Monday, March 9, 2009

Of course your tween thinks you're embarrassing. Here's how to cope

We did it to our parents, and this is one of the moments your mom was talking about when she said, "I hope you have a kid someday who is just like you." Your adorable child, the one who was loathe to leave your side even for a moment during the toddler years, looks at you and hisses, "You're EMBARRASSING me!"

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. 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.

So, how are you handling the tween/teen years? Sound off in the comments (or surf over to the Boston Globe's Child Caring blog and read the ones there).

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