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Teaching Your Daughter Modesty

  • Shannon Ethridge Author
  • Updated Jul 22, 2011
Teaching Your Daughter Modesty

I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
~ 1 Timothy 2:9-10

The "guards" were heavily armed and ready to protect the bank from any "bad guys" that might wander in. Matthew (four years old at the time) stood on one side of the entrance to the bank lobby with a toy bow and arrow in ready position. On the other side of the door stood his friend Cameron, also four, with an impressive plastic sword drawn from its sheath. As I stood in line at the teller window, I noticed that all the bank patrons, relieved that they were in such capable hands, were looking on appreciatively at these self-appointed guards.

Then she walked in, a long-legged young woman in high heels, a formfitting miniskirt, and spaghetti-strap top. The young guards glanced at each other with eyes wide. The rest of the onlookers turned their heads back and forth between the little boys and the young woman as if watching a tennis match, eyeballing the woman, then the boys, then the woman again. As this scantily-clad bombshell strutted across the bank lobby, made an ATM transaction, and then strutted back out through the armed doors, I sensed that everyone in the lobby was holding their breath and wondering, What could those boys be thinking right now?

As soon as the door closed and the woman was out of earshot, Cameron satisfied everyone's curiosity as he leaned over to Matthew and loudly exclaimed, "The Bible warns about women like that!"

Of course, the entire bank erupted in laughter! The incident happened years ago, but it's no laughing matter that today we often see young women dressed more like stereotypical hookers than modest young women.

Here are two of the most valuable principles we can teach our daughters when it comes to how they dress:

You teach people how to treat you.
Whatever bait you use determines the type of fish you'll catch.

If a young woman dresses seductively, guys are likely going to treat her as if she wants to be seduced. She's going to get attention from lustful guys, not godly ones who want to guard themselves against sexual compromise. If we want our girls to be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve, we'll teach them to dress modestly. If we want to protect them from boys who are more interested in their bodies than in their minds, hearts, or spirits, we'll teach them to shop for clothes that present a passion for purity rather than a plea for attention.

I want to challenge you, the parent, to consider what you can do to help your daughter become a smart shopper who values modesty and responsible stewardship.

Who's in Charge?

On occasion when I speak to parents about encouraging our daughters to dress modestly, some will retort with statements like these:

Wearing the latest fashions doesn't make my daughter less sexually pure. If we look at sexual purity in strictly a physical sense, then granted, a girl is no less a virgin if she wears immodest clothes. But as followers of Christ we are to pursue not just physical purity, but mental, emotional, and spiritual purity as well. Do you want your daughter dressing in such a way that boys flirt wit her and try desperately to get her attention? Do you want older guys noticing her? I believe that when parents let their twelve-year-old dress like she's twenty, they are not protecting her from vulnerability to unhealthy, premature relationships.

I don't want to spend my hard-earned money on clothes that are going to just hang in the closet. If this is our mind-set as parents, we need to reconsider what we value most. Will we sell out our daughter's sense of modesty and her reputation so that she'll get more mileage out of what's hanging in her closet? While inappropriate clothes may get worn more often by an attention-seeking preteen, eventually a parent's hard-earned-money may have to go toward professional counseling to get her out of the relational messes she'll find herself in if she continues to dress provocatively.

I can't control what clothes she wears. Funny how some parents say this about their preteen daughters, yet in truth, these same parents facilitate their daughters' bad choices by driving them to certain stores, whipping out the credit card to buy the clothes, and standing at the door when their daughters leave for school in the morning, wearing those clothes. Regardless of how powerless we may feel, we do have control over our daughters' wardrobe as long as they're living under our roofs. We simply have to be secure enough in our role as parents to exercise that control.

If you feel that your preteen daughter is calling the shots when it comes to what she wears, you may need to seek counsel for how to regain the parental control you've abdicated to her. Remember, the battles will only get more significant, and if she's accustomed to getting her way, you will certainly travel some bumpy roads ahead.

But my daughter wants to wear what all of her friends are wearing. One of the most significant ways we can help our daughters is to teach them to lead rather than follow, especially when it comes to fashions. Think about it. If your daughter looks to others to determine what she should wear, she will be more likely to look to others to tell her what to do in other areas of her life. She will be more likely to follow the crowd into sexual compromise. Teach her to blaze her own trail through life -- one that will steer clear of the many pitfalls to sexual compromise.

She doesn't even have breasts and hips yet, so I don't think she's turning any guys' heads by what she wears. News flash: your daughter may not have a rounded figure just yet, but guess what? That's only temporary. Better to prepare her for modesty in the near future by expecting it today, during her tweener years. In addition to teaching a sense of modesty we can also teach our daughters to value practicality and quality, as well as how to be responsible stewards of resources.

Taking Charge of Your Investments

It alarmed me when my daughter developed a hearty appetite for shopping when she was only eight years old. Anytime we went into a store, Erin felt she had to pick something out for herself, regardless of whether she needed anything or not. If I told her I didn't have the money for the purchase, she'd sometimes say, "But Mom, you can charge it on your credit card!" She had no concept that at the end of the month her father and I would have to pay the entire bill or we would start accruing interest on those purchases. Greg and I knew we were heading for trouble and that we needed to teach our daughter how to spend money wisely.

So when Erin turned nine, we started an annual tradition for back-to-school clothes shopping trips. We buy the basic updates she needs (new socks, underwear, and bigger shoes if necessary), but she has to make nonessential new clothes purchases from the cash we give her for those shopping excursions. We determine the amount of money she gets each year by multiplying her age times ten dollars, so when Erin was nine, she received ninety dollars. She could spend that money however she wanted, as long as her choices were modest. She could either buy one pair of jeans for forty-five dollars and one sweater for forty-five dollars from an upscale store and be done with her shopping trip, or she could shop in stores where clearance sales and bargain racks abound. Fortunately Erin proved to be no dummy when it came to math. She figured out quickly that she could get lots more bang for her buck by steering clear of brand names and posh department stores. That year she purchased two pairs of jeans, a dress with a jacket that could be worn with other things, two casual shirts, a sweater, and a pair of capri overalls with her ninety dollars. She was proud of her new clothes and her shopping savvy.

A pastor and his wife recently told me how they teach their children to appreciate the limited value of a dollar. As soon as their children are old enough to have a checking account, the parents begin depositing a set dollar amount each month. The kids are expected to tithe 10 percent off the top, and anytime they need something, it comes out of their own account. When they walk into Wal-Mart, they each grab a cart and go their separate ways. Mom purchases the family groceries and household items, but personal items such as makeup, toothpaste, hair-styling products, clothes, and school supplies come out of the child's own checking account. While Greg and I have not implemented this plan with our children yet, we do plan on asking the bank about the minimum age requirement on a checking account! What a great way to teach kids valuable skills, such as comparison shopping, budgeting, and accounting.

Make sure your daughter understands that money doesn't grow on trees. Teach her to discern her wants from her needs. As parents, we always want to provide for our kids' genuine needs, but when it comes to their wants, we must teach them moderation.

The Power of Responsible Consumerism

We also need to teach our girls responsible stewardship and consumerism. The money we have to spend doesn't really belong to us, but to God. He owns everything. Therefore tithing isn't a matter of how much of our money we are going to give to God, but how much of God's money we area going to keep for ourselves. I believe God blesses us financially so we can be a blessing to others. Tithing and charitable giving should not be options but regular acts of worship. The more money we spend on ourselves and our selfish desires (things we don't really need), the less we have to help those who truly are in need.

Because all of our money belongs to God and He entrusts it to us, I feel we have a responsibility to channel our resources in directions that honor Him. One day I had an incredible opportunity to teach my daughter this concept. We were shopping, and Erin found a T-shirt that she liked. It wasn't overpriced and was relatively modest, but I suggested we continue looking to see what else we could find. As we made our way toward the back of the store, we saw young girls looking through racks of shirts and bins of miscellaneous items, so we thought we might find some cool stuff there. Upon closer examination, I discovered that many of the shirts broadcast sexually graphic messages and the bins were filled with gag gifts such as "boob pasta" and "gummy penises." I wondered where the parents of these girls were, and if they knew their kids were rummaging through such things.

Trying to keep my cool, I walked back toward the front of the store, and Erin followed right behind. I asked her, "How much do you like this shirt you are wanting to buy?"

She replied, "Mom, I don't want the shirt that badly. I can find something better at a store we can feel good about. Come on, put the shirt back, and let's go." I breathed a prayer of gratitude that she and I were on the same page.

Unfortunately, many people don't make the connection between how we spend our money and the explosion of irresponsible sexual messages in retail stores. For example, many kids (and parents) know how offensive Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs and graphic window displays are, yet they are still regular patrons of the store. They say it's okay because they don't buy the really seductive clothing. However, they are fueling a business that is contributing to the moral decay in our country. If Christian consumers don't send the message loud and clear that they want clothes and companies that support their values, no one else will.

For years Calvin Klein has targeted young adults and teens with sexually provocative black-and-white advertisements. The company manufactures clothes, yet their models rarely have any on. They blatantly use sex to sell their products. I coach consumers of all ages, "I don't care how great their clothes look on you or how good their cologne smells, don't pour your dollars into Calvin Klein's pocket so he and his company can continue putting borderline-pornographic advertisements in kids' faces."

Again, we teach people how to treat us, and retailers are no different. If we reward them with our business, they are going to assume we like being bombarded with sexually inappropriate advertisements. We can turn the tide by channeling our dollars away from rather than into companies that use sex to sell their products.

Lessons That Last a Lifetime

As a parent, you may feel it's not worth the fight to try to control where your daughter shops, what clothes she buys, and what she leaves the house wearing. It seems so much easier just to give her the freedom to make her own choices and hope for the best.

The same could be said for many other parts of her life. It would be easier just to leave her alone and let her do her own thing rather than getting her out of bed, taking her back and forth to school every day, helping her with her homework, and attending teacher conferences. Why do you make education a priority? Not just because it's the law, but also because you want the very best for her and you know a good education will take her where she dreams of going in life. It may seem easier to let your daughter do whatever she wants on Sunday rather than dragging her to Sunday school and church every weekend. Why do you make church activities a priority? Because you want her to develop a strong spiritual life and enjoy an intimate walk with the Lord.

Are values of modesty and responsible stewardship any less desirable? Of course not. Since you are reading this book, I know you want to develop the strongest character possible in your daughter. You want her to have a sense of pride in how she presents herself to others, to enjoy the respect of peers and adults, and to attract like-minded friends and a healthy, future romantic relationship.

Every struggle you may experience along the way toward instilling these values is worth the fight. Every ounce of energy you pour into encouraging these concepts is a worthy investment. These lessons on modesty and responsible stewardship will guide your daughter not just through puberty and her upcoming teenage years but also throughout her lifetime.

Shannon Ethridge is the best-selling author of Every Woman's Battle and coauthor of Every Young Woman's Battle, as well as a wife, mother, speaker, and lay counselor. Previously a youth pastor and abstinence educator, Shannon has a master's degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University, and she speaks regularly on the Teen Mania Ministries campus and in a variety of other church and college settings. Shannon lives in east Texas with her husband, Greg, and their two children, Erin and Matthew.

This article originally posted on Crosswalk in June 2005