Back-To-School Shopping With Teens Is Hell

by Christine Burke
oneinchpunch / iStock

I used to love back-to-school shopping. Not only did new pencils and backpacks signify the impending return of my sanity, but also, there’s something very satisfying about being able to do all of your shopping at Target. A coffee, a trip to the Dollar Spot, and a quick run through the kids’ departments for $5 T-shirts and a few pair of jeans was all I needed to do to cross everything off our list. A final stop in the shoe department for sneakers and we were home before lunchtime.

Then my kids became teenagers and back-to-school shopping became harder than navigating Dante’s nine circles of hell.

Constant growth spurts and a sudden inability to understand what the cool kids were wearing made this time of year less “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and more “Nightmare on Elm Street” in our house. And I fear it’s only going to get worse, because at the rate my kids are eating me out of house and home, the Incredible Hulk growing is nowhere near over.

I cannot be the only mother who dreads this annual ritual from hell with her teens. Consider the following:

1. Male capris need to be a thing.

Gentlemen, hear me out on this: Man capris would make mothers of adolescent boys do cartwheels in the streets. Not only would it mean that the $50-plus jeans I’m buying would be fashionable and functional for longer than a month and a half, it would also mean we could shop early. Considering that my son grows like the Jolly Green Giant on steroids, I’m hesitant to buy him anything before the minute he’s actually boarding the bus for the first day of school. I’m telling you: Moms far and wide would rejoice if this fashion trend caught on. Jeans suddenly too small on your daughter? Well, now she’s wearing capris! We need to make this acceptable practice for boys too. Old Navy, I’m practically begging you over here.

2. Shoes are a pain in the ass.

No one tells you that as soon as your kid grows out of the adolescent shoe section, a covert military operation is easier to execute than finding a pair of size 7 shoes in the men’s section. When I was desperately searching for size 7 dress shoes for my son, the clerk laughed forever when I told her what I needed. My son spent six months clomping around in size 8 clodhoppers stuffed with tissue paper until he grew into them. And no worries that he looked ridiculous — his friends all looked like circus clowns too. And don’t get me started on half sizes. Just don’t.

3. Your wallet is permanently empty thanks to Mr. Fitch.

Gone are the days of selecting five or six T-shirts from the $5 table at Target. Nope. When your kid becomes a man child, and your daughter a young woman, you suddenly start paying adult prices for clothes they will wear for approximately five minutes. It’s maddening. Factor in the must-have designer labels from stores with pulsating music and naked people on the walls, and it’s pretty clear you’ll never have that trip to Hawaii for your 20th wedding anniversary. Thanks for that, Mr. Abercrombie.

4. My little girl doesn’t want to wear dresses and tights anymore.

My daughter was the full-on girlie girl stereotype as a little kid, and she loved dresses with matching tights. But it’s safe to say that she’s found her own style now that she’s a tween. And that style doesn’t included sweet little bows in her hair and Mary Jane patent leather shoes either. These days, she gravitates toward anything with sparkles, T-shirts with empowering quotes, and bright patterns — usually all in the same outfit too. I find myself gravitating toward the frilly dresses as she crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. Yes, it’s awesome that she’s comfortable enough in her skin to express herself with bold clothing choices, but forgive this mama if she still longs for the days of dresses with bunnies and chicks embroidered on them.

5. Teenagers have opinions about what they wear.

News flash, parents: You are not cool, and you have no possible way of having your finger on the pulse of the teen fashion world so you can just stop trying. Even if you are standing in the pulsating store with a teen who insists it’s the only place kids buy clothes, you still have no idea what you are talking about when you suggest a certain pair of jeans. Don’t worry, though, when a 15-year-old clerk suggests the exact same pair, your teen will come around real quick. You can smile smugly when she stalks to the counter with the jeans and rolls her eyes as you whip out your plastic to hand over a mortgage payment.

Oh, and don’t ever try to buy something to surprise your teen. Unless your kid is there to scoff and complain about what they wear, best to ignore the sales at the pulsating store.

Clothing my teens tries my patience in every possible way. I take solace in the fact, though, that as soon as my son grows out of that North Face sweatshirt, that sucker is mine. And I will be the height of cool at back-to-school night.