My son, Jayden, will be turning 14 on August 7th. He also starts high school the day after his birthday (the poor kid!). Aside from the obvious “My baby’s growing up!!!!” type of stuff that I deal with every year at this time, I’ve also been in a total panic about what clothes to buy him for school.
For those of you who may not be aware, Jayden has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism. Basically, he’s extremely intelligent but doesn’t pick up on social cues. For example, in a conversation, he can’t tell when the person he’s talking to is bored or uninterested. Since he gets obsessed with certain topics and likes to talk about them constantly, this is a huge problem!
School has long been a headache for us. I was one of those kids who was motivated by grades and positive feedback from teachers. Jayden, on the other hand, honestly doesn’t care if he passes or fails. He struggles with things like handwriting, organization, and processing verbal instructions, and at this point he’s just counting down the time until graduation. School is not a happy place for kids with Asperger’s, unless one of their obsessions happens to be their grades. (And of course I’m not that lucky.)
The older Jayden gets, the more obvious his social deficits become. Middle school was an absolute nightmare – as the kids in his class hit puberty, they started acting older than they really were (like all kids that age) and breaking off into little cliques. Jayden was left completely behind – first because he has zero interest in pop culture or the latest Justin Bieber song, and second because he’s a full year younger than the other kids in his grade.
The Problem with Clothes
Jayden is going to face a ton of challenges in the next few weeks. He’s moving to a bigger school with many more expectations, a lot more kids, and new teachers who may not understand his diagnosis. More than that, he’ll be in a whole new universe when it comes to the social aspects of being a teenager.
Because of that, I just spent about $300 on new clothes for him to wear to school, all of them brand names like Old Navy, Hollister, and Aeropostale. For the amount I spent, he got 4 pairs of jeans, a pair of sneakers, and 15 shirts. Not much for what I spent, in my opinion!
A friend of mine asked why I bought him such expensive clothes when (1) he doesn’t care what he wears as long as it’s comfortable and (2) he’s outgrowing clothes faster than I can buy them. And I will admit that I have typically bought cheaper stuff for him in the past, especially when he was younger and seemed to rip holes in everything he wore. This year, though, I feel an immense amount of pressure to help him fit in any way I can.
The fact is, my child is nerdy. He loves computer games and Star Wars and still plays with action figures sometimes (don’t tell him I told you that). He’s about a foot shorter than all the other kids at school, and he doesn’t play sports or listen to Top 40 music or have a girlfriend. When kids talk to him, they can tell that he’s really smart but just doesn’t “get” certain things. And some of them seem to take notes on all that stuff so they can tease him mercilessly.
So my thought process was this: If he has the same clothes as everyone else, that’s one less excuse for other kids to make fun of him. I can’t make him socially adept or change his interests, but I can control his outward appearance. And maybe that’s fake or superficial but it’s the only thing I know to do.
I am desperate for Jayden to have a chance to make friends in high school. I don’t want people to judge him as unworthy of friendship before they even get to know him. I don’t want his differences to be as noticeable on the outside as they are on the inside. And while I’m sure I’ll regret spending all that money in a few months when he’s grown 6 inches and needs more clothes, right now I feel much better about the odds of him finding a group where he fits in.
Maybe it makes me a horrible mother to try to influence how my child is perceived by others. Maybe it’s wrong to give in to the rampant consumerism that’s so common among teenagers. Maybe I’m turning Jayden into a brand snob who will start turning his nose up at t-shirts from Target. All I know at this point is that I’m doing it with the best of intentions.
What do you think? Is it wrong to buy kids name brand clothes? Does it teach them poor impulse control or other bad habits? Am I risking passing my former spending problems on to my son?