Advice to Teen Girls: When Your Parents Embarass You

1.    Why is it that parents can be such a source of embarrassment for their teenage daughters?

Teen girls are especially sensitive to any nuance of discomfort or embarrassing situation and there are many things that parents do that trigger a teen girl’s own feelings of insecurity or doubt in herself.  Parents are a reflection of any kid, so when a parent does something—anything that the girl herself wouldn’t do, it feels like an embarrassing or awkward extension of her.

2.    If a parent is doing something relatively harmless, like telling corny jokes or silly stories in front of friends, how should you deal? Is it best to laugh off this type of embarrassment, or talk to a parent about it?

I really think that at first, the teen should try laughing it off because it might be a one-time occurrence.  If it happens more than once, then the teen should:

-Approach the parent after the event

-Pick a time that is not already charged (both the parent and you are in a decent mood and not angry about something else)

-Remain very calm.

-Say in very clear terms that their action (telling a corny joke or silly stories) made you feel uncomfortable and you would prefer if they did not do it.

3.    In these cases, parents might dismiss your concern as overly self-conscious or dramatic. How can you get your parents to really hear your concerns and be responsive to your wishes that parents tone down the embarrassing behavior, especially in front of your friends?

This is very common for parents to dismiss this as being overly dramatic; here is what I recommend the teen should do if the parents are not hearing you.

-Minimize the ‘over dramatic’ when you approach them avoid threatening, yelling or crying.  The calmer you can stay and the more adult you approach the situation the more seriously they will take you.

-Acknowledge the fact that they probably do not like being told what to do by you.  This goes something like this: “I know it seems silly and you have known my friends for a long time and I do not want to disrespect you or tell you what to do.”

-Point out the fact that this is a personal feeling. Like: “I know it seems like it is no big deal, and I wish it wasn’t, but for some reason when you tell stories about me it makes me nervous because I do not know how my friends are going to take it.”

-Tell them if might affect your relationship. “I know that you love me and really want to stay close to me, I want that too, and that is why I am trying to be honest with you about this and trust that you will take my feelings into consideration next time my friends are around, it really helps me feel like you are my ally and you are not trying to embarrass me on purpose.”

-Thank them for their understanding. “I really appreciate you being understanding about this and that this is an issue for me, thank you for being so supportive.”

4.    What if your friends laugh at your parents or make fun of them? How can you handle friends who might deepen your embarrassment with their comments?

Friends can be tricky because you do not want to offend them.  Here are my suggestions for approaching friends:

-Make sure there is no audience.  People are empowered when there are other people watching.  Be sure to talk to your friends alone or when they are away from a group.  Even if it is a group who is laughing together, you are better off approaching each of them alone than all together.

-Keep it casual: When you approach friends in a very serious tone they can think you are angry with them, so start off with something like: “Hey, you know when my parents tell those awful jokes…”

-Be direct, but not attacking: Tell them exactly what you would like them, or not like them to do so you are both clear, but make sure to do it in a non-offensive and not attacking way.  “ those jokes are so terrible, it would be awesome if you could just pretend you didn’t hear when he talks about my ____ and thinks its funny”

-Tell them it you will take care of the rest.  Sometimes friends enable parents because they want to get on a parent’s good side! So be sure to mention that they will not like them less, and you will make sure to handle it “if you just ignore him I will be sure to tell him it isn’t funny and he will realize I do not like the jokes and it has nothing to do with you.”

5.    What about situations where the “embarrassing thing” is a bigger deal? One girl we interviewed has a dad who was arrested for being involved in stealing (she says he’s innocent, but he went to jail for a year). How can you put on a public face in the event of an embarrassing scandal like this?

People can always pick up on your nervous energy.  If there is a bigger scandal in your past and either people know about it and talk about it behind your back or you do not want people to find out the details of your offense, it is always good to acknowledge the situation once and then move on.

I would say something to your close friends about how it is an awkward situation, but you really do not think it serves anyone by talking about it and thank them for doing the same.

6.    How should you deal with friends in these situations, or even random people at school and in the town who may know about it?

If someone brings a situation up in a public arena, you can politely smile and say, hey let’s not go there, it will only make everyone feel weird, and walk away.  People can pick up on your charged feelings, so by walking away, or not engaging the random people at school or town who bring it up, they will see that you have moved on and it is no longer a hot piece of gossip (the real reason people want to talk about it).

The sooner you can move on from it and once people feel like it is not making you vulnerable, they will stop bringing it up as an attack or humiliating story.

7.    And with your own family—how do you talk to a parent about how embarrassed you feel after something like that? Should you recruit the other parent (if possible)? Confront the offending parent directly?

If you have tried the steps above for talking to a parent directly and they still will not stop bringing up or talking about the situation and they still do not hear you or will not take you seriously, I would recommend putting it in writing.

For some reason parents seem to take things much more seriously when you have taken the time to write your feelings out.  Write them a letter listing why you do not feel comfortable and you would really appreciate their support and help with this.  Usually when you try to enlist a parent to your side, their protective nature is to support you and a written note will help them realize it is serious.

The most important thing to remember is to never approach or attack someone about an embarrassing action while (or right after) it happened when you are upset.  If you do this, the people listening are more likely to think you are being overly dramatic, a poor sport or just in a bad mood.  It is always best to approach friends, parents or the offending party at another time when you are calm and they are away from an audience.

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