Bedroom walls are great for teen self-expression

Tweens & teens - October 2005


Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

Kids at the tween and teen age need avenues to express and explore their developing personalities. Tattoos, body piercings and multicolored hair are a few ways to do this. But a more parent-friendly solution is to offer them a creative outlet in their own rooms. Helping your child to express himself through his personal surroundings gives him a safe way to say, "Look. This is who I am."

"Everything in the media sends kids a ‘cookie cutter’ message," says Gayle Pierson, single mom and creator of Dreamscapes room designing service. "Everybody is supposed to be this size and this weight, and hair and makeup has to be a certain way. My daughters have such interesting personalities, I wanted them to have their own personal space where they had the possibility to express their own individuality."

Decorating their bedroom or other personal space in the house gives a young teen something that is all their own at an age when parents still rule. It offers a sanctuary for privacy and relaxation and a place where they can stop worrying about being "cool" and just be themselves.

Letting your child express himself in his room gives him the chance to separate from his family without leaving it. Picking out his own colors, posters, fabrics and furniture helps him discover and develop his own "voice." The task of decorating his own physical space also gives experience in planning and executing a project, putting ideas into action, working within a budget and learning the patience and perseverance necessary for following an assignment through to the end. Offering him as much free rein as possible with his ideas lights the spark of creativity within him. All of these benefits help him succeed in his academic and extracurricular pursuits as well.

"It’s good for kids to have a room decorated just for them," says Pierson’s daughter, Mary, 11. "It makes them feel like they have something of their own that no one else has, and they feel special."

Mary has a passion for coffee, and her room is designed as an international coffee house. Coffee mugs, café table and chairs and shelves showcasing treasures from around the world blend with hanging lamps and flowing aqua and pink fabrics and paints.

"I’m glad our rooms are different because Mary and I are very different," says her sister, Amy, 14. "I have an area that’s just my own—it makes me unique."

Amy loves the Egyptian look and everything in her room reflects that, from the faux stone walls, sponge-painted with three different shades of copper and gold, to the lamps, urns and artifacts that sit among the multitude of plants to the chaise lounge in the corner.

Pierson suggests a four-step plan for helping your child create a room that reflects his personality in a big way: - Brainstorm. First, talk with your child about her likes, dislikes and passions, and discuss her fantasy dream room. This is the initial brainstorming phase where the sky’s the limit and no idea is impossible. Let her ramble on about her vision, or draw a picture of it if she’d like. Be sure to get everything down on paper.

- Make a realistic plan. Go over all the ideas carefully, this time bringing reality into the picture. Talk with her about what’s actually possible Painting a wall is possible, tearing down a supporting wall is not. Go through decorating magazines or wander through design stores together. Look for ways that she can bring her ideas to life. Decide specifically how she can express her ideas through paint, fabric, window treatments, accent pieces, art work and furniture.

- Decide on a budget. If you are creative and diligent, money doesn’t have to stop your child from creating the room she wants. Pierson scours estate and garage sales, resale shops and attics to find items to create $4,000 rooms for less than $500. - Put the ideas into action. Help your child make a step-by-step plan for redecorating, including a plan for cleaning up when the project is done.

Throughout your decorating process, remember the purpose of the venture: for your child to be able to explore and express himself in safe ways. Resist the temptation of saying, "Oh, but wouldn’t you rather ..." or, "You want that color for a rug? Ewww."

The goal is achieved if your child feels happy in his room, not if it is an artistic masterpiece. If your ideas don’t match his, create your own room.

Lisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker in Libertyville and the stepmother of two, ages 21 and 25. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.


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