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School Colors

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Many of my clients are parents in the throes of back-to-school planning, and many of their children are trying to navigate the social complexities of their teen years. Those of us who can look back on our teens from a comfortable distance remember how important it was to construct just the right look for the first day of school, as it seemed to set the tone for the entire year.

Now more than ever, teens have the desire to experiment with bold hair color as a means to shape their image, and it's leaving their parents with questions. How young is too young for color or highlights? If my son or daughter chooses to have blue, grey or green hair, how will they be perceived in the world? Do I even get to have an opinion anymore?

This is the situation in which my client, Rebecca Moses, found herself when her son's friends began to experiment with hair color, some successfully and others less successfully. When her son approached Rebecca with the desire to introduce some creative color into his hairstyle, she was on board, but she knew it was a subject that needed her attention. "I am all about teen empowerment," says Rebecca. (I should mention that Miss Moses knows a thing or two about personal image. In fact, she wrote the book on style: A Life of Style.) And she feels when it comes to formulating and expressing their personal style, teens need support and guidance -- not control or discouragement -- from their parents and the pros.

Rebecca's solution was to bring her son to head colorist David Johnstone for his expertise and opinion. "It's all about listening," David advises. "If your teen keeps saying I want this, I want this, I want this, you want to be driving that bus because the color experiment is going to happen one way or another. And if you're not on board, it will happen at a sleepover or in your own sink."

David's next tip: find pictures! Not only will it help to have visual reference on the day of your teen's color appointment, but actively looking at inspiration together is an excellent opportunity for a cross-generational exchange of opinions. Like Rebecca, you may come to find out your son's idea of cool color is stylish taupe highlights, when all this time you've had nightmares of tints with words like "lava" or "atomic" in the title! Moreover, getting positively involved in your teens methods of self-expression will give you insight into his or her self-perception, which is far more important than worrying about how the world might perceive them if they color their hair -- "atomic" hues or otherwise.

Lastly, to answer the question of how young is too young, David believes it is more important to assess your teen's maturity level. Do they commit to their ideas? Do they have the patience to sit for the colorist for the required time? Will they care properly for their hair and your investment? If the answer is yes, then your teen is ready to graduate from clip-in color to the salon chair.

So parents, here is your vocabulary list for back-to-school color: ombré, balayage, temporary, and permanent. If you do your homework, you won't see "color correction" on next week's list.