Yes, You Are That Embarrassing!

Why your tween thinks you're cringeworthy.

Posted Nov 13, 2018

Steve Debenport/istock Photos
Source: Steve Debenport/istock Photos

As parents, we like to revel in the idea that our children are a reflection of us, our own little mini-mes. In reality, however, this is not how your tweens see things. No, they are at that egocentric stage of development when they truly see you as a reflection of them. Everything you do and say is analyzed and judged, this is especially true out in public or around their friends. Some days you may feel like you can’t get anything right from their perspective as they roll their eyes, sigh, or simply bluntly convey how annoying you are. I know it may be hard to believe, but it really isn’t personal. Of course constantly feeling like you are under attack probably feels pretty personal, but there is a reasonable explanation.

A Discourse in Development

We can easily equate the term tween with awkward. It is during these years that development between tweens can vary greatly. This includes physical, cognitive, and social growth. Physical growth at this stage includes the march toward puberty. As bodies stretch, develop, change, and grow, feelings of awkwardness are often enhanced. Cognitive development at this stage is marked by an ability to begin to use abstract thinking. Tweens suddenly become aware of the outside world. They are also egocentric. While they are now able to see things from the perspective of those around them, egocentrism impacts how they interpret these perspectives. Social maturity also varies greatly between tweens at this stage. The more socially savvy tweens demonstrate an interest in making more connections with peers. It is during these years that a social hierarchy starts to form, with the interpersonally talented kids on top of the pyramid. Distinct cliques and friend groups develop based on common interests. Kids turn their concerns to whose ‘cool’ and who’s not. And well, on the subject of parents most tweens think their parents are not. Interestingly enough, however, this may not be the perspective of their friends. Your carpool banter may actually attract your tween’s friends who may speak fondly about how lucky your child is to have you as a parent. Rest assured your tween will beam with pride. Unfortunately it is highly unlikely that he will ever tell you about his associate’s accolades.

What’s a Parent to Do?

Well this question may seem somewhat loaded. I mean how can you convince your tweens that their embarrassment toward you is both unwarranted and even hurtful? In reality, it all begins and ends with how you react. As parents, one of our most important jobs is to model appropriate behavior to our children. Although you may have the urge to sarcastically fire back at your child, refrain. In more extreme moments you may revel in the idea of giving it right back to your tween by either aiming to embarrass them more or finding new extreme ways to purposely make a fool of yourself in front of them. This is also an obvious no-no. A more successful approach is to let it go in the moment. This does not mean that you simply excuse disrespectful behavior from your tween. However, a good rule of thumb is simply read your tween’s verbal and nonverbal cues (e.g. eye rolling) as an indication that you should cease and desist, at least at the moment.

Don’t miss an opportunity to discuss your tween's reactions to you during a calm moment alone with them. It is important to listen and validate their point of view. Remember, validation doesn’t mean you tell them you agree, it just means you acknowledge the way they see things.  Be sure to also offer your own perspective. Gently let them know embarrassment was not your intent, but also reinforce how their reaction to you makes you feel, especially if it feels hurtful or at times spiteful. Do stand your ground. For example, if your tween tells you that something about you embarrasses them such as the way you dress or do your hair, don’t rush to reinforce by changing. Your refusal to make changes teaches them an important lesson about self-confidence, self-assurance, and conviction. It sends the message that there is value in forming independent thoughts and opinions that are not always influenced or even approved of by others.

Red Flag Reactions

Of course, some tweens are more sensitive than others. This means that some tweens may feel more easily embarrassed about their parents. This is especially true for tweens who feel less socially confident or suffer from low self-esteem. It is important to assess your tween’s reactions toward you. A sudden increase in annoyance or irritability (e.g. if everyone and everything suddenly seems to annoy the heck out of them, especially you) could be a sign of something more significant such as anxiety and, or depression. We red flag reactions when they seem to come on suddenly and with intensity. Quite often your tween's reactions towards you are actually reflections of how they are feeling about themselves. Seek guidance from a professional if you have any concerns.

This Too Shall Pass

As your tweens mature physically, cognitively, and socially, they will reach a point at which they begin to more firmly affirm their identity, who they are, and what they are about. With this affirmation comes self-assurance and self-confidence. This is also when they start worrying less about how you reflect on them and more about how others see them for who they are. As they become more mature, parents tend to take a back seat on their list of priority people, at least it may feel this way. The march toward independence redirects their interests as their peers become the pinnacle of their worlds. As they journey through their teen and young adult years most individuals, however, rely on the support and guidance of their parents whom they can now recognize as essential allies. Although the decades ahead may seem so far away, the awkward tween and early teen years will quickly fly by. There may even come a day when you long for their tween attitudes. Because at least during these in-between years they are still part of the nest, begrudgingly perhaps, but there just the same. The tweens years mark the beginning of the push toward independence and autonomy and the pullback to be coddled and cared for like a child. As parents, it helps to keep these realities in perspective. This is especially true when your tween relates that you may just be the most embarrassing person on the planet. Refrain from disdain and remember, there may come a day when you crave being the focus of your tween’s world even if it means you are the subject of sighs and eye rolling.