A friend shared her junior high daughter's heart-wrenching experience. "During lunch on her first day of school, she was trying to be calm in front of her new friends. Unfortunately, she tripped; her nachos slipped off her tray and dripped down her leg. Fully aware of her classmates' silent stares, she ran to the nearest bathroom to wash up. When she came out, a teacher gave her a demerit for using the staff restroom, making the situation even worse!"
In his book Teenagers and Parents: Ten Steps for a Better Relationship, Roger McIntire writes: "A student's greatest fear is to be embarrassed in front of the whole class."
Somewhere between the ages of 11 and 14, adolescents make a big push toward independence, needing to establish themselves as individuals and young adults. They desperately want to seem both competent and "cool." It's not surprising that peers and parents can be the biggest sources of potential embarrassment.
Often, young teens operate under the false assumption that "I am what you think I am." Translation: "If someone popular likes me, I'm okay. If someone says I'm ugly, I am." This mindset allows others to determine your child's self-worth.
According to Baby and Child Care (Focus on the Family), adolescents live in a "social stew containing large amounts of these ingredients: an intense need for acceptance by peers, an equally intense concern about looking dumb or different, an ongoing struggle with self-confidence ? and a surprising intolerance for anyone who looks or behaves a little unlike anyone else." When your daughter doesn't appear or perform according to the strict, sometimes unspoken guidelines of her peers, embarrassment crests.
Strong friendships can help your child survive this difficult stage. Kids who have a small circle of trusted, loyal friends are better able to tolerate?and even reject?unhealthy peer pressure. A friend who accepts your son unconditionally can greatly increase his self-image. This, in turn, will make him less likely to be humiliated by little things. Encourage healthy friendships through after-school activities, outings and social situations.
Parents are often an acute source of unintentional embarrassment to adolescents. No matter how loving your relationship is in private, your presence is a constant reminder that your child is not yet an adult. It's normal and healthy for an adolescent to crave independence.
You can minimize your "embarassment potential" by affirming your child's budding adulthood and praising mature decisions. One 13-year-old told me the worst thing her parents ever did was correct her in front of friends. That was a double whammy: "I'm not competent or cool." Talking to your child privately shows that while you're still in charge, you do respect her status as a growing young person.
Finally, help your kids find something?a sport, hobby or academic subject?they enjoy and do well. Praise and encourage their efforts. When kids know they are good at one thing, the importance of looking cool in everything else is diminished.
? Sandra Byrd
Writer and mother of two
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