Embarrassing Your Kids

Category: Weekly Columns

Funny photo of polar bear

Most parents know that there’s one thing they can do that will embarrass their kids the most. ANYTHING. Simply being dad or mom is embarrassing to our kids. The sooner we realize this, the sooner we’ll stop trying to change our own behavior. It’s impossible because whatever we do, however we change, it’s going to embarrass our kids. To a degree, that’s our job. Maybe they’ll become independent that much quicker simply to get away from our embarrassing actions.

Parents embarrassing their kids cartoon

My older son has accused me of having bad phone manners, referring to cell-phone behavior. This is really the tip of the iceberg in how generations view one another. What I think is okay just isn’t to my boys. While in Boston with my older son, we were having a fun day of doing touristy things. I was taking lots of photos and videos with my iPhone as I usually do.

While in Faneuil Hall – a wonderfully energetic and fun market place – we ordered coffee at a stand. It was a non-chain cool coffee place. As we waited for our coffees, standing to the side, I saw all the baristas working hard and the image of that looked so rich. So, I raised my phone to take a photo of “the scene.” The girl barista closest to me reacted as if I’d raised my hand to hit her, shouting “No!” Another nearby barista moved aside and said, “Rude!”

Funny photo

I felt slapped. I immediately apologized and tried to explain that I was not taking a photograph of them but of the coffee stand “in action” but they would have none of it. I deleted the photo in front of them and left immediately.

Now, from the point-of-view of the owner of that coffee-stand, I’d be very concerned about such behavior from employees. They lost a customer permanently. I have no desire to go near the place again. Yes, I’m a visitor, but they didn’t know that. They have a public job and I wasn’t taking anything resembling anything inappropriate or embarrassing.

Steven Tyler

               Don’t ask me why I included this image – I just laughed when I saw it!

Nonetheless, my behavior elicited that strong reaction. Later, my son went up to the girl and apologized for his dad’s behavior. When he told me that later, I felt doubly slapped but again realized how generations just view each other’s actions differently.

99% of the time, I ask permission before I take a photo. In the case of the coffee place, it seemed so innocuous to me that it didn’t even occur that I needed to.

With my younger son, everything in the first paragraph of this column applies, but “to infinity and beyond.” I have given up on even trying to live up to his idea of proper behavior from his dad. It’s so apparent to me that he disapproves that I just absent myself from “the room” or most any of his activities.

How to be a cool parent with technology

Unlike his older brother, whose friends practically lived at our home, my younger son’s social life is quite external. He does very well in school, does include us and enjoy our attendance at his shows, but beyond that I just have had to respect his sensitivity to my presence and behavior. Truly, I know he loves me and I sure as heck love him, but this boundary has become necessary for him. I may not like it, but he’s a teenager and it’s his prerogative to a large degree, to feel this way.

I think the classic areas where parents and their (especially teenage) children butt heads relates to fashion, hair, and music. It’s the very nature “of the beast” that we hate our parents’ styles and music. It’s part of growing up, no matter how the Boomer Generation tries to be cool. We’re not cool to our kids much of the time. Get used to it. That is the way it’s supposed to be.


The irony that I’ve faced is how many of my younger son’s friends seem to really “dig” me. It doesn’t matter that they might think I’m cool. It only matters what my son thinks. So, I can’t take it personally. Nor should you. Our job is NOT to be our kids’ best friend but to be their best parent. Those roles are inherently at conflict so this is yet another reason to respect and even create boundaries.

And, finally, though I’ve truly gone off topic, we parents must remember not to take it personally. We are the one-constant-thing in our kid’s lives. Their friends will come and go, but more than likely we’ll be there forever. Let them know that we understand what our role and job is. Don’t dress like them. Don’t go to their concerts. Don’t think having a beer with your teen kids is cool. Let them be the kid – try and stay the adult, as tempting as it may be to get down and twerk with them!

Embarrassment comic