Can You Be Seen With Your Teen in Public?

Teen Boy Dad

Parents of teens realize we may not be quite as cool as Robert Pattinson or Beyoncé, but most of us think we’re pretty with it. That is, until our teens tell us otherwise. It’s not hard to start questioning your perspective when you’re told you are completely out of touch several times a week. Apparently, we’re not “all that,” and to be seen with the likes of one of us is unthinkable. Should we take this personally? What is it about teens that they like to pretend they don’t have parents when other teens are around?

Teens and the public scene

Josh Kellman, M.D., a clinical associate with the University of Chicago Medical Center, explains, “Most adolescents are busy negotiating their own autonomy. However, this is not done in isolation. Autonomy from parents is developed in the world of peer relations. Teens tend to safeguard their peer world from invasion by their parents.”

In other words, your teen’s attempts to become independent from you, including wanting to go solo in public, are part of a typical stage in his social-emotional development.

Teens strive to become independent from their parents in every possible way. They become acutely aware of how others, especially their peers, perceive them as they try to fit in. They want to be sure their peers deem them “grown up” because this is the ultimate goal.

So, it is natural for them to want to keep their teen environment separate from their family life, where parents most likely still view them as young people who have a lot to learn.

Keep your cool

For many parents, it is sometimes difficult to realize that their teens don’t want them around all the time — particularly in public!

An acquaintance recently told me that her teen daughter pretended she did not see her in the mall. She told her daughter afterward that she had planned to give her some extra money, hoping this would encourage her daughter to acknowledge her in the future.

Should parents feel slighted if their teen doesn’t want to go to the mall or to the movies with them anymore?

“Parents should not feel slighted. It is typical and developmentally appropriate for teens to be embarrassed of their parents,” Kellman says. He encourages parents to strike a balance.

Kellman also suggests parents be sensitive to this developmental phase and try not to be too invasive. “On the other hand,” he cautions, “parents must be themselves, and need not bend over backwards to accommodate their teen’s wish for them to disappear.”

Try to remember what it was like with your own parents when you were a teenager. Chances are you felt a little awkward bumping into a group of your peers if you had your parents in tow, even if you weren’t adverse to going places with them.

They’ll get over it

You may have noticed your friend’s or neighbor’s college-age kids come around — proof positive that this will be a transient phase.

“As autonomy becomes more secure in late adolescence and early adulthood, kids usually settle into a more comfortable tolerance — even sometimes enjoyment of their parents in public situations,” Kellman explains.

An example is parents’ weekend at college. Kellman says parents often take kids out to dinner with their friends and that this is “secretly, or even openly, welcomed by the child.”

So hang in there. Your teens will welcome you into their public life again soon. In the meantime, find a way to enjoy their activities and interests without being too overbearing. Just chalk it up to another tightrope walk in this challenge of parenting a teenager.

Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and children’s development. She is the mother of two teenagers.

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Categories: Development, Health and Development, Tweens and Teens