Many children become concerned about how they look as they approach their teenage years. Once they’re actually teenagers, they may be even more conscious of their appearance and want their hair, clothes, and shoes to be just right. Although teenagers with visual impairments may not be able to see how others look, they’ll be aware of others’ focus on appearances, and they’ll know schoolmates will be checking them out as well. It’s an unusual teenager who doesn’t want to fit in with the local teen culture. With your help, your teenager can learn the skills needed to be well groomed and in style independently.

Organization Is the Key

As with so many other aspects of life for a person who is visually impaired, organization is essential to help your child create and maintain personal style, whether he’s choosing the outfit he wants to wear or she’s finding the right color eye shadow in her makeup bag. By the teen years, your child should have systems in place for quickly finding what is needed. These systems may include:

  • A labeling system to identify clothing
  • A designated place for each type of clothing
  • Baskets or trays to organize small items
  • Tactile or other markers to identify the contents of bottles and jars

Dressing in Style

Keeping up to date on the latest trends in clothing, hairstyles, and makeup requires observation. If your child can’t see what other teenagers are wearing, here are some tips on how you can help your teen dress in style.

  • Describe the kinds of clothes that you see other girls or boys your child’s age wearing. Tell your teen about color combinations and patterns that you think would look good on his or her skin tone and body type.
  • Pay attention to other teenagers—whether on the street, at the mall, on television, or in magazines. If you’re not sure what’s “in,” talk to other teenagers you know and encourage your son or daughter to do so too.
  • When you take your child shopping, suggest a friend be brought along. The friend will be more knowledgeable about style than you will!
  • When your teen gets new clothes, work together to label them so that they can be identified.
  • Consider buying hangers that stack or interlock to make it easy for your teen to keep entire outfits together.
  • Teach your teenager how to iron. Even if your teen can’t see if another person’s clothes are wrinkled, he or she needs to be able to recognize when clothes need ironing. Have your teen determine that by feeling the surface of the fabric, and if uncertain, have your teen ask you or someone else at home.
  • If your child has usable vision, encourage him or her to check clothes for stains when taking them off. If your teen has no vision, talk about the importance of asking others for help in locating stains. Then teach her how to remove them herself.

Hair: A Teenage Focus

You can help your teenager choose a becoming hairstyle by describing how other girls are styling their hair. She may have strong opinions about the style and length she wants her hair to be. And, as you probably know, parents and teenagers don’t always agree on such issues. You can tell your daughter what you think and give her candid feedback about the advantages, disadvantages, and attractiveness of her choice, but you might consider letting her make the decision. If it’s the wrong one, her friends are likely to let her know soon enough—and any style will grow out quickly!

Boys Think About Their Hair Too

Many boys are just as concerned about hairstyles as girls are. If your son feels this way, you can be candid about what you think of his choice but consider leaving the decision to him. He may want to let his hair grow down to his shoulders and need elastic bands to keep it back in a ponytail. Or, he might want it short and spiky—sticking up in points that require gel.

Either way, you might want to take your teen to a hairstylist to get a good quality haircut and to find out what products will work best with his or her hair type. At home, try to help your child learn to care for the style he or she has chosen.

  • Give your teen feedback regarding new hair products and styles.
  • If it’s helpful, show your teen how to style his or her hair using a hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand approach. Work the way a professional hairdresser does—with your “client” sitting and you standing behind her.
  • If your child has usable vision, find out if a magnifying mirror makes it easier for your teen to see what she’s doing. Additional lighting might help too.

Getting Rid of Unwanted Hair

During the teen years, both boys and girls start to grow hair that they might want to remove. Your child may find it easier to use an electric razor than one with a blade. Show your child how to shave using an overlapping pattern of strokes so that each area is covered twice, cutting down on the chances of missing a spot.

leaning close to the mirror to put on makeup


If your teen wants to wear makeup, consider taking her to have makeup applied professionally. Encourage her to ask the makeup professional to show her tactilely how the makeup is applied. Suggest that your teen take notes about the techniques used to apply the makeup properly and in what order to put it on.

  • At home, your teen may find it easier to apply makeup using a magnifying mirror and additional lighting.
  • Try to help her determine the number of strokes needed to apply the right amount of blush or eye shadow so that she doesn’t have to rely on vision and doesn’t put on more than she needs.
  • Also help her locate “landmarks” on her face, such as her cheekbones, that can serve as boundaries for applying cosmetics.

Nail Polish

If your teen is interested in using nail polish, here are some tips:

  • If your child uses clear nail polish, she may not have to be as exact in applying it.
  • If your child wants to use color polish, help her practice taking overlapping strokes to make sure she covers each nail completely.
  • Suggest that she rest her hand on a towel of a contrasting color, which may make it easier for her to see the polish as she applies it.
  • If your child has a video magnifier or CCTV, it might help her to be more accurate when putting on polish. Encourage her to ask you or someone else to tell her if the polish is applied well or needs to be removed and reapplied.

Try the Blindfold Test

If your child is struggling with a task, try doing it yourself with a blindfold on or using a vision simulator that actually lets you experience your child’s visual impairment. You may develop an idea of how to simplify the task or come up with a different technique. If your teen is shy about trying out makeup techniques in front of you, encourage her to let you give her feedback. Sighted teens spend hours in front of the mirror trying out different outfits and hairstyles and practicing putting on makeup. Your child will need a lot of practice too. With your help and encouragement, your teen will look just as stylish as his or her friends.