“Can I use my saved allowance to buy a Pura Vida bracelet?” my 12-year-old daughter asked this past August. I didn’t think twice about saying yes. It was $12.
But then I learned that these colorful bracelets — made by artisans in Costa Rica — are part of the larger “VSCO girl” trend, an “effortless, beachy” aesthetic popularized on social apps like TikTok. It’s named for the photo editing app VSCO, which rhymes with disco.
But it became associated with a style, complete with its own language: “And I oop! Sksksk!” (Translation: “oops” or “oh my God,” depending on context.)
Some VSCO Girl signifiers don’t require much shopping — oversize T-shirts, Crocs and hair scrunchies are already part of many tween girls’ wardrobes. But when kids request specific items they’ve never mentioned before, like a Hydro Flask, a reusable metal straw or a shell necklace, they may be trying to copy the uniform.
In an age where “influence” has jumped from the pages of a magazine to YouTube — into the back pockets of teenagers themselves — how do I teach my daughter to think for herself? (It’s also healthy for boys to think for themselves, of course, but this particular trend happens to be very girl-oriented, so I’m focusing on daughters.)
The experts I asked suggested I start by learning and listening.
Trend-Following in Adolescence Is Normal
Rachel Simmons, author of “Enough as She Is,” said there’s nothing wrong with wanting to conform to a trend at this age. “It’s a normal and important phase of adolescent development to use clothing and social media accounts to figure out who you want to be in the world.” She added that even though the VSCO trend has a privileged and consumerist bent, it’s pretty harmless. After all, one of its signature phrases is “save the turtles.”
“Photography, creativity, editing, environmentalism, drinking water, accessorizing to demonstrate your beliefs — what’s wrong with that?”
Lisa Damour, a psychologist and author of “Under Pressure,” agreed. “Social connections are really powerful and meaningful for kids, even when they are held together by what seem like superficial things for adults,” she said.
Be Curious First, Judgmental Last
Wendy Mogel, a clinical psychologist and author of “Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen,” said parents should tame auto-suspicion and stereotyping.
“When teen girls post transformation videos or dress in matchy-matchy styles, it doesn’t mean they are shallow,” she said. She added that even as some girls are dressing “VSCO,” they are simultaneously judging the style.
“It can identify them as a member of a group, while at the same they have a whole ironic attitude about it,” she said.
So maybe the kids, too, are laughing, I thought. But just in a language without vowels — one that I’m too old to get.
I’ve learned that the girls’ “sksksksk” is like laughter — smashing the keyboard, as it were — but that if I attempt to say it, I’ll immediately regret it. Ditto with “save the turtles.”
Learn About the Technology
“It’s really clear from the research that the best way to have a positive influence on kids once they enter the teenage years is to really listen,” Dr. Ito said.
“There’s a generation gap,” she said, “parents didn’t grow up with this technology.” And yes, your teens may roll their eyes at you. “But more times than not, they will appreciate that you’re taking an active interest in the things that they are excited about.”
Ms. Simmons said since VSCO is a photo-sharing app, parents could use it as an opportunity to explore creative outlets.
“Why not ask your daughter about photography or ask if there are any photo walks she wants to go on?” she said.
Ask Questions — Make It a Teachable Moment
Parents can ask: What’s interesting about the trend? Dr. Ito suggested questions like, “What does it mean to buy things that every kid doesn’t have access to?” Or, “Is a brand really the most important part of your identity or the way you want to signal who you are?”
Then you can talk about values, challenge negative messages — and ultimately decide if buying a “VSCO” brand, or conforming to any other trend, aligns with what’s important to you as a family.
Dr. Damour recommends keeping these conversations short, just long enough to install what she calls “a filter.” “So that when they consume media, they can hear their parent’s voice, ‘Who was that video made for? What’s it about? Who are they selling it to? And who is profiting from it?’” she said.
Experts pointed out that many parents — themselves included — once conformed to trends as adolescents, too. (Madonna-inspired jelly bracelets, anyone?) And that sometimes parents too, shop according to brand names.
“Have an open conversation about values, about access, and about the unfair pressure that girls feel,” Dr. Mogel suggested, “but not in a finger-wagging way.”
Challenge the ‘Right’ Way to Look
“There’s a central theme in this that there’s a ‘right’ way to look, and it’s everywhere, girls can’t get a break from it,” said Michelle Cove, the founder and director of Media Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching girls to use media in ways that uplift and empower. But she pointed out positive examples of girls using media in uplifting ways, like the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg.
Media Girls teaches girls not only to question traditional media, but the content kids create for each other, as the line between ad-based content and organic sharing becomes more blurred.
Ms. Cove stressed that adults shouldn’t try to “win” the conversation, or change kids’ minds. “Success is in gaining their trust,” she said, “and just having the conversation.” To avoid resistance, let your kids choose when to talk: “I have a question for you about something I saw on social media — when’s a good time to talk about it?”
After listening and discussing, if VSCO or any other trend conflicts with your values or budget, you may decide you’re not going to buy it.
Let Kids Have Fun With Self-Expression
Dr. Mogel stressed the tremendous pressure kids feel today, and how they often feel that every moment “counts” toward their future. She said parents should give teenagers room to be silly, expressive, creative and relieve stress.
She pointed out that when a toddler dresses up like a ballerina, parents don’t launch into a lecture about how it’s hard to make money as a professional dancer. This phase, she said, should be no different.
“Adolescence is the second toddlerhood,” she said, “and kids at this age are trying things on to see what fits.”
My daughter hops into my car after soccer practice, and I tell her I’m wrapping up this article.
“Mom,” she says, “VSCO is basically over.”
She grabs my phone while we wait for her brother. “I want to watch an A.S.M.R. video on YouTube,” she says.
I sigh. What’s A.S.M.R.?