Psychologically Speaking: Mom, stop embarrassing me

I think you really need to be upfront and tell your parents openly and honestly what they are doing and how it makes you feel.

teen girl 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
teen girl 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Dear Dr. Batya, I always read your column. I am 13 and I have a question. What happens when you are really embarrassed by your parents? Sometimes their behavior in front of my friends just makes me want to pretend I don't know them. It really upsets me. - L.M., Tel Mond I'm happy you enjoy my column. At a certain age, it seems we all are embarrassed by our parents. When I was about your age, my mom would pick me up from school on a rainy day. She'd park right across from the school, stand by her car, yell my name and wave her hands. I just wanted to die! So, I can relate to how you must feel. Surely she knew I saw her, and the rest of the school did too, as they all looked at me, or so I thought. In my mind I could hear them saying, "Ooh, whose mom is that?" It was so embarrassing at the time. Now years later, I suspect the other kids didn't even notice. When one of my children was your age, we agreed to kiss each other good-bye before picking up the other kids in the carpool to save my child's embarrassment. It worked for a long time. Some day you'll hopefully laugh at the things your parents did that you find embarrassing now. Also, just wait until your children are embarrassed by you and think you are loud, rude and too strict, seem old or uneducated, or are old-fashioned. Kids often get embarrassed because they don't like to draw attention to themselves. Most kids want to fit in, feel normal and be like their friends. They hate when someone, especially a parent, makes them blush, feel awkward or embarrasses them. They may feel hurt, angry or made fun of. Most parents don't deliberately try to embarrass their children. Sometimes they inadvertently do so because they think that something their child did was cute and they are proud and want to show you off. Some parents also like to "play around" or joke with their children and while they think it is funny, you certainly may not agree with them. Sometimes the best thing to do is to ignore them. Your friends might actually like your parents and think they're cool, even if you don't. As a parent myself, I think you really need to be upfront and tell your parents openly and honestly what they are doing and how it makes you feel. You can't assume that without talking to them, they will or should know what the problem is or even that they have done anything wrong. That's why communication between a parent and a teenager is so important. It may be very hard for you to tell them how you are feeling and to let them know just why. Sometimes, it might even be hard for you to figure out yourself what it is that upsets you. Maybe your parents can help you figure it out and then together you can work to deal with it. If you can't say it over a cup of hot chocolate (ask mom and dad to take you out so you can talk alone), at night when things may be quieter at home or even in a note or letter to your parents, you may need to talk with a counselor or some other adult or grown up sibling whom you trust. The most important thing is to make sure you talk and don't keep your feelings to yourself. Let your parents know if you feel they aren't listening, as this is really important. Good communication now is essential for the future. Let's say for example that you are really embarrassed because of how your parents dress. They try to look "cool" but you think they look ridiculous. You may think that they wear clothes that are more suitable for your friends, or worse, that they dress like grandparents. Maybe the talk you need to have with your parents is what clothing really represents for you. Is it about money issues and being able to afford things, or cleanliness, or materialism or comfort or modesty? What image do they think they give and what do you think they give? Once you have this discussion, you both may understand things differently. Sometimes you may discover that if you brainstorm together you can come up with ideas to keep the embarrassment down. When one of my children needed a reminder about something when he was with others but didn't want them to know about it, we worked out a "secret signal" so that whenever I said "Coke" for example, it was a reminder for him to stop what he was doing, Finally, you may need to do a quick check for yourself to see what kind of things make you embarrassed, who you may be with and how often you get embarrassed. Are you embarrassed because of your friends? Peer pressure may make you feel you shouldn't act a certain way and because you feel embarrassed, you act in a way that isn't really you. If you are ever in a situation where you feel uncomfortable for any reason, you should be able to let your parents know that you need them. Let's say that you are supposed to get a ride home from your girlfriend's dad but you know he was drinking. If you don't feel comfortable telling your friend you'd like to go home with your parents instead, you can work out a code so when you do call home, your parents will immediately know things aren't right and offer to come and pick you up. I always told my children they could throw in a casual question about Aunt Rachel and I'd know something was up, as we don't have an Aunt Rachel. Being 13 is not easy. You have to let your parents know that sometimes your feelings get hurt. Sometimes there may be a reason and other times there won't be. This is a very tough age, one of the hardest, and you may find that some days someone can say anything but on other days, the same thing said can be hurtful, upsetting and very embarrassing. The most important thing you can do is to talk to your parents so that you can work on finding solutions together. The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.