Although we certainly don't set out to embarrass our tweens, it's perfectly normal to derive a bit of pleasure from such low-hanging fruit. After all, wasn't it just a few years ago that our potty-training prodigy made an impromptu poo in the front yard -- just as her Sunday school teacher pulled into the driveway for a visit?
So we admit to satisfying our own twisted sense of justice when we wear our Van Halen concert T-shirts (circa 1985) to pick up our sons from basketball practice. Or when we refuse to utter a word of caution as our husbands pair socks with sandals to escort our tweens to the mall. We really are embarrassing.
As your tween becomes an almost-teenager in a world fraught with hyper-mature role models, remain calm -- no matter what your tween's processing. Still, there's no harm in pushing the envelope once in a while. Especially if it means you don't have to give up your favorite T-shirt. After all, no tween ever really died of embarrassment, right?
However, in the interest of bridging the gap between tween drama and real-life parenting, we've come up with 10 ways we could tone it down. Mastering these hot topics will foster a feeling of understanding -- which is what your tween is really after.
Your tween probably dodges public displays of affection (PDAs) as if his or her life depends on it. Truth is, the kid probably fears death by embarrassment were you to successfully hold his or her hand within range of a peer. Just keep in mind, your child's reaction isn't a rejection of you. Your tween is claiming his or her own personal space, while avoiding the teasing of friends (trust your tween on this one -- friends will mock your child for hugging you).
If you insist on risking embarrassment by hugging your tween in public, try this first: Start hugging at home. Wrapping your arms around your spouse, tween or other children models a happy relationship. And, if all this hugging becomes part of an overall campaign to consistently treat your family members with sensitivity and respect, it's quite possible your tween may endure a public squeeze.
Tweens are too big to carry out of a store if they start to backtalk. They've outgrown time-outs. And, there's no sense in cajoling a sulking tween with a treat. So, what's left in your parenting arsenal? One of the most embarrassing weapons of all: a tongue-lashing.
We know it's tempting, especially in public, to give a tween a verbal beat-down for everything ranging from attitude to ineptitude. Trust us. It's a major fail. Tweens are less likely to listen when you're angry. And they really won't listen if you berate them in a tyrannical fashion. If you yell, or use sarcasm and insults, you show your cards right away: You aren't in control.
You simply can't be out of control and expect your child to be in control -- or show you respect in the process. Save your concerns for a later discussion at home, when you've both cooled down. By not setting ground rules in the heat of the moment, you've got better odds your tween will take them to heart.
To you, it may be cute. After all, how could a conversation go awry if you're working a few key phrases into it, like your daughter's nickname as a baby? If your little "stinkerpie" doesn't appreciate your terms of endearment, though, it's time to rephrase.
Turns out, teasing your tween with baby talk or long-held nicknames might have been fun a few years ago, but it probably isn't anymore. Tweens wield teasing phrases with the skill of master swordsmen, turning them on each other in painful ways. So don't use family nicknames in front of your tween's friends or even when you're alone, unless your tween says it's all right. Someday she may like to be called "snugglebug" again, but a high school diploma may be on the horizon before that happens.
If you break out into the "running man" while chaperoning your tween's school dance, go ahead and call a cab for your son. There's no way he's riding home with you. Don't even think about following your crowd-stopping performance with an invitation to join the Electric Slide. And at all costs, don't cap it off by "dirty dancing" with your spouse.
Aside from the obvious reasons, why are your dance moves so embarrassing to your tween? It could be all in their heads. Their medial prefrontal cortexes, to be exact. A study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed that tweens use a different part of the brain from adults to process embarrassment; it's the portion that regulates social emotions. So it may be time to redshirt your dance moves, at least for your tween's sake.
You may think wearing a slogan emblazoned across the backside of your sweat pants makes you one of the cool parents, but to your tween it's a fashion fail.
The moral of the story? Don't try too hard to be hip. Or sport a wardrobe spawned in the '80s. Or buy the same brands as your tween. Or wear tattered jeans that weren't distressed on purpose (how embarrassing that you actually owned them long enough to become threadbare!)
Noticing a theme here? Whatever you wear, you're embarrassing. That's because tween feels like the whole world is watching. And they are being judged by your wardrobe.
Of course, you could offer a solution, like going to the mall with your tween to pick out some acceptable clothes. Just know that next week, when the trend changes, you'll need to do it all over again.
Make a Scene
There was a time when you could simply embarrass your tween by making a scene in public. Let's say you received horrible service at a restaurant and demanded to speak with the manager, only to notice your mortified tween slowly slipping under the table. Fast-forward to a time when soccer moms are now social media mavens, and your ability to publicly embarrass your child just went global.
Thanks to most parents' newfound fascination with Facebook, a tween's antics (cute as you may consider them) are now fodder for the masses. Don't use your smart phone keyboard to peck out your opinion of your daughter's ongoing attachment to stuffed animals or share your son's penchant for bedtime snuggles. Unless you really want your tween to reject you, that is.
Copy Her Lingo
We're in favor of understanding tween-speak. Not only is it as interesting as picking up a second language, but it will save you a lot of trouble when it comes to keeping tabs on your tween's state of mind.
That said, every embarrassing parent should know this: It's one thing to understand what your tweens are saying in the backseat as you shuttle them to and from the movie theater. It's another thing entirely to repeat it.
Do not, under any circumstances, shout "Holla!" to greet your tween. Try to actually laugh rather than say, "LOL." And, if you make a mistake, refrain from muttering, "My bad." If you're texting, steer clear of tween abbreviations, too. After all, AYSOS? (Are you stupid or something?)
Break out Baby Pictures
If your tween was once a baby of the round-headed, adorably-large-eyed variety, odds are your home is plastered with baby pictures. Although they may be a decade out of date, these photos are charming mementos of a kinder, gentler time. One in which your sweet baby didn't think you'd grown two heads (and done it simply to embarrass him or her, of course).
Once your son starts bringing the guys over to shoot some hoops or spend quality time playing Call of Duty, vanquish the baby pictures. Sure, you can devote an entire wall of the master bedroom to his photogenic face. Just don't do the same in the living room. Or any other place his friends are likely to notice a few naked-baby-in-the-bathtub snapshots. Keep the potty-training photos to yourself, too.
The Family Cruiser
Unless you've raised your tween off the grid, he or she is probably a card-carrying member of Gen BuY -- Generation Y kiddos who can spot a name brand from 200 paces. So why should the car you drive be any different?
Motoring into the school's carpool line-up to collect your tween in a road-worn minivan or paint-peeled pickup is probably cause for alarm. You may just have to wait until your tween comes out of hiding before leaving for home.
It's not merely a matter of economics, though. Even if you drove a luxury brand, you would surely do something mortifying -- like roll down the window or listen to public radio.
Try as you might to mind your parenting Ps and Qs, you're going to embarrass your tween. He or she is coping with an untidy trio: hormones, peers and brain development. All of which are normal -- if inconvenient -- occurrences at this stage of life.
Your tween is hard-wired to believe he or she is at the center of the universe, and everything you do reflects (poorly) on his or her status. We know it's tempting to get mad, demand respect or, as we unfortunately discovered, instantaneously revert back to an 11-year-old version of yourself. But none of these approaches are effective. Instead, conjure up a healthy dose of empathy, try to relate to your tween and tap into your sense of humor.
After all, your tween is launching on the biggest voyage of all, one that navigates the stormy waters of teenage-dom and results in an identity that is clearly his or her own. Your tween may reject you along the way (over and over again), but in the end, being a nearly constant source of embarrassment is worth all the trouble. You've raised a child who can think for him- or herself, and wasn't that the whole point?
Lawnmowers parents mow down obstacles and hardships before their children can face them. HowStuffWorks talks to experts about the style of parenting.
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- Yarrow, Kit. "Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail." Jossey-Bass, 2009. (Jan. 3, 2011) Amazon.com.http://www.amazon.com/Gen-BuY-Tweens-Twenty-Somethings-Revolutionizing/dp/0470400919/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top