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Parenting teens is easy once you embrace being an embarrassment

My son really hates it when I call for a price check.

My son really hates it when I call for a price check.

Everyone with teenagers please raise your free hand. And by “free” hand, I mean whichever hand isn’t either guarding your wallet or refrigerator door. For parents without a free hand because you are guarding both, don’t worry; we can see it in your eyes. It’s that blank, pleading stare recognized and shared by all parents with teenagers.

It’s a look that says, If not for over-the-counter medication and America’s Got Talent, I would curl into a fetal position until my kids turn 20.

Part of what makes raising teens so challenging, aside from mood swings that raise the bar for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is the lengths parents will go to avoid doing things their teen views as “totally embarrassing,” such as breathing while in the presence of someone they might know from school. Or making eye contact with them anywhere outside of the home. Or referring to them as “Pookie” or “Scooter” while standing in line with other parents and teens during school registration.

Some of you are probably saying to yourself, Wait… that last one IS embarrassing! And you would be right. Especially if you happen to be one of our three teens, all of whom registered for school last week — and each of whom received that shot across their bow. It was a subtle reminder that, as loving and supportive parents, we can take them down at any moment. It could come during a sporting event, when we stand up and yell “THAT’S MY BABY!” from the stands; it could hit a little closer to home during a sleep-over, when I ask if I should read “The Poky Little Puppy” like I do every night; or it might take place while helping chaperone a school dance, where we suddenly realize no one has ever danced The Macarena to a Pit Bull song before.

Just between us, the only way we'd attend a school dance is if there was an open bar like this one...

Just between us, the only way we’d attend a school dance is if there was an open bar like this one…

Like many parents, we made the mistake of trying to be extra sensitive when our first child stepped through the proverbial Doorway of Teenagerhood, which meant, among other things, we couldn’t step through the literal doorway of the bathroom for hours at a time. We reasoned it was a necessary transition into adulthood as she discovered her fashion identity. This began to change once I expressed my own identity as someone unable to put nature’s call on hold for more than 30 minutes. Next came the realization that many of the things we had always done as parents to express our love and genuine affection — such as hugging, waving, smiling or anything suggesting our shared lineage — suddenly caused our daughter the kind of emotional distress generally reserved for a skin diver during Shark Week.

"Are you sure you don't want to invite your friends over for a Vampire Diaries marathon? We can bake bat cookies!"

“Are you sure you don’t want to invite your friends over for a Vampire Diaries marathon? We can bake bat cookies!”

That’s when we decided enough was enough. In that moment the power paradigm shifted as we embraced our natural, God-given ability to be a complete embarrassment to our children. Discovering and harnessing this power was similar to any superhero who must learn to use his or her new-found abilities without swinging into the side of a building or accidentally ripping the door off of the family car. Our first attempts were awkward and clumsy. And while I initially regretted doing “the worm” at our daughter’s Sweet 16 dance party, once I was loaded into the ambulance I could see the look of concern on her face as she thought to herself: My parents are freaks, and my only hope for survival is to treat them with the respect I would give Dr. Evil.

As you can imagine, having our other three teens witnesses all this has made it relatively easy to instill the fear factor in them. It has not been necessary for us to show up at their school on Valentine’s Day dressed as giant hearts, or to enlist the help of classmates to sing happy birthday in Elvish, or volunteer to share parenting stories in their child development class. However, we do give them subtle reminders from time to time, like yesterday while school clothes shopping, when I pretended to teach our school fight song to mannequins at J.C. Penny’s. Though we were shopping out of town with no real danger of being seen by anyone they knew, it was clear we’re not above waiting until we’re at our local supermarket and having them paged to the customer service desk where “Mommy and Daddy are waiting.”

So parents, embrace being an embarrassment to your teenagers with both hands! Just make sure not to let go of your wallet or refrigerator while doing so.

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About Ned's Blog (35 Articles)
I've been a journalist and humor columnist at the Siuslaw News for 16 years. I'm also a volunteer firefighter. If the newspaper ever burns down, I will have some explaining to do. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

44 Comments on Parenting teens is easy once you embrace being an embarrassment

  1. My son isn’t even an official teen yet but I’m confident in my ability to properly embarrass him tonight at his middle school open house. What will be my tactic? Just showing up.

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  2. I had so much fun embarrassing my children when they were teenagers, I’ve have continued on with the practice now that all three of them are young adults. Since they are all still living at home, they are easy prey for me.

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    • I applaud you for embracing your embarrassment skills so fully, Catherine. The good news is that it seems to only get easier as we get older… and more gassy.

      Like

  3. I don’t have any teens yet, but this is also so true about school counseling and teaching. Love the post!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Magnitudes of dissonance and commented:
    i didn’t write this, but I liked it so much, I reblogged it. This is also something that teachers and school guidance counselors might find useful. Kids are conflicted with the impulse to separate as individuals and clinging to their parents like the children they used to be. As a staff and a teacher, I’ve been very embarrassing (often intentionally and for my own amusement) and have found that when I stopped doing some of my antics, the kids are disappointed. They love it (secretly). They like to complain about it and they laugh but something about it is valued. I suspect it’s because it tells them that I love my job and love playing with them (even when I’m telling them something they don’t want to hear), but it’s also genuine. They know the laugh is real.

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    • That’s very true, and i think humor — embarrassing or otherwise — is effectively disarming and opens communication in a nonthreatening way. The fact that my kids freak out is just a bonus.

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  5. I think embarrassing your teen is a rite of passage and a gift. I’m still doing it and my daughter is 22 and my son is 24!

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  6. Oh yes! Nailed it! Humor still works so awesome when trying to diffuse teenagerly situations. I’m not above using it on my kiddos’ friends, either. They know where the crazy mom lives and they still manage to endure my hugs and baby talk while they invade the snack drawer. Great post 🙂

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    • I think there’s a reason teenagers always seeem to gravitate toward the “crazy parents” house 😉

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      • You mean, in addition to the illegal drugs?
        KIDDING!!! Jeez. It’s the banana cream pie 😉

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        • My absolute FAVORITE by the way! I drive 58 miles to get some of the good stuff. Banana cream pie, I mean, not drugs. I can walk to get that… 😉

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          • Crap! You owe me another computer. I’m rolling on the floor with your last sentence. Don’t get me started on the “weed maps” that pop up on my browser as soon as I hit the Denver airport!
            Okay, seriously. I’ve been messing around all morning. I’m shutting off WP right…..now…..

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  7. Bravo Zulu.. Bravo Zulu!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. it is moments like those that make life (with teens) worth living.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, I most definitely embrace it. My latest is blasting Pitbull’s “Fireball” when I pick up my son from school and doing a bit of car dancing. He really likes that.

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  10. Love this! My son will be twelve in a few months and I’ve already managed to be an embarrassment to him recently. I’ll be sure to keep this little tactic for when I need it. Bravo to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Posts like this fill me with hope and dread. Dread because I’m still in the throes of tiny children who WILL NOT SLEEP, wipe boogers on walls, spit, scratch their crotches in public, and tantrum in the middle of stores. I don’t even want to think about mercurial teenagers who will hate the sight of me. Hope because I’m REALLY good at all the stuff you’ve suggested might embarrass them one day.
    Payback will be hell.

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    • I hate to say it, but those habbits won’t change much as they get older. The fact that you are already toning your embarrassment muscles means they will recognize very quickly that you have an embarrassment six-pack and biceps to match. Or, if all else fails, just a six-pack of something.

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  12. As the kids leave with friends, I like to yell, “Oh, and don’t forget to wipe!”

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  13. I’m incredibly scared now, Ned. Thank you. Yes, we can always embarrass them. I will not forget this. My oldest is a year and a half away, but he’s already moody and eats a ton, and likes to spend time alone in his bedroom. Uh, yeah. That’s funny that you guys went shopping out of town. Was that on purpose? Do I even need to ask?

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    • It sounds like your son is already practicing to be a teenager, so you’d better start doing the same as an embarrassing parent. Maybe take the “shock and awe” approach to make up some lost ground. I’m thinking dropping off a One Direction lunch box for him at school on the first day…

      And shopping out of town was planned; we made our point without any collateral damage 😉

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  14. Hey, my sister was pookie! You uncool old people need to get more creative with your pet names.
    *puts on shades to avoid making eye contact*

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  15. Y’all are evil! My Dad still works hard on the embarrassment of all of us. Hmm maybe it’s just natural for him actually. He has a way of saying the most awkward thing possible yet manage to have good intentions behind it.

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  16. I remember feeling embarrassed. When my mom accidentally blurted out the nickname we gave our principal, during school open day. In front of a huge crowd. Principal and crowd went silent and I felt like crawling into a hole…but we laugh about it now. I love my mom. So it all works out eventually!

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  17. You mean this kind of behaviour is only to be used on teenagers? Shit! I’d better stop doing it when in company with my 43 & 44 year old kids. What a bummer. It was so much fun. :-}

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    • Ha! There is no statute of limitations, so please: Carry On! Besides, as we get older, I think embarrassing our kids requires less and less effort, depending on our intestinal system…

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  18. Both my kids moved half a continent away as soon as they got out of college. But I’m sure that had nothing whatsoever to do with my insistence on delivering their lunch directly to them in the lunchroom every day so it would be fresh. In high school. In my old Laverne & Shirley lunchbox.

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    • HaHaHaHa! “There’s nothing we won’t try, never heard the word ‘impossible…'”

      Those lyrics from L&S apply to just about every parent with a teenager 😉

      Like

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