Your 13 year old wants to cut her long, flowing hair into a pixie cut. Your ex would rather just shave it all off. So who gets to decide your child’s hair style? Is it up to you, your ex, or the child?
There’s a picture going around Facebook. It shows a mother shaming her daughter for cutting her bangs. As punishment, the mother shaved her head bald and posted a picture of her crying daughter on her public news feed.
At around the same time, I met with a potential client with a hair style problem of her own. Her young daughter was a ballet dancer, whose studio required each dancer’s hair to be tied back in a bun for competitions. During the father’s visitation, he took the child to a beauty salon and cut her hair up to her chin. The child came home sobbing, afraid she would not be allowed to compete on her dance team.
Both these situations raise the question, who gets to decide your child’s hairstyle?
Letting Your Child Make Hairstyle Decisions
Some parents and professionals strongly recommend allowing your children make their own decisions about their body and hair. These advocates see hair cuts as a relatively easy way to teach your children about bodily autonomy and consent. By allowing your children to decide when and whether they get a haircut, you can reinforce the idea that no one should be allowed to touch them if they don’t want it.
Hairstyle decisions can also be a less painful way of allowing a teenager to express independence. Younger children often don’t have strong opinions about what they look like day-to-day. Fights with young children over clothing will usually have more to do with cleanliness or temperature than style.
But as children get older, there is more pressure to “look good.” This, combined with an urge to assert their independence, can make teens fight for trendy hair cuts or styles.
However, there are also arguments against giving your child free rein over his or her locks. There may be medical reasons to say no to a child’s preferred hairstyle. Dr. Sejal Shah, a New York dermatological surgeon warns against letting your child color his or her hair too early:
“I really don’t think it’s safe to dye or bleach a child’s hair until after puberty, and ideally not until their late teens — at least 16.”
In addition, if a preferred hair style would violate school dress codes or make it more difficult for your teen to get a summer job, it may be in his or her best interest for you, as the parent, to say no. If that’s the case, consider explaining why you are refusing, rather than just placing a moratorium on hair dye.This will allow your children to learn a lesson about dressing appropriately, while at the same time respecting their right to choose.
Joint Legal Custody and Choosing Hairstyles
Most Michigan divorces and custody cases end up with joint legal custody. That means that most co-parents are required to do their best to agree on the big issues about a child’s health, religion, and education. But what about appearance?
Take the example above about the dancer. There may not be any inherent difference between long hair pulled back into a bun and a chin-length bob. But in the context of a competitive dance class, the latter hairstyle could put a child in the audience when she would rather be on stage. By taking the choice into his own hands, the father acted against the child’s best interests by interfering with her ability to participate in an extracurricular activity she felt was important.
There is no one clear legal answer to the question “Who has the final say about a child’s haircut.” Every case will depend on the child’s maturity, the parents’ reason to say no, and the effect of the desired haircut. In general, though, giving your child control over his or her appearance teaches autonomy, independence, and freedom of expression. And those are certainly good things for a child to learn.