My Daughter Drank the Kool-Aid: Media Moments in Adolescence

Media’s power has an odd way of sneaking up on you at unexpected moments…Remember this one I wrote about preteen body/beauty influence?

Well, this weekend, she eagerly tapped into wikipedia and YouTube to get the scoop on how to dye the ends of her long blonde hair with Kool-Aid unsweetened bright red cherry mix in an attempt to ‘look like a rocker,’ using her own sitting money to walk to the nearest um, Target.

Evidently, this is a ‘middle school thang’ along with a media-mode portrayal of artsy self-expression, as various friends have either had it ‘professionally done’ ($50? I think not!) or given it a go themselves.

All the ‘how-to’ step by steps are a quick click away, from forums like yahoo answers to countless search engines, which amps up the viral ‘word of mouth’ at rapidfire speed. A few quick clicks and they’ve ‘got it’ fast, so I guess I should be grateful she isn’t sourcing the H-bomb. (This brings up the whole ‘instant access to everything’ issue that I’ll save for another story about necessary safety filters between kids’ ears)

Mind you, I’ve ‘seen it all’ in my capacity here at Shaping Youth, so it’s going to take a lot more than a cherry red streak of identity-testing to get my incredulous-meter on the Richter. We’ve always set ‘house rules’…and here, it’s fairly simple…

Permanent body alteration is ‘off the table’ until adulthood.

That goes for acrylic nails, real tattoos, body piercings, chemical hair dyes and bleaches, anything with a lasting effect or medical reverb…She can howl with ‘But it’s MY body!’ pushback, but it’s still not gonna fly.

Even pierced ears need to be negotiated prior w/responsibility for hygiene earned and proven over time. (btw, don’t get your diapers in a bundle, the baby at left is PhotoShop wizardry from istockphoto file by stijn peeters/hades-1)

Temporary alterations like pluckings, shavings, waxings, henna tattoos, or glittery Winnie the Pooh and butterflies in preschool for that matter all came with a large dose of ‘why’ factor on the media literacy/body image and peer pressure front for self-awareness from the get go.

Underage kids want a ‘real tattoo?’ How about the same temp one worn for a year in the exact same place to see if they tire of it, along with the pragmatics of finding ways to cover it up for prom gowns, fancy socials, or any other “gee-it’s-not-so-cute-when-it-doesn’t-match-the-boardshorts” moments?

My daughter already joined her sleepover gal pal in getting grounded for giving a dark-haired Greek 12-year old who pleaded to have her ‘unibrow’ plucked a ‘midnight makeover,’ much to my chagrin.

I had lots of ‘splaining’ to do as the beloved Ricky Ricardo would say to Lucy, when the child was returned the next day. (they did a beautiful job actually, but it wasn’t their ‘place’ to follow through on the girl’s plea; that’s a body image conversation for her own family, ya know?)

Anyway, back to the Kool-Aid…Seems the first try washed right out in the lagoon, and she was bummed. The second time, she sourced the Wiki-How and took the step by steps complete with conditioner and heat set of the blow dryer. Her motivation? To ‘freak out’ her godbrother, Miles, when she arrived at sailing camp today.

Chalk that one up to ‘The Attention Factor,’ Alice.

I’m not quite sure what to make of all that, but it appears to be very important to her right this minute, and really doesn’t seem like a huge priority to fuss over when I come to find out it rinses out over time and doesn’t damage the shaft…We’ll see if it gleans the ‘reaction’ she’s going for, whatever that may be.

Meanwhile, yours truly made the mistake of picking up my (black, but unbeknownst to me, neon-red Kool-Aid laden) hairbrush, to transfer a leftover pink tint into my freshly showered blonde locks.

As I grumbled a few unrepeatable choice words to myself before finding she’d fouled up my flat iron to boot, I realized it was high time for yet another ‘responsibility’ talk about ‘owning’ your actions and the respect for other people’s items, and the media conduit as an ‘enabler’…

As our newest Shaping Youth Gen Y-Correspondent, Vanessa VanPetten will attest, “You’re grounded” is the battle cry for many a parent of teens…(full feature on Vanessa and her work to help parents and teens develop better relationships soon)

As with most knee-jerk whims, if kids act before they think, in myopic self-focus of ‘if it feels good do it,’ the reverb is something they’ll be stuck with for awhile.

My daughter was quick to jolt me out of seeing red with some media perspective, “C’mon, mom, sheesh, it’s not like I’m one of the Gloucester 17!” (great analysis on Packaging Girlhood here called From Lady Humps to Baby Bumps)

Ahem. Thankfully she hasn’t bought into drinking THAT Kool-Aid…I’ll take pink streaks in my hair any ol’ time…

It’s gonna be a loooooooong summer.



  1. At a trip with the school to the pool yesterday, I saw a girl, she couldn’t have been more than 10, with a nose ring. I guess it could have been a stick on but since we were swimming, I’m going to guess not.

  2. I’m a big believer in the “nothing permanent” forms of self expression. It gives a tween/teen room to experiment, but prevents permanent damage/regret. I was a big fan of sun-in (bad) as a tween and henna hair dye as a teen. I may have looked a little freaky with my cherry red hair and all black outfits, but my parents completely went with the flow.
    My husband has real issues with any form of body alteration (he notes the 3 extra empty holes in my ears), but I think I’ll be able to persuade him that non-permanent is okay. I feel like growing up he and his sisters were not allowed any forms of self-expression when it came to their appearance.

  3. Asrai: The mom in me says ‘gross’ thinking about cold and flu season taking care of that schnozz…The media maven says, ‘I’ll bet the parent’s pierced,’ as I’ve found there’s a proclivity of ‘role modeling’ and ‘mini-me’ aspects with mirroring.

    In fact, at one Radio Disney concert in L.A. I was reviewing I noticed a new gen of young moms squealing like tweens at the ‘Jessie McCartney’ crew, many pierced/tattooed and cleavage-bearing w/fan shirts that obviously had ‘work’ done to boot. So, um…yeah.

    That said, I know a midlife artist parent with a shock of neon pink hair and piercings galore that has a daughter who is ‘au naturale’ completely…with narry an inclination.

    When my own daughter voiced that she’d ‘kill me if I did that to my hair’ (as if youth has the right to this hot pink self-expression but parents do not) I replied,

    “Honey, she’s an artist and a parent, and feels her body is a canvas for self-expression; that’s her right as an adult. You can have that right as an adult too…but for now it’s ‘nothing permanent, nothing damaging’ period.

    …And I think you might want to look at your ‘ageist’ hypocrisy, for someone whose favorite phrase these days is “it’s not fair.”


  4. Laura: Gosh, I remember Sun-In! Trashed my brother’s brownish hair when we lived in Hawaii…I was always blonde, but did the ‘lemon juice’ bit striving for ‘highlights’ so it’s always ‘something’…eh?

    I’ve never been wild about piercings/body alteration personally, as I just didn’t want the hassle having watched my friends with long hair ‘deal’ with torn ears and/or infections etc. esp. after a tumble in the surf/sand/swim team environs of my teen years…

    I may be one of the few left on the peer planet at my age that does NOT have pierced ears…But that was a self-imposed choice, never a ‘mandate’ which I think comes into play quite a bit, because the minute ‘repression’ comes into play in overkill form, forbidden fruit is liable to kick in.

    (e.g. My niece was one of those A+ ‘correct child’ types in school days who was reined in by her school-counselor mom only to blast out at 18 with a diff. color, piercing and tattoo every week to the point that I never even recognized her from photo to photo—)

    Anyway, as always…moderation…common sense…yadayada.

    btw, question…If your ears still have holes in them, does that mean they don’t “close up”?

    My daughter keeps wanting to put piercings in the ‘temp’ category because they supposedly ‘heal over’ if you don’t wear earrings…but I’ve heard both ways from folks on that, depending on age, length of time pierced, etc.—My favorite line leftover from MY childhood dealing with peer pressure of kids asking “why not” when I’d tell them I chose au naturale?

    “I don’t need another hole in my head.” πŸ˜‰

  5. OMG, Amy, this was a great post. Bless you & your patience for the reddened hair brush & subsequent pink-pass-off! Totally reminds me of a should-have-existed episode from “As Told By Ginger” cartoon on Nickelodeon (which was WAY underestimated for its awesome message & learning for tween girls – the mother & daughter relationship was amazing).

    Hope all is well! I am still crafting that post. Sadly, I’m so under the gun right now, it’s not going as quickly as I would like. Nevertheless, it shall be done πŸ˜‰

  6. yeah, my life gets cartoonish at times indeed…

    No rush on the moderator post, just when you can…You ARE coming to the Ypulse mashup soon though, yes? Look forward to reconnecting then to say hey…

  7. Geez! Now, I really feel like a wimpy mom.

    After a year of begging, and my rings and hurdles to cross, I took my daughter to the stylist where she got a hair cut and a purple streak for $35.

    Now, I’ve never dyed my hair, and I agree with the nothing permanent plan. This is permanent in her life (anything over a week is a very long time to a 12-year-old) but it’ll be gone by the end of the summer. It’ll certainly not last as long as the last major hair move – cutting off nearly all her hair for locks of love.

    Bottom line, this satisfied her need for individuality, with little or no long-term consequences. And I got a lot of leverage to boot!

  8. wow, impressive! She did the locks of love on her own? Very cool. I think that’s worth a ‘purple streak’ don’t you? πŸ˜‰ She sounds like she has her head on straight that’s for sure…Oh, and btw, mine is already lamenting that the red went to ‘pink’ too fast, and now it’s ‘already out!’ (you’re right, Monday would’ve made it one week) Now how did you get your photo to work properly in WordPress? My avatar is glitching (and on MyBlogLog too!) hmn…

  9. I think our daughters have a lot in common – strong-minded individuals that they are.

    As for the photo magic, it turned out to be surprisingly easy, after spending days trying,, etc. I signed up for a gravatar on

    Now, I just have to be careful to use the Email that is associated with the gravatar when I post comments.

    On my own blog, I’m still having a problem with double image gravatars. I’m not sure why that’s happening, but I suspect it’s a theme incompatibility. On my daughter’s blog – where I’ve done most of the set up – we aren’t having any problems with the gravatar. And, it’s set up exactly the same as mine.

    By the way, I had lots of problems posting videos until I started using the Insert Video 3.13 plug-in within Windows Live Writer. Live Writer also gives me a lot more options for formating my images.

    Improved problem-solving skills, another benefit of blogging…

  10. Laura,

    My first reaction was how creative and what about the ants :-), then Amy’s daughter told me…UNsweetened! Brilliant!

    I agree about the nothing permanent clause…on the upside…NOTHING IS PERMANENT in the universe…but I know what you mean. I do have one funny story about permanence…I was a white water rafting guide…we took some morticians down the river…they said they laugh when they cremated someone with silicon breast implants…apparently all that is left on the table is ash and two breast implants…they don’t burn at that cremation temperature!

  11. Ewww…Bill, I’ve got a visual there…talk about macabre humor!
    So I guess those silicon breat implants are ‘permanent?’ πŸ˜‰ Ah, the irony…

  12. Stephanie says

    I’ve been dying my hair and getting piercings since I was 14 years old, I am now 21 years old and have 11 piercings at the moment. Do I regret any of it? Nope. If you don’t like your dyed hair you just let it grow out and if you don’t like your piercings anymore then you just take them out and let them heal up, easy as pie.

  13. Glad to hear you have no regrets, but I’m trying to frame it as a natural vs fake value system…For me, our appearance based culture has much to do w/mirroring and reflecting the pop culture zeitgeist & peer to peer modeling, whereas some teens simply use it as self-expression.

    Personally, it’s not just the chemicals and health issue (e.g. we’ve been battling over the whole acrylic/gel nail toxicity) it’s the ‘body as billboard’ approach that I’d rather postpone until she’s an adult making her own decisions.

    I know, I’m a tough mom, yadayada…but to each his own, right?

  14. Haha, I read this whole thing.. Something i do on my spare time is i enjoy creeping random sights and reading what parents half to say. Although, unlike yourselves i am nearly 17 years old, and my father is a social worker for CAS and has been for over 35 years. I have had numerous ear peircings, Lip peircings, body peircings and infact tw days ago i just got my toung peirced.. Onto of that i can fit a pen through my first set of ear holes, hehe. I beleive, in your teen years you are growing into an adult and anything you may decide to do to yourself is completly up to you. My dad always says you’ll learn from your mistakes, and if not then you have some stories of regrets to pass onto your children. Wich i couldn’t agree more with. I did grow out of alot of that, i on y have two ear holes and a toung ring now. and FYI parents, Peircings are not permanant. have had my li done 8 times (by myself and there is not one left over hole, or even a scare on my face, my nose, belly button, cheek, arm, monroe, no where. Cant forget about the dozens of ear peircings that USE to be there. I mentioned earlier i stretched my ear holes.. i USE to be able to fit a pen in them but, my boyfriend disaproved.. and i inda figured why.. so i took my stretchers out about a month ago and they are already back to normal. No big deal. You guys are comng across as pushy and rather controlling wich i think is kinda, pardon my language.. Ridiculous, stupid and F*d UP. Anywhoo.. My breakfast is ready.. toodles.

  15. Hope you don’t take my bleep/shortening edit of your profanity as ‘controlling’ but instead ‘my policy’ which is what you seem to be mixing up in this convo.

    Parents as providers have the right to respectfully DECLINE the whims-n-wishes of “do whatever you want’ teens…each family has its own policy in place, so no judgment offered here in your life choices or your parent’s parenting…That’s the beauty of individual rights and families to choose what works for them.

    It gets lopsided when kids dig in their heels with “it’s my body, my right, my life, etc. etc.” as an under 18 minor, because technically, our tails are hangin’ out on a limb with liability for kids’ actions, (drinking/driving, sex/STDs/child-bearing, or in my case, boat-driving/dockside sports where we are forced to carry a ONE MILLION DOLLAR insurance policy due to ‘the possibility someone could run into our dock! ahem, see? life’s not fair, and yes, those insurance companies ARE controlling me, dangit!)

    And while I’ve heard the ‘it seals up’ argument many a time, (right up there w/’tats can be removed’) you have to understand that ‘piercing policy’ is an individual family decision (NOT your own, as we are technically ‘in charge of taking care of your body’ until you are ‘legal’—so if parents don’t wanna go there—so be it.

    Sounds over-controlling, I’m sure. but as an advocate for ‘choice/moderation/earned decision making’ based on records of responsibility you’re not walking in my shoes, so don’t have the ‘right’ to judge the scenario from afar, just as I don’t have the right to judge your language, spelling, and my way or the highway self-righteousness. ‘k? Just sayin’

    Now as my own teen would say, Peace out.

  16. all im saying is i hope that pic isnt real…i have a 8 month ols and would never do it to my kid ever

  17. Tiffany, no kiddin’…pretty sure it was Photoshop to jar the senses, otherwise I think CPS/abuse card should be in play. πŸ˜‰ (but believe me, I’ve seen a LOT of cultural ‘decor’ that puts me in that ‘whoa, are you kidding me?’ gasping mode… Even when I was a child looking at pictures in National Geographic I’d have those ‘ewww, why would they DO that?’ moments…

  18. Understanding permanent things like piercings and tattoos should be waited on until the child is older,I do believe on occasion these things may be allowed. The biggest reason, I believe, for allowing such things is making sure the child understands the consequences behind their actions. Instead of just telling your kid “No” you should try, i think, really explaining to them why you’ve made this decision. It’s not fair to the child to be prevented from doing something they think they want to do if they don’t know why. That being said, if your child really understands their actions and can maturely give plausible and sensible reasons as for why they think they should be allowed to tattoo a flower on their back or get a second/third ear piercing, etc., especially if you as a parent trust them, they should be allowed to get their alteration as they’ve clearly given it a lot of deep thought and are persistent enough to pursue it. But of course, I think if the above is done but your kid seems/sounds/is desperate, it shouldn’t be allowed as desperation is really only temporary and rash and decisions made in moments like that seem to be regrettable. I’m not a parent to let my kids just go crazy but I do think sometimes we forget, especially as they get older, that our kids are people, too and even though they may not be adults, they are capable of making mature, adult decisions and it could be detrimental for them if we stifle their ideas. And maybe too if we let them go through with these things, sometimes, we can let ourselves momentarily return to that stage in our own lives, maybe take part in the experience, and even perhaps learn something from it. But again not every decision they think of is an brilliant one, haha, and the reason we exist as parents I think is to deter them from going through with their spur of the moment, fun though ultimately detrimental fantasies. Didn’t mean to get too deep there if I did. So Happy Holidays everyone!

  19. Points are well taken…I think it’s ultimately a really personal/individual matter…I’m surrounded with 16y.o. kids who have piercings out the wazoo (from belly buttons to ‘seconds’ on the ear, and cartilage etc etc) and tho my daughter’s miffed at my ‘temp not perm’ stance, there’s always a REASON and a backstory that’s rational. (in my case, she’s flubbed a few logic steps on boundaries/mishaps, like a PERMANENTLY red streak from know it all-isms that even a prof stylist couldn’t get out, costing hundreds of dollars and her sadness/tears using bleaching agents which ultimately had to just ‘fade’ over the year, so yah, a few DIY disasters breaching common sense in favor of peer/pack mentality/spur the moment snap decisions led to the ‘fergeddabowdit’ firm line in the sand. But ‘to each his/her own’ πŸ˜‰

  20. Very insightful article. I especially appreciate the responses as they all came from very differing perspectives. All and all I was reminded of a conversation I just recently had with my 8 year old.. Yep at 8 and wants colored streaks in her hair. First I have to share that I’m upfront with all my kids (all four – whew)I try to avoid the “becuase I said so” mantra. Of course I end up in long explanation of the whys and why nots. But hey sit through it long enough to make me feel like I did it right. (hahaha) So my daughter cleverly ask “When” instead of “Can I have colored streaks” as if I would think it’s ok. I explain not until you are a big grown adult and can handle the repercussions and responsibility it comes with. I go on and explain these. She says ok and we are done until the next bright idea. Besides there’s always those fake hair colored clips at the beauty store which never last long anyway because they get bored with them. Thanks for your post.

  21. It’s fun to see how many years this dialogue has gone on, with each new generation continuing to offer their insights and experiences…clearly one thing is a constant. Adolescence is a ‘testing, 1-2-3’ identity time period unlike any other and we ALL could use ‘a little help from our friends.’

    Thanks to you all over the last 6 years for continuing this thread!

    My own ‘teen’ is now 19 and an athlete, who has found that her ‘seconds/cartilage piercing’ is a PIA to cover up on the court per collegiate regulations on jewelry etc. She’s also watched many of her friends tat themselves into oblivion when they hit 18/adulthood…including her BFF, but has ironically chosen her own path w/o judgment to others. She now says, “I dunno, I may get a little one sometime, somewhere discreet…but thank gawd you didn’t ‘let’ me do ‘whatever I wanted’ back then. It’s really laughable looking back.”

    As Vonnegut would say, “And so it goes…”

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