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Stop Embarrassing Your Teens

By Mir Kamin

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.

On Music

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.

On Volunteering

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.

About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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[…] This means you get to delight in the one way in which our family is just like any other, and that means that over at Alpha Mom I’m helping you to clarify when you’re allowed to exist and when your teenager needs you to just stop it, seriously, GOD …. […]

meghann @ midgetinvasion

Do: Be on time and/or early when picking your teen up, lest they think you’ve abandoned them.

Don’t: get annoyed, honk your horn, or say anything at all when said teen makes you sit in the parking lot for an extra 15 minutes while they stand there gabbing with their friends.


These are spot-on. What interests (troubles?) me is that some of them are already necessary with my FIVE-y-o girl. Like, I just volunteered in Kindergarten library-time and I got the “don’t embarrass me” look when I tried to say hello to her. Hahahaha. She’s got a long road ahead. 😉


Perfect. I’m starting to appreciate my As Long As I Have Cash, They Will Always Need Me role.

Shannon akaMonty
Shannon akaMonty

I have one homeschooled and one public schooled child too – and they’re twins. Funny thing is my severely disabled child suffering mental retardation and CP is the public schooled one and my daughter is the homeschooled one.
I get tired of ‘splaining.

But wait, embarrassing my kids is pretty much the only joy I have left! DON’T TRY TO TAKE IT AWAY. 😉


If your child is walking down the street and you drive by, don’t honk your horn and wave at them.  Especially if they are not walking alone.  If you do, don’t be surprised if they ignore you completely.


Don’t: if bored – kids in the car, waiting for mom to come out of supermarket – drive around, reach out and grab a stray shopping cart, pull it around the parking lot (with left hand, steering with right) looking for a cart corral and then drive-by shove it in; repeat.  Kids will slide down from the back seat onto the floor, dying of embarrassment hoping no friends are around to see dad being such a dork.


Dang. I’ve been looking forward to embarrassing heck outta my oldest for years. He was soooo good at embarrassing me…wait, not was, IS. 😉