When kids reach puberty they're known to break down in front of the mirror and spend days roaming through stores in search of the right look. There's usually little parents can do other than shake their heads when appearance suddenly becomes the number one obsession of their teenagers.
Experts say this is as much a part of growing up for a child as their first kiss, and parents should keep their distance and let things run their natural course.
"Questions such as 'Am I pretty?' are part of a young person's discovery of their identity," said Andreas Engel, a psychologist in Hof, Germany.
In addition, young people constantly receive messages from the media that their appearance is important. "This is a societal message that some young people take dead seriously," Engel said.
It's often the case that young people are looking for a style of dress that gives them the feeling they belong to a particular group. On the other hand, young teenagers want to try out different things, said Rainer Schuetz of Germany's parents' hotline.
Children entering puberty also find it important to understand what effect they have on society and on members of the opposite sex, Engel said. For girls this means dressing in sexy clothes and wearing makeup. If a parent thinks her 14-year-old daughter's top is a little low, Schuetz advises simply making note of it.
"Commenting critically on the way they are dressing brings no good results," said Schuetz. A better approach is to ask the teenager what she thinks about the style in order not to hurt the child's feelings.
When only expensive brand-name clothes are on a teen's wish list, it's a good idea for parents to be aware of the standard so that their child isn't made to feel like an outsider. Parents can recommend their child earn some money if the clothing costs too much for the family's budget.
Problems usually start when a child wants to select his or her own wardrobe. Young people have to come to terms with the changes their bodies are going through changes that they often don't consider positive. When parents notice their child is putting on weight or breaking out in pimples, they shouldn't just push these developments aside.
"Appearance is an important source for developing self esteem," said psychologist Christiane Papastefanou. Youths who can't achieve their ideal look should have their self-esteem bolstered as early as possible.
For girls in particular, body weight is a sensitive subject. Experts agree that if parents notice any eating irregularity, they should consult a doctor or psychologist.
"Girls compare themselves constantly with other girls," said Papastefanou. If parents notice that their daughter has developed an obsession over the thinness of their friends, they should talk with the other parents.
Parents have a responsibility to talk with their children when it comes to having respect for their bodies, said Engel.