. “That’s like telling someone ‘Don’t talk about your art.’”
Even preschoolers have opinions about their appearance
Many parents have a fond attachment to their young kid’s hair. Brushing, braiding and fixing your kid’s hair can be meaningful, consistent bonding time. How many of us have a photo or a lock of hair from a little one’s first haircut?
But don’t be surprised if your kid wants to take charge of their hairstyle decisions far sooner than the teen years. Child development experts say most kids preschool-age and older have an opinion about how they look, including how they want their hair to be styled. Some kids have very strong hair opinions.
“In the old days, boys were not allowed to dye their hair at all,” said Shane. “I felt I could express myself through hair dye.”
Here’s what more kids say about their hair:
- Elly, age 6: “My hair is cool, awesome, REALLY cool … and pretty.”
- Avery, age 6: “It feels good…I’m going to keep it like this forever.” Avery’s dad said he shaves the lines in the side of his head to replicate Javier Baez from the Cubs, and the “W” represents the team’s World Series win.
- Jahaad, age 7: “They look nice, and my uncle has them, too,” he said about his dreadlocks.
- Wyatt, age 5: “People were calling me girl, I got hot from the sun and it bothered me from the wind.” Wyatt said he likes his shorter hair “‘cause it’s lighter.”
Wyatt’s parents had to grapple with letting go of his never-before-cut, gorgeous locks.
“He was very persistent,” said his mom. “When we decided okay, let’s go, he walked in and said, ‘This is what I want,’ and he smiled the whole time.”
Wyatt’s dad is still not completely at peace with their son’s decision.
“(Wyatt’s dad) doesn’t understand why it has to be the norm that boys have short hair,” Wyatt’s mom said. “It seems to be OK for men to have longer hair, but if a boy has longer hair it’s like a huge deal.”
Regardless of how a kid wants to change their hair, there may be some concerns beyond parent approval. Does their school have rules banning certain styles? How do you safely dye kids’ hair? How much upkeep will it require?
Whether a kid makes their own hair decisions often ultimately depends on the preferred parenting style in the family and the individual parent-child relationship, according to Dr. Sarah Bauer, assistant professor of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Dr. Bauer suggests that parents ask themselves three questions when hair issues arise:
- Enough time? “Be sure you’re spending enough time with your child.” Then you’ll know what’s contributing to your kid’s desire for a hair change. Is it a passing whim, or a real desire that sticks? Also, give the hairstyle request itself enough time. Take time to listen, ask questions, and consider all factors before saying yes or no.
- Are you afraid? “Parents should consider their own fears about what their child’s hairstyle represents.” Parents may worry that their child will be unfairly judged by adults or kids based on the hairstyle.
- What does it mean for your kid? “What’s manifesting in a haircut might be different for each child.” Dig into the reasons behind your kid’s interest.
Kids have many reasons for their hair preferences
Some kids, like Shane, are searching for ways to express their identity, and hair is one way to do that. Others have big-time sensory discomfort during haircuts, which is one reason Jahaad is growing dreadlocks. A kid may want to emulate the style they see on a favorite YouTuber, pop star, or, like Avery, a star athlete. Many kids just want to have some creative fun with hair.
For outsiders looking in on a kid with a unique ‘do, Bauer said keep an open mind, and don’t make assumptions about the kid, or about the parent.
“I think culturally there’s been a shift … but there’s still judgment there,” she said.
For Shane’s mom, shifting from a no to a yes has been positive for him and for her, as she’s watched his confidence blossom.
“When you’re a kid, you don’t get a vote on many things,” she said. “So the things they can have a say about, it’s nice to give them that opportunity for expression.”
Should kids be able to choose whatever hairstyle they want, no matter how unconventional it may be? Who says what happens on a kid’s head, the kid, their parents, their school?