Children’s fashion is a billion dollar market with movie stars and other media figures endorsing the latest and hippest trends. Not only is there more emphasis on name brands when it comes to children’s clothing, but the standard of acceptable clothing and behavior has been lowered immensely. It is disheartening to see that despite Islam being the greatest proponent of modesty, many Muslim parents consciously or unconsciously fail to teach our children that modesty is an important part of a person’s character.
Establishing What Modesty Is
It is important to note that modesty is not measured solely based on how long a person’s shirt is or how loose their clothing is. In the simplest and most sensible terms, a person’s conduct, speech, entertainment, and clothing are all components of modesty. A great number of parents are caught in a battle of wills with their children solely based on clothing or outer appearance. However, modesty is directly related to an individual’s sense of worth. Instilling in children the notion that they are above watching certain programs, listening to music, wearing tight and revealing clothing, and using profanity is the real essence of teaching them modesty and self-respect.
Embracing Modesty in Early Childhood
There is no religious, moral, or human justification for dressing a young child in shape-hugging and skin-revealing clothes. Our children teach us what we have not taught them. How can we teach our children that it is acceptable to wear shorts and sleeveless clothes up till a certain age, and then expect them to accept the standard of Hijab when they come of age? While toddlers have different standards, a general rule of thumb to keep in mind: if the child shouldn’t wear it as a teenager, (s)he shouldn’t wear it as a second or third grader either.
Developmentally speaking, children learn most habits by the time they enter elementary school. These years are also incredibly critical for children, since they begin to establish self-confidence. A child who is dressed immodestly and fixated on wearing names brands from a Disney channel show will have trouble finding self-worth intrinsically.
When we think of the word modesty, other words come to mind, such as decency, reservation in speech, behavior, and dress, and humility. These are all essential attributes that children should be taught at an early age, so they grow up to become well-adjusted adults and Muslims.
The Negative Effects of Immodesty
There is a not-so-subtle campaign aimed at having young girls dress in short, revealing clothing. In fact, a trip to a department store will quickly remind us that modesty is not the number one priority when designing children’s clothes. However, modesty is an essential foundation when it comes to raising children into believing Muslims. For the girls, adjusting into the expectations of Hijab is a much smoother transition if they have dressed modestly since childhood. We have witnessed the struggles many girls have when they go from wearing t-shirts and shorts to long sleeves and pants, and this can be easily avoided by encouraging modest clothing from a very young age.
Young boys need to also be taught and see through modeling the importance of modesty. Plenty of people have become fixated on the fact girls have Hijab and boys don’t. This, however, is not true. Hijab is obligatory on both genders in Islam; however, it takes different forms for them. Society doesn’t measure the worth of a man by his waistline or beauty like it does for a woman. It is important to instill in young children of both genders that our worth as human beings extenders further than our looks.
With young boys, it is important to teach them at a young age that their bodies also need to be properly, and that it is not respectful to wear skin-tight clothing or to take off their shirts off in front of others or in public places. Many young children go through a phase during preschool and kindergarten where they like to experiment with taking clothing off. It is important that adults are understanding but firm towards this phase.
Helpful Tips for Teaching Modesty
Parents, family members, and other adults in a child’s life can make a huge impact on how a child views modesty. Some helpful advice for introducing and maintaining modesty in a family are:
- Set standards and stick to them. Children thrive on consistency and routine. If one day you don’t allow your child to wear shorts because they are too short, and the next day you do, your child is going to think, “Mom and dad don’t care, why should I?”
- Think Length: how short is too short? Many parents neglect to have their daughters wear leggings or tights under dresses or skirts that are too short. Establish with your daughters what length is too short and why tights or leggings are needed.
- Swimwear: a good number of families will take their children to the beach or have a swimming pool at home. Even around family members, two-piece bathing suits are not appropriate for young girls, and boys should have age-appropriate swimwear as well.
- Read the writing: these days there are shirts that say “smoking hot” or “too hot for you” marketed towards young girls. Similar products exist for young boys and teens that promote un-Islamic terms, profanity, or other behaviors that are inappropriate.
- Lay a foundation of self respect and preservation. Modesty is a thematic approach to life, and if a person is modest in speech, gestures, and conduct, the clothing will reflect this.
- Modest clothing can be hip, chic, and popular! With a little extra effort, nice modest clothing can be found or put together. There are many outlets specifically out there just to sell you modest clothing. Don’t let some of the latest trends to discourage your family from adopting modesty for your children.
- Consider a simple question: do you want your children and family to embrace what society values or to embrace what Allah values?
Written by Huda Jawad and originally appeared in the Islamic Insights newsletter.