How to Handle the Embarrassment
Dr. Bradley, My husband and I are huge fans of your book. We have given it to at least 20 friends with teens and now we all just refer to it as "The Book." I keep reading it over and over. It's like talking to a friend who makes me laugh when I really want to cry. I have a hardback copy and I just keep changing the cover on it, so I can carry it around without my kids knowing that I'm trying to figure them out.
I just want some feedback about some of my feelings regarding our middle son. who is 16 1/2. His older brother (19) was not perfect, but he bought into the wholeacheivement thing. He did well in school and excelled at swimming also. Our middle son is much more "anti-establishment." He is a fair student, never wants to go the extra mile to acheive. He is a gifted athlete, but just never puts forth the effort to be outstanding. He hates to ask for help in anything. He has had the same group of friends since elementary school and they are very important to him. We have followed the advice in your book and kept "the relationship" as our primary goal in dealing with him. This has worked well, and he often opens up and talks with us when we express our fears about things. He has a lot of freedom, but he is obediant to the rules we negotiate.
Okay, here's my issue. We live in a suburb where it's really a small world. His dad and I are very involved and well respected in the community. For the last year our son has grown his hair out. Long hair is popular with the "anti-establishment" crowd at his high school. We followed your advice and never made his appearance an issue, hoping he would soon come to his senses and get a reasonable haircut, but instead this summer he has decided to grow dread-locks. He got his 13 year old sister to help him put wax in his hair and get it into these dirty clumps. He looks hideous! We have been trying so hard to do like you say and just support him. (We keep reminding each other of that line in the book : Bad break, son, about your tech teacher not allowing you to wear kilts into the auto shop. The world is full of these kinds of silly rules.)
The fact of the matter is that we are embarrassed to be seen with him, or for anyone we know to see him. Do you have any tips on how to deal with these feelings? There have been other times when he got in trouble for things where we have had trouble with the "What's everone thinking" issue. We love our son very much and value the relationship we have with him, and we understand that he is "crazy," but we would love some words of wisdom or even some encouragement about how to handle these feelings.
Thank you so much for writing. Your letter came exactly when I, personally, needed to be reminded of what's important in our lives with our kids.
This morning, this very conformist, subdued adolescent psychologist (driving his conformist, subdued Volvo wagon) dropped his son off at school in front of about one hundred gaping parents. They were stunned to see Ross wearing the most outrageous baggies (jeans) the school has ever seen. Black Metallica shirt, huge black baggies (with dragging suspenders), black sneaks, and a black hat. It was a little hard for me, waving and smiling weakly at all those folks who I imagined were sarcastically thinking "Oh, sure. See how the 'expert's' kid dresses. He probably deals drugs too."
Your letter reminded me of how incredibly blessed I am to have a son like Ross, a young man with the best heart I've ever known. It reminded me that kids like Ross often look weird as a way of compensating for how tame they really are inside. For them, these styles can be ways of safely exploring identity, and learning about issues like prejudice and superficiality. These are shortcomings that we parents can have, and then impose on our kids, often at the price of our relationship with them.
In short, your letter helped me remember what is truly important in life, and what is meaningless and temporary.
It sounds as if your son's heart is also wonderful, and that your connection with him is healthy. So how about if you and I both swallow our needs for the approval of others, and hug our kids today. Let's tell them how proud we are of who they are, and how lucky we are to have them around for these rapidly passing years.
And then, let's both turn to the gawkers and say, "Isn't his hair (clothes) great?" If we can be that strong, our children will love and respect us all the more.
Good luck to both of us!
Last edited by Mike Bradley; 12-29-2003 at 04:58 PM.
Dr. Mike Bradley
When my 14 year old daughter was around 3 years old she used to like to dress herself. She still does and the results can be just as embarassing. I asume everyone knows she is a teenager and she dressed herself with much creativity just like they knew she was a three year-old and insisted that the shoes went on the wrong feet.
I also try to remember that you don't see many adults dressed gothic or punk so she'll probably grow out of it.
Mary (David's mom)
Thanks for the encouragement. I'm actually getting used to the dread-locks and they don't look as bad to me - or maybe I'm just looking past them. It really helps to know that there are very healthy reasons that he would want to look like that.
The mom of one of my son's friends, who is a good friend of mine, told me that she saw Alex's dread-locks and she asked him what his mom thought about them. He told her that he knew I didn't like them, but I hadn't said much. I took that as a wonderful compliment from him.
Hang in there!
I just came across this post, and I can empathize. My husband is a conservative banker, I work in the court system, and our son went through a "pushing the limits" phase in 8th grade with his appearance. He had braids, wore black band tee shirts, baggy pants, etc. for a while. Then he shaved the sides, and had a mohawk style pony tail. We love our son more than life itself, but we too were somewhat embarrassed in our small community. The book really helped us put into perspective what was important. We fought the urge to control things that don't matter in the long-run. At the football awards banquet at the end of the year, my husband and I (conservative-looking) were sitting next to another father, who was expounding on the virtues of his ROTC-bound daughter. He remarked to my husband, "Boy, there sure are a lot of 'freaks' at this school," referring to the attire of some of the kids. My husband just smiled, and said, "Yes, that one there is our son!" The look on the other dad's face was priceless! He is now a 10th grader, and has made a complete turnaround in his appearance. He has a buzz cut, wears collared shirts, and looks completely different. He does have his ears pierced, and has expressed a desire when he's 18 for a tatoo. We'll deal with that later. He's always had a desire to be just a little different, and sounds similar to your son. Good luck!
Why isn't he embarrassed?
My 13-year-old doesn't consistently wash his hair or his body. I think he does it to be rebellious, but it's very difficult to treat this as pure rebellion. If we were still in the Dark Ages or lived in a third-world country, he'd be in good company. But I have a hard time accepting this, given that we live in U.S. suburbia. Should I just treat this as rebellion, or something more?
This is my first post ever..hope I get it right.
My daughter (15) has been stubborn on cleanlines as well. we personally think it's a lazy tendency ...too enthralled with IM, friends, etc. She recently found lice in her hair. We have spent the last four evenings combing her hair out for half hour periods. Now I know lice don't necessarily come from being unclean, but I did suggest that it doesn't help. I don't know if this will improve her hygiene habits...I'm doubtful. But if it continues I will require she at least wash her sheets daily. I hope that the extra this extra work will encourage a change in her habits.
Good luck and I'm looking forward to connecting to parents with crazy teens!
I hope this helps
There is a saying you have to pick your battles, I choose to let my teens dress and groom how they want. we had licew when they were little. Please tell your child to not share combs or hats and all sheets and linins need to be laundered in hot water. ALso hood are a big lice trap. If I remember you have to bag all material or fluiffy items for two weeks. If this lack of self care is a big change then maybe there is a bigger issue. But is she is just trying to get to you then try to live with it. eventally the peers will have an imput. MY one teen try to wear to oddest thing on her rebellious days. Then other days she dresses nice. I try to draw the line on revealing clothing. Good luck and keep loving your unique child. Thank Charlett
Dear Parents of Unclean Teens,
If a teen's hygene declines along with other things (like mood, schoolwork, and friends), then get it checked out since you might be seeing the onset of some disorder. But avoiding the shower for a bit is a normal occurrence for teenagers.
Young people (children) bathe every night because their parents tell/make them do this. They usually do not elect to do this, but just comply with a demand. Old people (parents) usually bathe daily because we have a cleanliness value, a desire to feel clean and not smell bad. Crazy people (teenagers) are stuck between being young and being old, at a place where they comply less with demands, but haven't yet developed their own values on things like bathing. That means many of them smell bad a bit. Until, like I think happened with my own son, a very cute girl smiles and comes close, only to sniff, look disgusted, and walk off to a better-smelling candidate. He stays cleaner than me now.
Be well (and be clean).
Dr. Mike Bradley
I'm new to the board, so I just wanted to say hello to everyone. I know what you mean about teenagers' hygiene issues, but it sounds like this forum gives very sound advice. I sympathize with you, certainly and wish you luck.
Revealing clothing not okay at family events?
I usually let me 16 daughter wear pretty much what she wants and cringe as she leaves the house with short short skirts and skimpy tops. I get the "let them explore their individuality/ identity" thing.
What I struggle with is how to handle a reallllly revealing top (no sides so bra is fully exposed on both sides) when she went out with us to a 4th of July gathering. We've been going for years and we never get dressed up; it's a casual dress place.
How badly did I mess up when we told her she had to change clothes? She's furious with us. We asked her to change out of respect of the older guests that simply don't understand/approve. We hoped she understand the difference, but we appear to be wrong. She left the party and sat in the car, missing all of the 4th of July fireworks. She tried to walk home by herself but I convinced her the car was safer. She cursed at us. We did not comment. She won't come in the house and plans to sleep in the car. We said she could if she felt she needed to.
She's too mad to talk to. I want to apologize for asking her to change, but also want her to understand that sometimes we have to wear clothes that are deemed appropriate to the event.
Again, how badly did we mess things up and how do we recover? I left my Dr. Mike book at home and do not have it here to help me figure out what to do.
I know this is old, but I couldn't help but chuckle. Been through many episodes of strange dress with both my kids--one as a toddler (and pretty much steadily ever since) and the other as a teen (he was the one who always had to match as a toddler.) When I encounter a teen dressed in a manner that would embarrass a "lady of the night" and the opportunity arises, I remind them that it's not just the hot teenage boy who is taking notice of them. It's people of all ages, sexual orientation and status. This is something that doesn't occur to them and when pointed out, produces "EWWWWW!" in response.
I think you were right on in asking your daughter to change her clothes, but try to teach the lesson as well. Ask if she would wear that outfit if going to a religious service at a church, synagogue or so on. If she answers no, ask her why not. When she says it would be disrespectful, ask her to define "respect" as best as she can. Ultimately (perhaps through many chats) help her to see that her clothes connote respect both for others and for herself. Be patient, since this concept of respect appears no where in her culture, and will be a tough but critical concept for her to learn. Most of all, stop fearing conflict with your daughter. Conflict, in the proper tone and dose (no rage) feels like love to her---but she'll fight it just the same. That's her job.
Dr. Mike Bradley