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, are 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!”

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.



(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation and a member of the writing team at Long Awkward Pause. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble. Disclaimer: Even if you choose Ned’s book for summer reading, you should still use sunscreen.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

55 thoughts on “Parenting teens is easy once you embrace being an embarrassment”

  1. I did a post about being an embarrassing parent a while ago myself, it’s our job. Recently I told my son (13) that I was walking down to the village shop and asked if he wanted anything while I was there. He asked if he could come with me. “Yes of course darling!” I said, he hesitated and then said “I don’t actually have to walk next to you though do I?”

    On the radio a week or so back they had a phone-in about embarrassing things that parents do, and one woman said that when she was a kid, whenever there was a school trip out somewhere, her mother would stand and wave the bus off as they left (which many parents do), but then as soon as the bus pulled away, she would leap into her car, zoom on ahead, pull over further up to get up and wave again as they went by. And then would do the same again a third time! Our kids should count themselves lucky I say.

    1. Lol! It’s never too early to start planning future embarrassment opportunities when it comes to your teenagers. Better to be prepared than regret a missed opportunity!

  2. Ha! Too much fun Ned. Teens are like a sub-species unto themselves – different behaviour, different eating habits, different sleeping habits,etc. They can be fun if you put your mind to it.

  3. Don’t worry about it. When you become grandparents you get to embarrass everybody, including yourself and no one holds it against you. It’s freedom, man.

  4. Nicely, I saw what I put my mother through and decided there was no ruddy way I was going to let another human being do that to ME.

    [I was married for a while, so the plan was far from perfect, but I’m all alone now! *sobs into his wheatgerm*]

  5. Hilariously perfect! I remember listening to an interview of Bruce Springsteen a while back and he mentioned that he was just an embarrassing goober Dad to his teenagers. The light bulb went off in my head and I thought good grief, even “The Boss” is an embarrassment to his kids. This force is powerful. I had the added punch of being the “Evil Stepmom” too. Have fun enjoying your new superpower.

    1. That’s fantastic! And also ironic, when you consider if I wore a handkerchief from my back pocket like The Boss did THAT would embarrass my kids, too!

      And I understand the step-parent thing. My wife and I each brought a boy and girl into our marriage — all are teens now. So we are making the most of it.

      Rock ON, fellow “Evil Step-parent!”

  6. The great thing about me is I don’t even try to embarrass my kids, it just comes naturally. Like dancing and singing in the school supply aisle at Target for example. I can’t help myself.

    My son becomes an official teen next month so I think I have to ramp up my tactics a notch or two. I called him “Baboo” in front of his friends last week so I’m well on my way.

  7. We still have 7 months to go before official teendom sets in, but the embarrassment factor has set in. “You guys wear weird shirts,” he says. WTH? Evidently we are as lame as Dr. Evil. I guess our clothes are so 2014. What about the time he was trying to be clever and tell us we made a Freudian slip and he accidentally said, “Fallopian slip?” Shouldn’t we get to be embarrassed by that?

  8. This is hilarious. I wish I’d thought of it, in fact! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog; it’s important to make fun of our teens publicly. It’s the least we can do…

      1. That would be a HECK NO!!!! lol but there is the grandson. Geez if his parents could embarrass him when he becomes a teen just imagine what ole granny could do?? Despicable, I’m going to work on my plan right now.

    1. *Stands and applauds*
      Embarrassing a 7-year-old isn’t easy. It’s like trying to embarrass a Labrador. Very difficult. You can move to the head of the class, Nicole!

  9. I always assumed the perks of being a child-free aunt meant I’d only have to tolerate brief and harmless exposure to teens, the equivalent of getting a measles shot so you don’t have to suffer through a full-blown case of it. But I just spent much of the past week in the company of my 16 year-old nephew, and I caused him to roll his eyes so many times he looked like a slot machine.

    1. Great job in making sure the power paradigm is in your favor. Rest assured he will warn the others. Think of him as an enemy scout whom you sent back wounded but still able to suggest a hasty retreat. *applauds*

  10. I think their oversized egos need to know we can destroy them in a second, which makes me sound evil. I am and have a nineteen year old, who still talks to me. Too be fair she doesn’t as much laugh (or grimace) at the things I did to her, but the things I did to myself.

    1. We still have a 15, 16 and soon-to-be 17-year-old at home, and yes my wofe and I have done our best to keep their egos at a manageable level. It sounds like you have struck a good balance with your Henrietta. But remember, it’s never too late to be an embarrassment to our children — it’s the gift that keeps on giving 😉

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