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Giving Brand Names the Boot

Giving Brand Names the Boot

I've just shelled out cash for holiday shoes, clogs, and snow boots, when Caitlin and Ellie hit me with "Can we get Ugg boots?" As soon as they see my expression, my 10-year-olds quickly add, "Everyone else has them!"

A flurry of thoughts storms my head: frustration that my daughters had been sucked into the name-brand vortex, worry about the social jockeying they're beginning to face, and dismay that fashion will now be an ongoing issue.

"They're way too expensive, and you have all the shoes you need," I reply, ever-practical. Then I point out a number of friends who are still Ugg-free, thinking this will clear the matter up.

We move on to cinnamon toast, long division, and who pinched who in chorus. But over the next couple of weeks, the Ugg boots resurface. Soon my arguments feel thin. So I do some research.

My biggest blunder was assuming I knew why Caitlin and Ellie wanted Uggs. After all, I knew the horror of showing up with ordinary sneakers instead of leather red-swooshed Nikes and Levi's with the wrong color tag.

"The real issue isn't the boots. It's why she wants them. Does she just like them? Will she be a trendsetter if she has them? Will she be left out if she won't?" says Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., co-author of PACKAGING GIRLHOOD and co-creator of Hardy Girls Healthy Women (www.hghw.org). "The real conversation starts with her answer, so listen carefully."

I hadn't even asked.

I met with Caitlin and Ellie separately to ask why they wanted the Uggs. I was surprised to hear that it wasn't all about status. "Everyone else" was part of the conversation. But so was the lure of that cozy fleece. And they couldn't have cared less if they wore knock-offs instead. We dove deeper, talking about fitting in, how trends begin, the power of marketing, making choices about spending money, and that there's more to being a girl than wearing the right thing.

In the end, I told them that if they still wanted them, they'd have to pay for the boots -- real or imitation -- themselves. It didn't break their hearts. It didn't ruffle them at all.

Best of all, when the next bristly issue surfaces, I'll be ready to set aside my reaction, and listen.

More tips to help you and your daughters cope with brand crazes:

  • Before you try to understand why your daughter must have an iPhone or Justice jeans, think about why it's a problem for you, says Brown.

  • Teach your daughter to look behind advertising and media messages, says Carrie Morris, regional program director of Girls, Inc. New Hampshire (www.girlsinc.org). Pick an ad in a preteen or teen magazine, and ask questions. What are they trying to sell? Why would you want it? How is the advertising trying to make you think about their product?

  • Start young. Teach brand awareness when your child is in elementary school. Have "I wonder why those...are so popular?" conversations.

  • Know where to get more information. Hardy Girls Healthy Women (www hghw.org) has an extensive list of helpful resources.
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