Planting the Modesty Seed in our Children

Credit: Rey Swimwear – Who says it has to be itsy bitsy?

It’s a Beach Party! Or at least that was the theme-of-the-day recently at our daughter’s preschool. The three and four-year-olds were encouraged to wear swimsuits to school as part of the festivities. In the communications between home and school, there was also a “don’t forget the cover-up” plea from the teacher.

Upon arriving to preschool to drop off our daughter, I noticed a couple of girls were dressed in barely-there bikinis, no cover-up included. Little girls in bikinis — cute and innocent, right? And then I heard a mom say, “I brought her cover-up. But why cover-up?” which then precipitated a few chuckles from the gallery of moms and dads waiting to drop-off their children.

The remark “Why cover up” struck a chord and made me uneasy. Why cover up? Just how much of your daughter’s skin does the world really need to see?

“But it’s innocent. She’s just a kid.”

“Stop being such a prude!”

“Awww, it’s so cute at this age.”

“Relax, there’s time for that later.”

Frankly, I don’t agree, and I think that attitude is a gateway toward parent-child conflict just a few years down the road. If you let your little girls parade around in itsy bitsy polka-dotted bikinis from the earliest of age, when do you begin to instill a sense of modesty with them? And then how do you do that once you’ve normalized immodest wear? Shouldn’t we at least try to instill some sense of modesty, say, before puberty?

By the time girls turn seven (maybe even before), their clothing options turn from cute and frilly to somewhat more sleek and racy. How do you help your child make good clothing choices at that stage amid dwindling modest options when you’ve effectively taught her that modesty doesn’t matter? Because of cultural norms and clothing choices, you are going to have to fight this battle anyway. Do you want to fight it against your child or with her by your side?

Popular Catholic singer-songwriter Jackie Francois recently contributed a post at LifeTeen.com titled The Bikini Battle: Sexy Vs. Beautiful (click here for full article — it’s a terrific read). In her post, Jackie advocates that women should ditch the bikinis in favor of a more modest choice in swimwear. In defense of her position, she pulled out that good ol’ Catechism. Here’s the part that really caught my attention (emphasis mine):

 … Modesty protects the intimate center of the person. It means refusing to unveil what should remain hidden. It is ordered to chastity to whose sensitivity it bears witness. It guides how one looks at others and behaves toward them in conformity with the dignity of persons and their solidarity … (CCC 2521-2523)

So if modesty centers on refusing to unveil what should remain hidden, why is it ever okay not to “cover up,” even at the earliest of ages? Chastity is a delicate flower that needs to be protected. Modesty is not only the hedge around chastity, it is also the water, fertilizer, and sunshine that helps chastity grow. If you never understand modesty, you will never have proper respect for your body.

As with everything, doing flows from being. My husband and I would rather not preach about modesty; we want it to become the unspoken norm in our family. If that’s simply who we are, that sets up the opportunity for our children to live chastely later on.

It has been said that the best time to plant a tree is twenty-five years ago. The next best time is today. It is best if you’ve already planted the modesty seed with your children and are nurturing it along. If you haven’t, the next best time is today.

Thoughts? Am I overreacting? Let me hear about it.

Question: How can we plant the seeds of modesty in our children? You can leave a comment by clicking here

A special thanks to the Catholic Sorority gals for encouraging me to write this post! Read more about Catholic Sorority by clicking this link.

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Comments

  1. Barb says

    I totally agree! My oldest daughter is 6. She used to ask me for a bikini (though she didn’t know what it was called) and I said no. She always complained about it. This year in preparing for summer I told her I wanted to buy swim shorts for her to wear over her one piece. She looked at herself in the mirror (wearing her suit) and said how much she would like that. No complaints. No conversations about wearing a bikini. Time will tell, but I think starting early with her is already paying off!

    Thanks for the post.

    • says

      Howdy Barb! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. I bet your daughter is more comfortable in that suit, too. Stop back at the end of the summer and let me know how it played out! God bless.

  2. says

    This is a good point! Yeah, I can hear the protests now, that I’m a prude for thinking that it matters what a 4 year old wears. But how and WHEN will these parents transition to the modesty message in time for it to “really matter?” Great discussion, Lisa!

    • says

      Thanks, Elizabeth! For those of you dropping by and reading these comments, check out Elizabeth’s post over at Ignitum Today here. She poses some great questions. Food for thought.

  3. says

    Love this! I had the hardest time finding a suit for our 4 year old that was not a 2 piece bikini style at our local discount store. I managed to find a rash guard top and bikini shorts (2 piece suits are better for emergency potty breaks!) but it also came with an itsy-bitsy top! It seems, like with adult suits, the more full coverage ones are at higher end stores.

    • says

      Hi Karianna! Thanks for dropping by and commenting. We have purchased tankinis for our daughter as well for the very reason you mention. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s good to hear from others wading in the same water.

    • gradchica says

      I’ve seen some snap-bottom girl’s suits, but not nearly enough! Doesn’t that seem an idea whose time has come for baby and toddler girl suits??

  4. says

    I am with you 100%!
    My mother never put me in a bikini – and I still don’t own a bikini. I’ve always felt that I look better with more of my body covered than less. It’s a lot easier to hide those ‘problem areas.’ :)
    As far as modesty goes, it seems that it’s gone completely out the window with most of the college students that I work with. I think the hot climate creates an excuse to wear little – but…seriously, I do not need to see the things that I see. We are not at a club, we are having a professional advising appointment.

  5. says

    I may have to blog about this, too. Quite honestly, I was 100% on board with adults but didn’t give it much thought with the little girls. I’ve always insisted they coverup (they think it’s mean!) and I’ve only bought a handful of bikinis. The two piecers were definitely easier when potty training, but the closer we get to middle school, the more I’m realizing we can’t set a double standard. We have to be consistent. I’m so thankful this discussion has emerged and made me think about how to be a better mom. Thanks, Lisa.

  6. says

    Yes! I think it creates a difficult precedent in the household. My daughter only a baby right now, but I can’t imagine in ten years trying to tell her she can’t wear a swimsuit similar to the ones she saw herself wearing as a baby. Or the ones her younger sister is wearing (if we are blessed with more daughters)!

    • says

      Hey Mandi! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Great point. Now I’m heading over to your site to check out your Hungry Hippo post! Now that game brings back memories!

    • enness says

      I think there’s a lot of difference between a ten-year-old and a baby. I think even ten-year-olds can also admit that they know there’s a difference, if pressed.

  7. Bonnie says

    I totally agree with you!
    Along with your modesty arguement I feel like some clothes are just setting my daughter up for a pedophile. It grosses me out to see tops that emphasize breasts, etc. It amazes me how sexy some bikinis are for 2 yr olds. And I do mean sexy – if they were a little bit bigger and sized for a 20 yr old that’s exactly what they would be.
    I did buy a modest tankini for my 4 yr old because of potty breaks, though.

    • says

      Bonnie – I am with you in terms of being mindful of predators. I actually started going down that angle for the post and had to quit. It was getting a little wordy as-is, but then my mommy brain just couldn’t put the thoughts together anyway. Say, do you know anything about mommy brain? ;)

      Child predators go to safe places like parks and swimming pools. Look up the stats folks. Another reason to cover up those precious babes!

  8. says

    Right on as usual. Just this week the principal of the Catholic school my children attend had to send an email reminding parents that skin tight shirts and short-shorts were not appropriate for Catholic school. She had to also remind the parents that when entering the school, they too, need to be appropriately dressed. I was shocked to think that not only the kids, but parents. I guess I shouldn’t be- if the kids are coming to school in that kind of dress, they are learning it from some where. The over sexualization that is imposed upon our children is devastating and dressing immodestly is the gateway to pre-marital sex, contraception mentality and so on.The younger we start with our kids and modeling it ourselves will hopefully lead them to view their body as a temple of the Holy Spirit and not something to be objectified.

  9. says

    Interesting… I think I still disagree. If they’re not old enough to be thinking, “What do other people think about me if I wear this?” then I’m not sure it matters to them anyway. Until they’re four or so, I don’t think it matters what they wear. When they can start imitating other people and manipulating to get attention, I think it applies. That’s most of the reason why women dress immodestly anyway.

    But I’m not a parent, so I guess I should reserve forming opinions until it’s applicable to me!

  10. Susan Smith says

    Lisa,
    Thanks for posting this important message about modesty. I too am that mom instilling modesty in our girls. I feel like if it doesn’t start early, when do you start. Modeling to our children our expectations is the best example. In fact, our girls don’t even want to wear a 2 piece!

    • says

      Thanks for commenting in, Susan. I am not surprised to read your comments. I have always been impressed with how lovely you and your daughters dress. You are most certainly modeling a great example for many of us!

  11. gradchica says

    Never too young to start! I think rashguards are one of the best thing inventions for parents of young children–the shirts keep things modest + remove the need to slather sunscreen on a squirming torso. So far I have 2 boys 2 and under, so I can’t speak from personal experience yet, but if and when we have a girl she’ll wear the same “swimming shirts” as her big brothers.

    I wish they had more readily available and cute rashguards for adult women–I wear a tankini that covers things up pretty well, but I’d like some more sun coverage. Also, once my boys get a little older and I don’t need easy nursing access, I would prefer to keep things even more modest up top–I can’t imagine how embarassed teen and preteen boys are to be at the local pool with their friends and their bikini-clad mom or sister, whether she looks “hot” in the tiny suit or not.

  12. Jason says

    As a guy and father of a daughter whom I raised by myself I’ll chime in. I agree with Mrs. Schmidt.

    Dad needs to be involved here as well. The time to protect your daughter and help her to understand her unique value as a woman is from day one.

    The girl in the picture, were she my daughter, would get my thumbs up. If I were her dad I’d tell her that she looks like a lady and that I was proud of her.

    • says

      Jason,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I agree with you 100% and am planning to write a follow-up post from precisely that angle.

      Blessings,
      Joel

  13. Tim says

    I agree with your post and would add that it is not just swim suits. My daughters were bought “cute” things by grandma at an early age and I refused to keep them (thankfully my wife agreed). The sweat pants with words on the back side were very common, but I do not want to teach my girls to be directing attention to that part of their anatomy. Dressing little girls like sleazy older females is not cute but disgusting.
    Thanks for sharing your thougths

  14. enness says

    Ehh, I dunno. I can’t quite understand why naked baby bottoms are considered okay to parade around even on TV, but as far as I can tell it doesn’t seem to predispose anyone to immodest dress or unchaste behavior. I think it’s a little different the closer they approach to both the age of reason and the age of developing distinctly sexual characteristics.

    What I want to know is who thought it was a good idea to put bathing suits so utterly out of context to begin with. Bathing suits are for the beach or pool, not for school, just as a sports bra and sweats are for the gym and not for my office.

  15. Jes says

    I think there is a lot of difference between babies, children and adults. Catholic art has been full of naked babies forever, and when I was young ( and dinosaurs roamed the earth) babies swimsuits didn’t exist. Babies were naked at the pool or beach, sometimes in the garden in the summer. But, when children reached about six or seven, they realized that they weren’t babies any more and covered up. Children’s clothes just didn’t come in sleek and racy.
    Then when girls became a bit older, and boys, they started to want to look ‘nice’ and fashionable, but even then there was an understanding about nice girls and ‘troubled’ girls.
    But I guess the point is that a naked baby is a naked baby, nothing to be seen there. A baby in a sexy swimsuit implies something else. Covering up babies is perhaps an acceptance of the sexualisation of infants, and maybe unavoidable, but sad.

    • Robin says

      I agree with Jess. When I was a little girl, (also back before the invention of the wheel!) Little girls and boys wore their underpants and nothing else to swim. There wasn’t a sexualization to little children then at all. I can remember friends coming over and we all swam in the inflatable pool in our undies, with no tops. Nobody thought it was racy or sexy. When did things get so weird? Sometimes I feel like Alice in Wonderland. Did I fall down a rabbit-hole somewhere and came out here? I do agree that childrens’ clothes are over-the-top racy-looking. I started fighting that 31 years ago when my first daughter was born. At that time the little girls clothes started imitating what Madonna and her compatriots were wearing. I thought it was ridiculous then and I still do. Kids are little for a very short time. Let’s not be rushing them into grown-up fashions before they are ready. And I don’t think they are ever ready for immodest clothing. It needs to start early in these times.

  16. Kerry says

    I have 3 boys and a girl…. and a pool. The neighbor girl came over to swim one day in an itsy bitsy bikini when she was five. I’m talking the two triangles with strings top and two triangles with strings bottom. I was shocked… although I don’t know why given the current culture and suit selections in the stores.

    Anyway, it’s not only the girls we need to worry about here, but the boys as well. I worry about what my boys’ eyes are exposed to, and while I can’t control the entire world, I can control my backyard. I went to the mother and politely told her that I am trying to teach my boys (my daughter wasn’t born yet) the importance of modesty, and that means having a dress code for swim suits at our house. One piece or tankinis were the only thing allowed. Surprisingly, she was fine with it and bought her daughter a different suit. Praise God! :)

    I also used it as a time to explain to my boys that one’s body is a gift, either for a future spouse, or for God, and they need to keep it wrapped until that time comes. :)

  17. Jason says

    Great points, Kerry. Our nakedness is for our spouse alone.

    And regarding custody of the eyes, sometimes I don’t think ladies quite understand how that works as I’ve seen women complain that we should just not look. Guys are hardwired to look. And sometimes you do it instinctively, and once you realize what you’re doing you avert your eyes but by then it’s too late and you have to reorient yourself and your thoughts.

    As an aside, a trick I use while at Mass is when I’m approaching the altar rail for Communion, I stare right at the floor near my shoes the whole way up and the whole way back. No way to get distracted by cleavage or a short skirt. And, as a bonus, it puts you in a head bowed posture which is an appropriate posture of humility when you approach the King.

  18. Mary P says

    The battle over modest dress has been going on for a long time. We had a hard time finding “girlie” clothes for my daughter, now almost 25, when she was just in 6-7 years old. And so much of the problem is carelessness, like when she was 3 and parading around in dress up clothes (my shoes, scarves, and head-to-toe pajamas) to which her dad casually exclaimed how “sexy” she looked. Oh My! WHAT? Think, man!! Thankfully my daughter did embrace a modest approach to her appearance in spite of all the influences around young women today to be anything but modest. It is just inconceivable to me that any parent would purchase any of the very grown-up (and inappropriate) clothes available for children.

    We must remember in Christian charity, our first duty out of love for neighbor is to not BE an occasion of sin. It is terribly uncharitable to the males in our company to present ourselves provocatively and expect them to bear the burden of controlling their eyes, thoughts, and desires.

  19. Terri says

    Lisa, Smack on. You go girl!

    or the English teacher in me version….. Very excellent post, well done.

  20. Andrea Smith says

    Tell you frankly, I would have to agree with you on this one. Television shows enough skin already, why add more? Learn to let your child know modesty at an early age.

  21. mary says

    Love your article. The current generation of mothers are totally ignorant of the meaning of modesty. Why? Because their mothers failed to teach them. It all begins with the word MORALITY. In the words of Raymond Cardinal Burke, it is almost non-existent in todays society. We are headed in the wrong direction.

  22. Ofra says

    I also try to be modest and do my best to convince my daughter that modesty is in her best interest but it is a battle…

  23. Allison says

    I have no problem with bikinis on me or my girls, as long as they adequately cover the bum and chest. It feels wonderful to have the sun and sand on as much as our bodies as possible. I love that my girls see me walking around confidently in my bikini with no concern about my flaws. This is the body God gave us, and we should not be ashamed to show it on the beach or at the pool. I have friends who insist my girls put t-shirts on over their two piece bathing suits when they are guests at their pools or lakes. This rule offends me and grosses me out, because it implies that my little girls are sexual. When my girls are teenagers, I will insist that their bikinis are tasteful, fully covering everything that should be covered, and only worn at the beach.

  24. Jason Garnatz says

    Little late, but as a dad of a son, the Dasiy Dukes on middle school girls make me cringe. How could Dads let their girls out of the house wearing them to school or Mass for that matter with “pink” plastered across the back? Yeah, I wear shorts to Mass, but they are the kahiki shorts you see on the golf course.

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