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Column: Battling about brand names during back-to-school shopping

Aerial Liese
The Daily Times

Forget the diamond-encrusted wristwatch. Luxury items these days come in straight-leg or boot-cut, stone-washed or torn, and, like most tweens, my daughter has a serious taste for them — Miss Me jeans. Boy, have jeans come a long way from their working-class origins. Last week while doing some early school clothes shopping, we found a pair of look-a-likes on sale.

"Sweet!" I thought.

"Um," my daughter mumbled awkwardly, staring at another pair, the Miss Me brand. Same color. Same style. But more than $100!

"I'd rather get that pair?" she said.

In my mind, I said this: "Well, I'd rather have a brand new Mercedes." But I uttered this instead: "Honey, they cost three times as much."

"Yeah, I know," she chirped, gazing at me bewildered. "But those aren't real."

"But they look exactly the same," I said, holding them up in front of her.

"Not exactly," she explained. "These have a label."

I had several problems with this situation. First, when pressed, my normally articulate tween could not put into words why the brand mattered so much. Her hesitated attempt contained only the phrases: "It's important to me," "I'll be made fun of," and, of course, "They're cool."

Honestly, I think every child should have a pair of gorgeous, hip, high-dollar jeans, but not 10! I have specific words for people who would spend $100 or more a pop on a pair of jeans that will more than likely be taken for granted, left on the floor and become too small for their wearer within six months. "Cool" is not one of those words.

But looking into my daughter's big green eyes, I suddenly remembered what it felt like to be, well, in her shoes. The brands were Izod, Keds and Guess back then, in the '80s, but the desire for "coolness" was the same. The burning need to identify with being "with it."

As a parent, though, I wasn't sure whether this was one of those moments wherein I should be the "sympathetic" mom ("Sure, honey, I know how important it is to fit in) or the "instructive" mom ("Let's do a reality-check and visit the homeless man on the corner who hasn't eaten in days.") The moment didn't call for either.

Psychologist John Duffy, author of "The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens," says there's a better way to handle label cravers: "Give them the opportunity to buy the stuff themselves, by earning the money, or getting a job. Programming a child to expect only name brand clothing is a true disservice to the child."

"I encourage parents with brand-lusting kids to get their child truly invested, if that's what they want," he says. "For instance, 'Yes, you can absolutely have that pair of jeans that costs $100. Just let me know how you plan to pay for it.''"

That day in the store, I got lucky with my daughter. She settled for the knockoffs. After all our back-and-forth, they didn't have her size. I wish I could say the battle over brand name versus generic clothing isn't a tricky issue. I can only share that with my spirited tween, I give her a back-to-school clothing budget and let her choose how she wants to spend it. I offer suggestions, but mostly don't interject. If she wants something else, but the money is gone, that's excellent learning. She's getting a feel for budgeting money, delaying gratification and whether she really wants to spend $100 on one pair of jeans.

Aerial Liese has been an educator for more than 15 years. She has three children and is the author of four books. She is an educational doctorate student and teaches at San Juan College. Contact her at 505-258-1029 or go to ajliese.tateauthor.com.