Help! My tween says I'm embarrassing him!

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  March 6, 2009 12:47 AM

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By Lylah M. Alphonse, Globe Staff

There comes a point about 10 years in to this parenting gig when, all of a sudden, everything you do is embarrassing to your kids. I mean everything. The clothes you wear. The music you like. What you pack in their lunchboxes. Kissing them goodbye at school. Breathing. Everything.

Welcome to the world of parenting tweens and teens. It's likely that they will become more consistently human again in a few years. In the meantime, you have two choices: make yourself crazy trying to please them, or take it in stride.

Apparently, it doesn't matter how cool the rest of the world thinks you are, because as far as your kid is concerned, anything you do is, like, soooooo embarrassing. Even celebrities can't escape it:

"I took [9-year-old] Ava to a Carrie Underwood concert, and she said, 'Mom, I really appreciate you taking me to the concert, but will you please not embarrass me in front of Carrie Underwood by singing because she's a real singer and you're just, like, a movie singer,' " Reece Witherspoon -- who won a Best Actress Oscar for playing singer June Carter Cash in 2005's Walk the Line -- tells Parents magazine this month.

Bono, rock star extraordinaire and father of four, says his 19- and 17-year-old daughters worry that tells the he'll bore people by talking about his favorite causes. And Tom Cruise's and Nicole Kidman's 12- and 9-year-olds apparently are so embarrassed by their parents that they don't want them to pick them up from school.

So, how do you cope with feeling rejected by your bundle of joy, avoid additional humiliation, and give your tween or teen the space she needs while still keeping her safe?

Remember that your job is to be their parent, not their buddy. In spite of what your tween may tell you, you actually do know what you're talking about. It's uncomfortable, but it's OK for your kid not to like you if what you're doing is in their best interests. Explain consequences, set limits, and enforce them. Just don't expect them to thank you for the next several years.

Make them earn it. When it comes to teens and tweens, independence isn't a right, it's a privilege. Make them earn it giving them responsibilities, chores, and goals. Remind them -- often -- that you have high expectations about them because you care, not because you're trying to beat them down. Most kids will rise to the occasion.

Be willing to compromise -- a little. If your teen wants to stretch her wings (go to the mall unattended, for example), find a way to give her some of the independence she craves while making sure she's not in danger (you go, too, and let her know you'll be monitoring from afar). If your tween wants to watch that iffy movie on cable, sit down and watch it with him -- and be prepared to explain things, or even turn the TV off if need be.

Keep talking. They may seem like they're ignoring you, but tweens are still listening, much of the time. They need to hear accurate information about big issues like sex, drugs, tobacco use, alcohol use, relationships, finances, cyber safety, bullying, etc., from you, preferably before they hear it from their friends. Kidshealth.org has a great rundown of things you should talk about with your preadolescent.

Pick your battles. Some things really aren't worth fighting over. Purple hair? It's not on your head (and if you don't make a big deal about it, chances are it won't be on your kid's head much longer, either). Save your strength for the things that really matter.

Remember what it was like when you were his age. Chances are, you really didn't have to walk uphill in the snow both ways to go to school, dagnabbit. Remember what embarrassed you as a teen? Right. Try not to do those things to your kid. For example: It doesn't matter if you've called him "Cuddley Cakies" since he was a toddler, call him by his real name in front of his friends.

Don't take it personally. Keep in mind that your kids are going through a normal developmental phase. Most of the time, their embarrassment isn't about you and what you're doing, it's about them trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.

How are you handling the tween/teen years?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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25 comments so far...
  1. One thing that really bothers me with my early teen girls is that they suddenly don't want me to wave or say hello to their old school mates/friends that they went to elementary school with for years and lived in our neighborhood. Its especially an issue if I wave to the boys. But I feel I've known these kids since kindergarten or earlier and if they are looking right at me I will say hi or wave. My girls get terribly embarrassed and ask me not to. Should I respect their teen wishes or continue to acknowledge these kids?

    Posted by Momof2teens March 6, 09 08:45 AM
  1. I would add two things to this - in addition to a thick skin, it definitely takes a sense of humor on the parents' part - I find that to be a huge help in helping both sides deflect some of that embarrassment.

    The other one is to use what my wife and I call passive-captive situations - some of my best talks with my tweens/teens (I have 3 between 11 and 16) have happened in the car, in a canoe, in waiting rooms - places where they can let their guard down and eye contact is at a minimum - thereby helping to make your questions and the conversation a lot less confrontational. During these conversations, try to let it just flow - if they don't feel like talking, fine, but if they do, let them go, be sympathetic, try not to interrupt, and keep your judgment to a minimum.

    Posted by daddio63 March 6, 09 09:16 AM
  1. "Make yourself crazy, or take it in stride?"

    How about telling the kids that they can save the attitude for their friends at school? Agree that your job is not to be their friend, but your kids don't get to dictate your behavior either.

    Posted by Colin Principe March 6, 09 09:37 AM
  1. Momof2teens- I remember as a teen being embarassed of my mother talking to my friends. What I will do with my son is tell him that it is polite to acknowledge and talk to people I know.

    Posted by dadofone7monthold March 6, 09 09:38 AM
  1. Momof2teens: You need to set an example about thinking and conducting your relationships independently and treating other people appropriately, not responding to social pressure (in this case, from your kids). Yes, you remain friendly to these other children, and you explain why. In the end, these are your relationships, not your daughters's.

    Posted by singledad March 6, 09 10:08 AM
  1. I agree with daddio63 re: the passive-captive situations. My husband gets upset when I offer to drive my teen to school in the morning and I remind him it is the time when I hear the most about what is going on, etc. We're adjusting well to our new roles -- not only are we horridly embarrassing, according to our teen son, but Mom is "annoying" and Dad is "awkward." Right now, annoying trumps awkward with regard to who gets to accompany him to events such as sports banquests, but Dad is still the better playmate when it comes time for board games and other family activities. We'll survive!!

    Posted by Niskymom March 6, 09 10:29 AM
  1. It sounds like Bono's kids are correct! They are catching on to something here!

    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants March 6, 09 11:01 AM
  1. They do grow out of it. As a mother of four adult daughters, I remember times when they wouldn't even walk on the same side of the street as me. I did keep a sense of humor, which helped. I would joke with them and tell them how much worse I could be. Pick them up from school in my pajamas, call them by their nickname in front of their friends, show baby pictures. . . I told them that my job was to embarass them jokingly, of course) But we would all get a good laugh out of it and move from the moment.. It was time that they were expressing their independence. I really did give them their space and observe, but always be there for theose rought times, that came as regularly as these times when they said I embarassed them.

    Posted by Dee Dee March 6, 09 11:04 AM
  1. The one bright spot about your teen not wanting you to embarass them is that this rejection goes away around 20 or so. Granted, it turns into tolerance, but any hugs and kisses and "I Love You"s for any reason are quite welcome.

    Posted by Jean Stevens March 6, 09 11:30 AM
  1. I'm an adult, and I'm tired of hearing Bono flap his jaws outside the recording studio. I know he's doing good, but sometimes I'd rather he spend more time rocking and less time talking about Africa.

    And as for the Cruise/Kidman kids -- after the couch-jumping incident and other loony behavior from Dad, I can't say they are wrong, either. At least their mom is good looking!

    Posted by J March 6, 09 11:33 AM
  1. Bono bores EVERYBODY by talking about his favorite causes.

    Posted by FJ March 6, 09 11:44 AM
  1. how about the reason they find the parent embarrassing in the first place? do you have a healthy relationship for your child? do you try to understand him or her, as juvenile as most of their concerns are at this age? are you good to talk to? do you relate when they want to be left alone with their friends sometimes?

    Parents don't need to be cool but do have a responsibility to foster a good and trusting relationship with their chlidren so that when they're teenagers, there's that much more trust and understanding during difficult and awkward times.

    Posted by FJ March 6, 09 11:46 AM
  1. I'm handling the tween years just fine by not having kids. Going through it myself was enough already. Thanks.

    Posted by Chex March 6, 09 11:54 AM
  1. If you have a daughter send her to grandma's for the 12-20 years! Not always a practical idea, and if you can't, just relax and time will fly. Now that my daughter is a mother we are the best of friends and I've told her I'll be happy to take my granddaughter for those years!

    Sons are much easier on their mom, it's dad that gets the brunt of their emotions.

    Posted by Gigi March 6, 09 11:56 AM
  1. my back then 9 boy years old never think I am cool enough to walk him to school.
    Before we even see the school he already tells me mom, you can go home now.
    Now I think it is best for me not to assoiated too much with his school. I just think
    it is their time, and their school, shame or shine they have to deal with it.

    Posted by stephanie March 6, 09 12:01 PM
  1. Comes with the territory...your existence is an embarassment once they reach that age. And it strikes suddenly. For me it was when, in the supermarket next to my daughter, I had the temerity to order some chicken salad and ask the clerk if it was all white meat. She was SOOO embarrased. Its the age, not you. It passes; mine's almost 17 now and much more 'tolerant' of me. I think its like what Mark Twain (I think), said about his father 'at 14 I knew so much more than my old man, by 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned'

    Posted by EmmyBee March 6, 09 01:31 PM
  1. I think a nod and a subdued hello are appropriate - no jumping down and waving or dorky questions of course. It's never OK not to acknowledge someone.

    Posted by Patricia March 6, 09 01:50 PM
  1. What's the deal with 9 year old boys? My son is 8 1/2 but he's still very attached to mom and dad. He'll exert his independence at times when he wants his own way but, thankfully, no get lost because I'm embarrassed stuff.

    Posted by suzanne March 6, 09 03:09 PM
  1. My 9-year old boy was always so attached to me I thought he would be forever, but sadly, at 9 he already doesn't want me around in public. At home its a different story, he's very cuddly etc. He absolutely has a fit if I try to meet him at the bus stop when he is dropped off. He says its not cool, none of the other kids parents meet them at the bus - and these kids only go up to age 10. I still meet him but a little bit away.

    Posted by Momof2teens March 6, 09 05:32 PM
  1. Simple, make an agreement with them. You will try to stop embarrassing them AND they will try to stop embarrassing you. If they can't contract to that, all bets are off and you don't want to hear it. And why, as the adult, is any parent overly concerned about their 'tweens' being embarrassed by them. Please, these parents need to grow up. The kids are in a normative developemental period.

    Posted by A-D-U-L-T March 6, 09 05:46 PM
  1. Teenagers are neither emotionally mature nor socially experienced, so don't take anything they say too seriously. If your kid doesn't like the way you dress, tell them it's none of their business and then make them clean your toilets. If your kid complains about what you say, tell them it's none of their business and then cancel their cell phone. Everything gets real simple once you effectively exert your parental authority. Act like a wimp and they'll walk all over you. Good luck.


    Posted by Ralston March 7, 09 07:32 AM
  1. I disagree with the purple hair comment. Tweens and teens are supposed to rebel against their parents - it's in their nature. They will keep at it until they figure out what pushes their parents to the edge. My parents argued against double piercing my ears and cutting my hair into a spiky do (we're talking early '80s) and when I did it I felt soooo rebellious. I didn't need to push the envelope further into worse behavior such as drinking or smoking. If you tell your kid how cute they look with purple hair or help them pick out their latest tatoo pattern, they will keep looking for ways to shock you. Even if you really don't care about their hair or the way they dress, argue anyway and make them feel subversive. Perhaps then they won't feel the need to up the ante.

    Posted by Cordelia March 7, 09 09:09 AM
  1. I don't remember being embarrassed of my parents when I was a kid. In high school, I used to put my arm around my mother when we would go to the mall. My sister was the one that would get embarrassed.

    As for the parents whose kids get embarrassed when their parents pick them up for school, they should be glad that their parents pick them up at all. My mother was always late picking me up from extracurricular activities. So I was the kid that would wait and wait and wait, then it would start to get dark and this was before cell phones. I didn't have a chance to get embarrassed because there wouldn't be anyone around to see my parents. On one occasion, the library was closing and my mother was late again. The librarian said it's the county's policy not to leave kids alone waiting if the staff was leaving and a police officer would have to come and take me home. Now that is what you call embarrassing! Luckily my mom showed up before the cop did.

    Posted by Maria March 7, 09 10:24 AM
  1. I don't remember being embarrassed of my parents when I was a kid. In high school, I used to put my arm around my mother when we would go to the mall. My sister was the one that would get embarrassed.

    As for the parents whose kids get embarrassed when their parents pick them up for school, they should be glad that their parents pick them up at all. My mother was always late picking me up from extracurricular activities. So I was the kid that would wait and wait and wait, then it would start to get dark and this was before cell phones. I didn't have a chance to get embarrassed because there wouldn't be anyone around to see my parents. On one occasion, the library was closing and my mother was late again. The librarian said it's the county's policy not to leave kids alone waiting if the staff was leaving and a police officer would have to come and take me home. Now that is what you call embarrassing! Luckily my mom showed up before the cop did.

    Posted by Maria March 7, 09 10:37 AM
  1. We have three adult children who now still go on summer and winter vacations with us, still celebrate holidays with us, and now go to movies and concerts that would have embarassed them previously. And they join us now because they choose to. That we were an embarassment to them a few years ago was their problem, not ours. We saw no need to arbitrarily exert authority or mete out consequences unrelated and/or disproportionate to a transgression (which embarassment most certainly is not). The teen years will be over before you know it, and your problem is to establish an environment that enables (among other things) the process of separation such that you and your kids to make it through with minimal negative impact on your relationship. You need to give them space to figure it out without hurting themselves. It isn't easy, but it helps to see yourself less as in charge and more as entrusted with overseeing the development of a gift to the world.

    Posted by Buzz March 7, 09 01:49 PM
 
25 comments so far...
  1. One thing that really bothers me with my early teen girls is that they suddenly don't want me to wave or say hello to their old school mates/friends that they went to elementary school with for years and lived in our neighborhood. Its especially an issue if I wave to the boys. But I feel I've known these kids since kindergarten or earlier and if they are looking right at me I will say hi or wave. My girls get terribly embarrassed and ask me not to. Should I respect their teen wishes or continue to acknowledge these kids?

    Posted by Momof2teens March 6, 09 08:45 AM
  1. I would add two things to this - in addition to a thick skin, it definitely takes a sense of humor on the parents' part - I find that to be a huge help in helping both sides deflect some of that embarrassment.

    The other one is to use what my wife and I call passive-captive situations - some of my best talks with my tweens/teens (I have 3 between 11 and 16) have happened in the car, in a canoe, in waiting rooms - places where they can let their guard down and eye contact is at a minimum - thereby helping to make your questions and the conversation a lot less confrontational. During these conversations, try to let it just flow - if they don't feel like talking, fine, but if they do, let them go, be sympathetic, try not to interrupt, and keep your judgment to a minimum.

    Posted by daddio63 March 6, 09 09:16 AM
  1. "Make yourself crazy, or take it in stride?"

    How about telling the kids that they can save the attitude for their friends at school? Agree that your job is not to be their friend, but your kids don't get to dictate your behavior either.

    Posted by Colin Principe March 6, 09 09:37 AM
  1. Momof2teens- I remember as a teen being embarassed of my mother talking to my friends. What I will do with my son is tell him that it is polite to acknowledge and talk to people I know.

    Posted by dadofone7monthold March 6, 09 09:38 AM
  1. Momof2teens: You need to set an example about thinking and conducting your relationships independently and treating other people appropriately, not responding to social pressure (in this case, from your kids). Yes, you remain friendly to these other children, and you explain why. In the end, these are your relationships, not your daughters's.

    Posted by singledad March 6, 09 10:08 AM
  1. I agree with daddio63 re: the passive-captive situations. My husband gets upset when I offer to drive my teen to school in the morning and I remind him it is the time when I hear the most about what is going on, etc. We're adjusting well to our new roles -- not only are we horridly embarrassing, according to our teen son, but Mom is "annoying" and Dad is "awkward." Right now, annoying trumps awkward with regard to who gets to accompany him to events such as sports banquests, but Dad is still the better playmate when it comes time for board games and other family activities. We'll survive!!

    Posted by Niskymom March 6, 09 10:29 AM
  1. It sounds like Bono's kids are correct! They are catching on to something here!

    Posted by Mikey "Insane" Monkeypants March 6, 09 11:01 AM
  1. They do grow out of it. As a mother of four adult daughters, I remember times when they wouldn't even walk on the same side of the street as me. I did keep a sense of humor, which helped. I would joke with them and tell them how much worse I could be. Pick them up from school in my pajamas, call them by their nickname in front of their friends, show baby pictures. . . I told them that my job was to embarass them jokingly, of course) But we would all get a good laugh out of it and move from the moment.. It was time that they were expressing their independence. I really did give them their space and observe, but always be there for theose rought times, that came as regularly as these times when they said I embarassed them.

    Posted by Dee Dee March 6, 09 11:04 AM
  1. The one bright spot about your teen not wanting you to embarass them is that this rejection goes away around 20 or so. Granted, it turns into tolerance, but any hugs and kisses and "I Love You"s for any reason are quite welcome.

    Posted by Jean Stevens March 6, 09 11:30 AM
  1. I'm an adult, and I'm tired of hearing Bono flap his jaws outside the recording studio. I know he's doing good, but sometimes I'd rather he spend more time rocking and less time talking about Africa.

    And as for the Cruise/Kidman kids -- after the couch-jumping incident and other loony behavior from Dad, I can't say they are wrong, either. At least their mom is good looking!

    Posted by J March 6, 09 11:33 AM
  1. Bono bores EVERYBODY by talking about his favorite causes.

    Posted by FJ March 6, 09 11:44 AM
  1. how about the reason they find the parent embarrassing in the first place? do you have a healthy relationship for your child? do you try to understand him or her, as juvenile as most of their concerns are at this age? are you good to talk to? do you relate when they want to be left alone with their friends sometimes?

    Parents don't need to be cool but do have a responsibility to foster a good and trusting relationship with their chlidren so that when they're teenagers, there's that much more trust and understanding during difficult and awkward times.

    Posted by FJ March 6, 09 11:46 AM
  1. I'm handling the tween years just fine by not having kids. Going through it myself was enough already. Thanks.

    Posted by Chex March 6, 09 11:54 AM
  1. If you have a daughter send her to grandma's for the 12-20 years! Not always a practical idea, and if you can't, just relax and time will fly. Now that my daughter is a mother we are the best of friends and I've told her I'll be happy to take my granddaughter for those years!

    Sons are much easier on their mom, it's dad that gets the brunt of their emotions.

    Posted by Gigi March 6, 09 11:56 AM
  1. my back then 9 boy years old never think I am cool enough to walk him to school.
    Before we even see the school he already tells me mom, you can go home now.
    Now I think it is best for me not to assoiated too much with his school. I just think
    it is their time, and their school, shame or shine they have to deal with it.

    Posted by stephanie March 6, 09 12:01 PM
  1. Comes with the territory...your existence is an embarassment once they reach that age. And it strikes suddenly. For me it was when, in the supermarket next to my daughter, I had the temerity to order some chicken salad and ask the clerk if it was all white meat. She was SOOO embarrased. Its the age, not you. It passes; mine's almost 17 now and much more 'tolerant' of me. I think its like what Mark Twain (I think), said about his father 'at 14 I knew so much more than my old man, by 21, I was amazed at how much he had learned'

    Posted by EmmyBee March 6, 09 01:31 PM
  1. I think a nod and a subdued hello are appropriate - no jumping down and waving or dorky questions of course. It's never OK not to acknowledge someone.

    Posted by Patricia March 6, 09 01:50 PM
  1. What's the deal with 9 year old boys? My son is 8 1/2 but he's still very attached to mom and dad. He'll exert his independence at times when he wants his own way but, thankfully, no get lost because I'm embarrassed stuff.

    Posted by suzanne March 6, 09 03:09 PM
  1. My 9-year old boy was always so attached to me I thought he would be forever, but sadly, at 9 he already doesn't want me around in public. At home its a different story, he's very cuddly etc. He absolutely has a fit if I try to meet him at the bus stop when he is dropped off. He says its not cool, none of the other kids parents meet them at the bus - and these kids only go up to age 10. I still meet him but a little bit away.

    Posted by Momof2teens March 6, 09 05:32 PM
  1. Simple, make an agreement with them. You will try to stop embarrassing them AND they will try to stop embarrassing you. If they can't contract to that, all bets are off and you don't want to hear it. And why, as the adult, is any parent overly concerned about their 'tweens' being embarrassed by them. Please, these parents need to grow up. The kids are in a normative developemental period.

    Posted by A-D-U-L-T March 6, 09 05:46 PM
  1. Teenagers are neither emotionally mature nor socially experienced, so don't take anything they say too seriously. If your kid doesn't like the way you dress, tell them it's none of their business and then make them clean your toilets. If your kid complains about what you say, tell them it's none of their business and then cancel their cell phone. Everything gets real simple once you effectively exert your parental authority. Act like a wimp and they'll walk all over you. Good luck.


    Posted by Ralston March 7, 09 07:32 AM
  1. I disagree with the purple hair comment. Tweens and teens are supposed to rebel against their parents - it's in their nature. They will keep at it until they figure out what pushes their parents to the edge. My parents argued against double piercing my ears and cutting my hair into a spiky do (we're talking early '80s) and when I did it I felt soooo rebellious. I didn't need to push the envelope further into worse behavior such as drinking or smoking. If you tell your kid how cute they look with purple hair or help them pick out their latest tatoo pattern, they will keep looking for ways to shock you. Even if you really don't care about their hair or the way they dress, argue anyway and make them feel subversive. Perhaps then they won't feel the need to up the ante.

    Posted by Cordelia March 7, 09 09:09 AM
  1. I don't remember being embarrassed of my parents when I was a kid. In high school, I used to put my arm around my mother when we would go to the mall. My sister was the one that would get embarrassed.

    As for the parents whose kids get embarrassed when their parents pick them up for school, they should be glad that their parents pick them up at all. My mother was always late picking me up from extracurricular activities. So I was the kid that would wait and wait and wait, then it would start to get dark and this was before cell phones. I didn't have a chance to get embarrassed because there wouldn't be anyone around to see my parents. On one occasion, the library was closing and my mother was late again. The librarian said it's the county's policy not to leave kids alone waiting if the staff was leaving and a police officer would have to come and take me home. Now that is what you call embarrassing! Luckily my mom showed up before the cop did.

    Posted by Maria March 7, 09 10:24 AM
  1. I don't remember being embarrassed of my parents when I was a kid. In high school, I used to put my arm around my mother when we would go to the mall. My sister was the one that would get embarrassed.

    As for the parents whose kids get embarrassed when their parents pick them up for school, they should be glad that their parents pick them up at all. My mother was always late picking me up from extracurricular activities. So I was the kid that would wait and wait and wait, then it would start to get dark and this was before cell phones. I didn't have a chance to get embarrassed because there wouldn't be anyone around to see my parents. On one occasion, the library was closing and my mother was late again. The librarian said it's the county's policy not to leave kids alone waiting if the staff was leaving and a police officer would have to come and take me home. Now that is what you call embarrassing! Luckily my mom showed up before the cop did.

    Posted by Maria March 7, 09 10:37 AM
  1. We have three adult children who now still go on summer and winter vacations with us, still celebrate holidays with us, and now go to movies and concerts that would have embarassed them previously. And they join us now because they choose to. That we were an embarassment to them a few years ago was their problem, not ours. We saw no need to arbitrarily exert authority or mete out consequences unrelated and/or disproportionate to a transgression (which embarassment most certainly is not). The teen years will be over before you know it, and your problem is to establish an environment that enables (among other things) the process of separation such that you and your kids to make it through with minimal negative impact on your relationship. You need to give them space to figure it out without hurting themselves. It isn't easy, but it helps to see yourself less as in charge and more as entrusted with overseeing the development of a gift to the world.

    Posted by Buzz March 7, 09 01:49 PM
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