Setting boundaries for borrowing

When it comes to your teen borrowing your clothes, set some boundaries with her first

The sun isn’t up yet, but you’re awake. What’s that noise?

A shadowy figure is rifling through the clothes in your closet. Not this, not that — ah, here’s one that will do.

A very picky burglar? No. It’s your 14-year-old daughter augmenting her outfit.

You’re a little annoyed (maybe you wanted to wear that black shirt today)  and decide the two of you had better talk. After coffee.

Toronto parent coach Eva-Marie Moffat sees this issue a lot. Younger kids are more likely to look at our clothes as dress-up items, but teens who have grown into wearing the same shoe or dress size suddenly see a parent’s wardrobe as a potential treasure trove. Moffat finds that boys are more likely to borrow everyday items without too much thought — a T-shirt with a slogan, socks on days they can’t find a clean pair, a ball cap that happens to be hanging near the door. “It fits, it’s accessible, so they borrow it,” she comments. Girls, on the other hand, often borrow “special things,” says Moffat: a jacket that will finish off an outfit, some earrings, a new blouse. A girl is likely to do a bit more planning about what she wants.

Some of us are more attached to our stuff than others, Moffat comments, and have different comfort levels about seeing them borrowed. Still, a little borrowing can be a good thing, if it’s done in moderation and with consideration for others. “It can also be negative if done for the wrong reasons or not handled well,” she adds.
What are the wrong reasons? Sometimes parents want to be their kids’ buddies and are so focused on connecting with their children that they see sharing their stuff as a way of closing the gap. But it can be a problem if your teen simply expects to have unrestricted access to your closet, no questions asked. “Your stuff is not to be taken for granted as ‘borrowable,’” Moffat says. In other words, they need to ask first.

“As a parent, it would be great to be considered cool for reasons other than material things, for instance, because you are approachable, fair and take the time to really listen,” says Moffat.

To tip the balance in a more positive direction, Moffat suggests getting some clarity around the borrowing process:

• As mentioned, always ask first. And be willing to respect “no” if that’s the answer. You might also put in a “lead time” requirement — don’t ask for my red tank top at 6 a.m. when I’m half-asleep and you need to leave in 20 minutes.
• You’re entitled to have some “off-limits” items. (So are your kids — from their siblings and also from Mom and Dad.)
• Figure out when the item will be returned, where it will be put, and in what condition it should be (washed first, for example, or not). Moffat gives the example of a mother who was happy to loan her iPod to her son, but frustrated when she couldn’t find it for her morning walk. She and her son later arranged that he’d return it to his mom’s office before he went to bed.
• Have a plan for when things go wrong. Sometimes, items will be lost or damaged, despite everyone’s best intentions. Teens need to learn to take responsibility for their actions, says Moffat, and how to make amends. A sincere apology is the first step, but Moffat says the teen can also pay for the item or offer to make restitution by doing extra chores. And when your child does take responsibility, be sure to acknowledge it.
• Consider that you may need to put a stop to borrowing or, at least, take a time out, says Moffat, if things are taken without permission, or damaged without any offer of compensation.

And what if you’d just rather keep your clothes for yourself? Is it OK to just say no? Absolutely, says Moffat. Even if your teen keeps looking longingly at your silk blouse…