And suddenly it’s upon your child. Adolescence. You remember the sweaty palms, crushing insecurities, trembling fear of saying something embarrassing, doing something embarrassing, or worst of all, being seen with your embarrassing parents. It seems like only yesterday … but you suddenly find yourself in the position of authority and guidance: you are the Embarrassing Parent.
“Adolescence is a time of turmoil,” explains school psychologist Laurie Zelinger, Ph.D., “Kids may reject parent values in order to experiment with finding their own identity.” Yeah, you’ve noticed a lot of that going on lately. So what’s an embarrassing parent to do? Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Parenting Coach Lori Landau advises that “the more we can support them through this important developmental period, the smoother the road toward adulthood will be.”
Try to remember that a seemingly rude, sullen, disrespectful preteen is just a child trying to cope with the dizzying and confusing changes that come with adolescence. Landau notes that “the process of defining an identity is not what preteens are paying attention to, but it happens just the same. They are paying attention to fun, friends, what they want, what they wear, and what they get to do. Incorporating their sense of reality will help you guide them toward success.” And the best way to do that is to listen to what your child has to say with as little judgment as possible.
“Beginning in middle school, children’s thinking has become more flexible,” says Zelinger. “They are developing reasoning skills where they can think about abstract concepts and can begin to hypothesize.” Landau emphasizes the fact that adolescents are beginning the all-important task of finding their place in the world, and pondering how they can contribute to humanity. “Coming into this stage, preteens already have some beliefs about what they can do in the world in terms of establishing friendships and pursuing talents or about their self-worth, but what we see emerge is the ability to notice and think about such things: self-reflection.”
Okay, so there are lofty thoughts of contributions to humanity, but there are also major physical changes. According to Zelinger, adolescents experience a significant “growth spurt” around the age of thirteen (boys) and eleven (girls). Of course, children don’t all develop at the same rate: combine this fact with the hyper-attentiveness to peer response that comes with this age and you have a perfect storm of insecurity. “A zit or bad hair day can influence their mood for (seemingly) an eternity,” according to Zelinger.
Although adolescence is a sweaty and stressful time, it also marks the start of your child's ability to truly empathize with others, and to consider how he or she can make the world a better place. By keeping the lines of communication open and providing a sympathetic ear, you will be a guide to your child through the rocky waters of adolescence. And that’s an embarrassing parent any kid would be lucky to have.