As July comes to an end, it's that time of year when parents and kids start thinking about the back-to-school season. We all know what that time means: a lot of back-to-school shopping.

It's important for students to have their school supplies to be prepared for class -- but why are clothes so meaningful, especially to middle school students?

Linda Morgan, an editor at ParentMap and author of the book, Beyond Smart, explains why fashion matters to kids.

What is this tweenage fashion obsession really about?

It's about announcing your membership in the tween 'tribe.' Wearing certain clothes that these kids see on the covers of magazines and on TV and on sports and music stars makes tweens feel like they belong. Gaining that sense of belonging is critical to social development at this age, and the right clothes can be a ticket in. Tweens want to buy certain clothes to give themselves a sense of security and acceptance by their contemporaries.

This must be expensive. Are there ways parents can cut down on the costs of all that shopping?

Clothes-swapping is one way to cope with the high cost of some of the most desired labels. For some families, those labels are just out of reach. Some parents cope with the high cost of shopping by asking kids to chip in on those nice-to-have extras. Parents can stipulate that a tween's allowance goes toward clothes -- and if they need something big, parents can help.

All these kids seem to shop for the same items. Shouldn't you encourage your child to buck the trends?

It's unrealistic to ask that your child express his or her individuality at this age, when conformity equals security and acceptance. Individuality will come later, as they get more comfortable in their own skin. In fact, don't over-edit their clothing choices. Sometimes parents feel that their kids are making mistakes with their purchases, thinking the styles are just hideous. Go online and see what is fashionable; it might help you be more reasonable with your tween at the mall -- and keep the peace.

What's the best way to shop for school clothes with your tweens?

There are several guidelines:

  • Set limits. Give your tween a clear picture of what you are prepared to buy and spend ahead of time, and then stick to it. If there's an expensive item that she must have, help find a way for her to pay for part of it herself, either with her allowance or by doing extra chores.
  • Spread your spending out. Remember that you don't have to buy everything before school starts. In fact, letting kids get a week of classes under their belts allows them to see what others are wearing while there's still money left for another item or two.
  • Keep it school-friendly. Know where to draw the line when it comes to choosing styles. Steer kids away from trends such as low-cut tops and slogan T-shirts with inappropriate messages. Certain trends are not appropriate for this age. Your child's school has a dress code; find it online and use it for backup.
  • Let it be. What difference does it make if your daughter goes through a neon phase? Just make sure her fashions statements are appropriate and consistent with school dress codes. Set boundaries -- then lighten up just a little.
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