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How to Interact With Your Teen Without Embarrassing Everyone

Photograph by Getty Images

There is a video circulating around that you may have seen—it’s of a cat dressed as a shark riding a vacuum and chasing a duck, and it’s the most fabulous thing in the world. I didn’t want to keep this genius all to myself, so I tried to show it to my 14-year-old. She did the “talk to the hand” gesture (don’t teenagers know that maneuver is so five minutes ago?) and said, “Mom, stop 'showing me things on the Internet.'”

She said this with that last part framed with a hefty pair of air quotes, and by the tone of her voice you would have thought I’d just shown her something offensive, like pigs being herded into a bacon factory or people over 30 kissing.

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It wasn’t that she didn’t think it was funny (because c’mon, it was a cat dressed like a shark! Riding a goddamned vacuum!) It was this: After sending her some videos I found hi-larious, knowing the words to a few too many of her favorite songs and offering up my opinion on a couple of her friends’ love lives, I’d exceeded the limit of what she considered teenage behavior. She was afraid that soon she’d see me wearing a snap-back, a cropped tee and posting selfies on Instagram.

I’m running into this a lot these days with my teens—having to straddle that fine line between trying to share in their world and staying on my side of the room. While I think we have a pretty open relationship and share a lot of things, it’s natural for them to not want their parents to be too familiar—or involved—with every aspect of their lives. It goes back to that old adage, “Please act like my mom, and not my friend.”

I remember years ago going to a party with my now-husband for an old classmate of his he hadn’t seen in years. His friend’s mom was there, talking and mingling easily with the 20-somethings. She was dressed in skintight pants and a long flowing caftan and, while we all thought she looked great for her age, nothing could prepare us for what came next: She broke out a dance routine that I recall being a cross between flamenco and Kevin Bacon’s dramatic Footloose solo. Sure we clapped at the end, but you know we were all thinking to ourselves, “Thank God that wasn’t my mom out there.”

I’ve been told that constant interaction and commenting is absolutely forbidden.

I admit that’s a little more egregious than sharing a cat video, but to me it just showed a mom trying a little too hard to relate to her son’s world. While doing a simple two-step as she crossed the room to refresh the dip bowl would have been acceptable, she went too far. Luckily for her, the “talk to the hand” gesture hadn’t been invented yet.

Social media poses a whole new set of situations that require some thought to crossing the line. While it’s fine to "Like" an occasional post on their Facebook page, or share a link once in awhile to something that might interest them, I’ve been told that constant interaction and commenting is absolutely forbidden. This is where they “hang out with their friends," albeit virtually, and being too present in their online world is like the adult who bursts in with their lame cat videos and bad dancing.

(And don’t even think of asking to see their Tumblr pages. According to my teens this is strictly their territory, having already seen their parents take over Facebook with their crockpot recipes and Bejeweled scores.)

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When they’re with other teens it’s the same dilemma; interacting just enough to let them know you’re there, without infringing on their privacy and driving them crazy. Even though they’ve told me their friends think I’m “cool,” I don’t want to be the parent who pulls up a chair, pops open a Dr. Pepper and starts telling stories like “the time I woke up in a park naked.” (True story: I remember a friend’s mom telling us this when we were in high school. I couldn’t look at her in carpool ever again, knowing the secrets she hid behind those curlers and housecoat.)

But I’m not going to stop sticking my toe over that line, because guess what? The day after I tried to show my daughter that brilliant cat/shark video, I showed her another one of a puppy licking a blow-dryer and she loved it. She probably figured it could be worse—at least I’ve never shown up to any of her parties in a caftan.

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