Ask the Experts: I Embarrass My Tween!

What to do when your tween or teen is totally embarrassed by you

Q: How do I properly respond or act when I know my tween is so embarrassed by me? Help!

A: The first thing to know — in caps, highlighted, bolded and underlined — it’s not personal. It’s important to understand the work your youngster is up to as he or she begins to separate from you. This rearranging is hard work: it’s messy, confusing and very scary.

When your tween is embarrassed by you, try to adapt a compassionate, amused attitude without scolding and shaming. Much of the reactivity they have toward you is involuntary and irrational. Imaginary audience syndrome means kids — particularly in middle school — believe every move they make is being scrutinized. They don’t understand other kids are suffering from the same syndrome, not evaluating their friends as much as worrying about being judged themselves.

Tweens have a desperate need to fit in, because it’s one of the essential steps of breaking free from us. In the course of separating, they try to re-identify with a group of peers. This is risky business, because their peers are fickle and unreliable. Any perceived wrong move can cast them out, and belonging is a powerful need.

When you say good-bye to your tween with a hug or a kiss and they fear that someone might think of them as a mamma’s boy, their peer-group belonging is at risk. Your presence is seen as disrupting the apple cart. You may jeopardize that cart by breathing the wrong way! It’s a highly insecure time. Do your best to not take the embarrassment personally and not scold or punish them for this.

I remember driving somewhere with my son, who was then 12 or 13, and a great song came on the radio. I started softly bobbing my head. My son looked at me, mortified, and said, “Mom, please!”

Tweens lead double lives. They are one way with friends, but when they are alone with you, they can be young, cuddly and needy. Just go with it. Don’t say, “You sure are being nice now, after being horrible earlier.” You are on a ride that spins you around. The less you try to control how your child is, the better. They need your reassurance.

Visit tween planet and see how bobbing your head to music can be a death sentence for them. When you go to war with “Don’t tell me I can’t bob my head to the song!” tensions escalate. Remember: compassion and amusement. Look at them with a glint of love in your eye while you resist bobbing your head and singing along to the good song on the radio. It’s not personal.

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