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My Parents Are So Embarrassing! Well, the Feeling is Mutual

“My parents are SO embarrassing!”

Everyone has heard that one on more than one occasion. We know our teenagers feel embarrassed by us.

But guess what? We feel embarrassed by our teenagers, too. We’re embarrassed because we worry our teenager’s behavior reflects poorly—sometimes really poorly—on us.

Turns out, our teenagers can relate. But why do they feel that? Here’s what our experts had to say.

“Teens see their parents as a direct reflection of themselves because they haven’t yet separated and formed a clear identity,” explains Dr. Barbara Greenberg, a psychologist and co-author of Teenage as a Second Language. “So with this in mind we must understand that teens see themselves as an extension of their parents. If parents do something embarrassing, it reflects directly on the teens.”

“When we feel unsure about ourselves, any of us, we don’t want anyone attached to us to highlight that,” explains Amy Speidel, a parenting coach. “When we’re uncertain, we think, ‘I want you to look normal because I’m not feeling very normal right now.’ For teens, the personal perception that they might be out of it can be at an all time high. Their hyper vigilance around parents is the hyper vigilance they feel within themselves.”

So the embarrassment is mutual.

We asked teens and parents to share what they find most embarrassing about each other. Here’s what they had to say:

Teen Responses

It’s embarrassing when my mom screams really loud at public events like a graduation. Jamie, Beachwood, OH

Something that is embarrassing and annoying is when my mom thinks she is super funny in front of friends.
Haley, Newbury, OH

I don’t like when my parents harp on things I’ve accomplished to strangers for an entire night. If I wanted to share that with someone, I would do it myself.
Mia, Cleveland, OH

Every so often they tell me how to do something (e.g. give directions to a place I have driven to dozens of times) in front of others in a way that totally undercuts my sense of independence.
Emma, New York, NY

My parents post photos of me on social media all the time.
Spencer, Cleveland, OH

They don’t remember anything I tell them—like my friends’ names or my plans—and they make me repeat myself a lot.
Toby, Madison, WI

My mom tells really bad jokes and barely gets to the punch line before she’s delirious with laughter.
Jamie, Athens, OH

I guess I feel embarrassed when my mom treats me like a young kid. And I’m taller than she is.
Nate, Dayton, OH

My mom dances in public. My dad watches live feeds of bears and salmon in Alaska.
Jordy, Ft. Lauderdale, FL

Parent Responses

My daughter does an unprovoked “booty dance” that would make Beyonce proud. The problem is she “twerks” while out shopping, walking down the hall, waiting for the bus. I want her to have agency over her own body, but it is becoming ridiculous and embarrassing—at least for me.
Estelle, Fort Lee, NJ

We bump into some work colleagues. They ask the kid, “How do you like school.” Kid: “I hate it! It’s boring and it sucks.”
Roni, Beachwood, OH

One of my kids started crying in a public restaurant when I insisted that the outing be parental supervised.
Jenni, Tucson, AZ

I am embarrassed by my son who dresses for church or a job interview in cargo pants and sneakers. When asked why he does not take more interest in his appearance, his response is, “Clothes are dumb.”
Gary, Darien, CT