Stop Embarrassing Your Teens
I happened to spend some time with a normal parent this weekend. That is, she’s the mom of regular teenagers (rather than special needs teens), not that she herself is normal. (Really, are any of us normal?) On the one hand, I sometimes feel like my day-to-day experiences of raising teens with complex medical, socio-emotional, and scholastic needs makes me something of a freak at any sort of “typical” gathering of parents. It’s hard to join in a conversation about how Jenny is dealing with boyfriend drama or Johnny had a minor fender-bender or Susie’s teacher dropped a big project on the class the week of homecoming when my own teens are not yet driving or dating, and when it comes to a big school assignment, it’s a toss-up as to whether Gifted Brain will kick in and knock that bad boy out beyond expectations, ahead of schedule, or whether Scattered Brain will even remember there’s homework. And don’t even get me started on the typical frozen half-smile of confusion that meets me when someone learns that I am homeschooling one teen while the other attends public school. (Bonus points if they ask why that is, and I explain that my youngest is autistic, but actually, both of my kids are autistic, but different kinds of autistic, you see.) (I am super fun to have around at parties.)
Anyway, my point (I swear I’m getting there) is that I often feel like it’s hard to find common ground with “regular” parents, and—if I’m being honest—that is often an uncomfortable situation for me. It can be hard to relate to or even make small-talk with someone when you feel like your shared experience should be similar but undeniably isn’t. On this particular occasion, however, we two mothers of teenage girls discovered that we had one very notable area of similarity: Public embarrassment.
Whether due to his particular flavor of autism, or being a boy, or something else, I’m not sure my son has ever been embarrassed in his entire life. My daughter, on the other hand, turns out to be 100% typical (yay?) when it comes to her life as a teenager who wants to fit in, but has to endure the trauma of having… parents. Parents are super embarrassing, you know. As this other mom and I compared notes, I became giddy with the knowledge that at least in this one area, we are neither ahead nor behind. We’re not even weird. Typical! There’s not a lot of typical in our household; we’ll take it where we can get it. A fun-filled chunk of time was passed as we contemplated all of the spoken and unspoken rules of what behavior our teens will tolerate from us. For perhaps the first time in my tenure as a parent, I realized that what makes my offspring roll her eyes is what makes me… just like every other parent.
And (of course), I share because I care.
Do… tell her when you like the music she enjoys. Sing along if it’s just the two of you—preferably in the car—but either quietly or ironically (complete with I’m-owning-being-a-dork dance moves). Bonus points for working a popular parody or YouTube phenomenon into your musical enjoyment.
Don’t… ever sing or dance along if she has a friend in the car unless you’re hoping she won’t speak to you for a month.
On Talking To Her Friends
Do… say hello to her pals. If nothing else is happening (say, they’re trapped in the car with you and there’s a lull in the conversation), it’s okay to pose an innocuous question about school. Feel free to compliment something her friend is wearing or a recent accomplishment.
Don’t… try to engage one of her friends in an actual conversation, especially if there’s an entire group of kids around. Never ask about her love interests or homework, and for the sake of all that is holy, don’t ask your own kid about those things in front of someone else, either.
Do… sneak a quiet “love you” into every parting from your kid, because even if she acts like you’re some sort of monster, letting her know you love her is always important.
Don’t… expect (or, heaven forbid, request) hugs/kisses when others are around. If you do get one of those split-second, one-armed, sideways almost-a-hugs (say, you just handed her cash), don’t criticize it.
Do… volunteer at school and activities so that you’re around. Work on your powers of invisibility before undertaking these events, however.
Don’t… speak to your child unless spoken to on these occasions. Also, don’t take it personally when her friends are excited to see you but she pretends you don’t exist.
On Talking To Her Teachers
Do… advocate for her with a difficult teacher, when appropriate, and appreciate and thank the teachers who enjoy her and do good things with her.
Don’t… act surprised when those teachers tell you how fantastic your kid is. The old, “Wait, my child? This child right here? Are you sure?” routine may entertain you and the teacher, but your teen won’t share your amusement.
On Answering The Phone
Do… be cordial on the rare occasion when someone calls the house phone and asks for your child, and summon her to the phone with a simple, “Phone for you.”
Don’t… interrogate the caller in any way, or even ask who it is, particularly if said caller seems like they may be calling to request a date. And should the planets align in such a way that your teenager’s cell phone isn’t in her immediate possession and it actually rings with a call (rather than buzzing with a text), do not under any circumstances answer it. Geez.
On Recognizing When You May Exist
Do… interact with your teen and her friends when you have something to offer, like cash or food or possession of the remote control. It’s even okay to demand acknowledgement at these junctures (I favor a simple, “Thanks, Mom, you’re the greatest!” which causes my teen to roll her eyes and then repeat in a monotone). Do cheer when appropriate at competitions/events. Spontaneous hugging after an amazing performance/achievement is acceptable as long as she came to you (rather than the other way around).
Don’t… approach empty-handed unless there is some sort of immediate need (the building is on fire, the kids are about to be hit by an out-of-control truck, etc.). Don’t scream your teen’s name, even when cheering at an otherwise appropriate time. Don’t ever point your kid out to other people (“that one’s mine!”). Wait for your teen to initiate contact whenever possible.
What’s missing from my list? I’m pretty sure I’m embarrassing in dozens of ways, really.