Leading child psychologists believe parents should give children a chance to help decorate their own rooms, even if it means grimacing a little when the Care Bears poster comes down and Motley Crue goes up.
Dr. Robert D. Brooks, a professor at Harvard and physican at Massachusetts' McLean Hospital, said giving kids a chance to help create their environment is a good way to make the child feel comfortable in their own space and lets parents show they trust their child's decisions.
'Psychological space is very important to a child,' Brooks said. 'Allowing them to help decorate their rooms helps kids feel the space they inhabit is theirs.
'Every one of us likes to feel we have a space on this earth that is uniquely ours. It helps develop a child's self-esteem. And allowing them to help decorate their room tells them 'I respect the decisions you make.''
That does not mean, however, that parents should abandon their role of supervisor. In fact, Brooks said, parents should make their feelings known before the decorating process begins.
'Different families have their own styles,' he said. 'You should sit down and talk about that with your child first. You don't have to accept something outrageous. But you do need to ask yourself 'is this for me, or for my child.''
He also suggested that children be given ample time to consider their choices before they are put into effect -- especially if what is being considered is something like color schemes or wallpaper.
'You tell them this is a very important decision. That sometimes in the past they've made decisions and then changed their minds the next day, but that they are going to have to make this decision and stick by it. If necessary, you should give them an extra day or two to think about it.'
Bringing children into the process could begin when the child is as young as 3 or 4, Brooks said.
'You might start with a waste basket,' he said. 'Let the child go with you when you pick it out. See what they'd like.'
He said children gain a sense of ownership of their space if they are allowed to decide where pictures are hung, what color a throw rug will be, or in what corner toys will be kept.
Dr. Jeffery Benezra, a child psychiatrist and instructor at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, said most of all parents should watch for 'age appropriate' behavior.
'Everything the child does in terms of his surroundings is directly related to what's going on in their psyche,' he said. 'What the child does will give the parent insight into some of the things a child is struggling with.'
For instance, he said, a 7- or 8-year-old who visits the zoo may come home and put up posters of animals, perhaps naming them and even talking to them.
'But if a 12- or 13-year-old had the same reaction, and tried to put some significance into what these animals represented, then you would have more concern,' he said.
Similarily, he said children who want their rooms decorated in dark colors or prefer dark objects may be going though problems with depression.
Benezra suggested general age appropriateness as:
Boys 6 to 8: 'Transitional' objects should start appearing in their rooms, such as teddy bears and toy soldiers.
Girls 6 to 8: Dolls and house sets.
Boys 9 to 12: Model airplanes and cars.
Girls 9 to 12: Makeup for dolls.
Boys 13 to 15: Sporting objects, punching bags, board games.
Girls 13 to 15: Involved in changing color patterns, posters of rock stars, idols.
Harvard's Brooks emphasized that the older a child becomes the more leeway should be given -- even if it means testing parental tolerance now and again.
'The most important thing is to know your own kid. In one room you might see a lot of variation, from Bruce Springsteen to some heavy metal group like Twisted Sister, maybe a warrior like Mad Max and (pro basketball star) Larry Bird. If you know your child is a with-it, caring kid then there's probably not any problem at all.
'Where Imight get concerned is if he had a poster of Adolf Hitler in his room or some other figure who is totally repugnant. Then I'd start asking what's going on, why did he do that.'
Added Benezra, 'Parents should not be worried about fads and trendy types of things, unless the child becomes obsessive about it.'
Throughout, however, Benezra said parents must set limits.
'Some parents let children do whatever they want, thinking it will convince the children of their love. But the research shows that children think they aren't setting limits because they don't want to take the time,' he said.
'Children are aware it's easier to say 'yes' than 'no.' They know that taking a stand takes time and effort to explain, but they feel better about it -- knowing there are rules they have to live within.'