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.
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.
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.
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:
Written by Huda Jawad and originally appeared in the Islamic Insights newsletter.