Opinion / Kim Lee

Haircuts, freedom and responsibility

By Kim Lee (chinadaily.com.cn) Updated: 2014-04-17 09:48

This past weekend my youngest daughter announced that she “really could use a haircut”. I agreed, so we popped into a neighborhood salon. Within moments she was whisked away to the sink and sporting a head full of suds. As she happily chirped away, answering the stylist’s familiar questions in Chinese, “I can….Li Hua….I’m five and half,” I slipped out the door to take a quick phone call. When I finished my conversation, the stylist asked another familiar question, but this time his question was for me. “How do you want me to cut your daughter’s hair?”

I automatically replied, “I don’t know. You need to ask her.”

The look on his face reminded me that my standard response was not the response he was expecting and our routine dialogue was taking a sudden jagged turn into unfamiliar territory. An eager assistant caught the “I don’t know” part of my answer and scurried off to find a magazine of assorted hairstyles, thinking I needed some help in deciding on a hairstyle for my daughter. I politely declined the offer and clarified, “It’s her hair, not mine. It’s her choice. She can tell you how she wants you to cut it.” Then I quickly excused myself to the restroom as a way to expedite the process.

I’ve never really understood why my relaxed position on this small matter causes so much bewilderment among hairdressers and other parents in hair salons. It’s just hair. It grows quickly, and in the big scheme of things, it really isn’t that important.

Haircuts, freedom and responsibility
Kim Lee 

I made the decision to skip the Chinese tradition of head shaving when my daughters were infants and I have tried my best to “stay out of their hair” both literally and figuratively ever since.

As long as they keep their hair clean and manage to abide by school regulations (which I support and understand) I don’t interfere with their choices. I also maintain this attitude when it comes to clothing. As long as the clothes are clean and they are able to dress themselves without my help, the colors, combinations and styles are totally up to them.

Asymmetric bangs, unflattering mushroom haircuts and mismatched socks may not be my preferred style choices, but they lead to an understanding of something much more important than fashion. These early experiences not only develop a child’s self-confidence and decision-making skills, they also provide an introduction to the concept “freedom entails responsibility”.

Some parents misinterpret this concept by neglecting the responsibility factor and granting their children absolute freedom to make totally age-inappropriate decisions. I often hear from distressed parents that “I have to make his favorite dishes every night or he won’t eat” or “She doesn’t like to go to bed, so she stays up and watches TV until very late.” These practices are not developing a child’s self-confidence, sense of responsibility, or independence - they are instilling bad habits and creating tiny dictators. These tiny dictators, or little emperors (as they are sometimes referred to in China) and their parents have a tough go of things when it comes time to leave the empire of Grandma, Grandpa, Mom and Dad and enter the “ kingdom of kindergarten and beyond”.

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