When Parents Are Embarrassing

Chances are, your parents sometimes embarrass you. While some seldom mortify teens, other mothers and fathers seem especially skilled. Many kids complain of moms who wear ridiculous outfits, bombard their friends with questions, or treat them like toddlers. Dads can be embarrassing when they make lame jokes, brag about themselves, or use awful nicknames. While some teens lash out and get into trouble, others hide their feelings or stop inviting friends over. But there are better ways to handle these situations. In some cases, you can choose to speak up, say how you’re feeling, and ask your parents to stop embarrassing you. Try these strategies:

If it’s not serious, forget it. While babyish nicknames, lame jokes, and dorky outfits can make you cringe, they’re not serious. It’s just that, like most teens, you’re probably already sensitive to what people think of you. So it’s easy to think your parents can make you look bad. Be honest; aren’t you embarrassed just by them…looking at you, existing, and breathing? The truth is, though, nobody else cares about what your parents say and do. If it’s minor, give them a pass.

If their actions are valid, deal. Sometimes parents are humiliating—and yet, you can’t really get mad at them. For example, teens usually hate when their parents insist on calling the parents of friends having parties. Or if you’re the one hosting, it’s embarrassing when your parents actually come out of their room and talk to your friends. Even worse, they might send one of your friends home for breaking rules. But remember: it’s their job to keep you safe. If you have caring parents, being embarrassed may be the price you pay for having a social life.

Define what’s embarrassing. Between these extremes are situations that you’ll need to think through. The first step is deciding what exactly is embarrassing you. Then you’ll know what to say when you talk to your parents. Are they:

  • Violating boundaries. Do your parents friend your friends on Facebook? Do they answer your cell phone when you’re not around or text your friends to find out where you are? If so, it may embarrass you because they’re not respecting your right to have your own relationships.
  • Disregarding privacy. When parents talk about things you consider personal, like what scores you got on the PSATs, what part you’d auditioning for in the school play, or a fight with a friend, having your privacy violated probably upsets you.
  • Making you stand out. Do you cringe when your mom or dad compliments you to friends or relatives (“Hasn’t Morgan filled out nicely?”), especially if they exaggerate (“James is the best pitcher in the league”)? Do they ask you to perform (“Play that song for Grandma!”) or show off (“Tell your uncle what your English teacher wrote on your paper!”). The last thing you want is people staring at you or judging you…

Now that you have a better idea of what’s causing your embarrassment, you can be clearer when you talk to your parents. To broach important topics skillfully, use these guidelines:

1. Choose a good time and place. Rather than ambushing parents when they just come home for work or before they’re about to go to sleep, ask when they’re available to chat and find a private spot.

2. Speak respectfully. Even if you’re hurt or outraged, use a pleasant tone of voice, don’t accuse, and avoid words that’ll push your parents’ buttons. When you speak respectfully, they’re more likely to really hear your message.

3. Ask for what you want. Explain how your parents are making you feel, and ask them directly to do things differently. For example, try, “It embarrasses me when you tell our relatives private things. Could you please ask me first?” or “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t put me on the spot with the relatives.”

Although parents might think your embarrassment is no big deal, when you handle the conversation thoughtfully and maturely they’re more likely to listen and take your message seriously. Plus, you’re perfecting important skills that you’ll surely need someday soon with friends, teachers, or college roommates.

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