Utah father Dale Price waving goodbye to his son Rain as he boards the school bus. Photo by Wave at the Bus.
Maybe it’s your dad’s crazy winter hat or the way your mom overshares on your Facebook wall, but at some point, your parents have probably made you cringe. And while it can be tough to pinpoint exactly when Mom and Dad became so embarrassing, it probably happened somewhere around age 7.
“Children generally become self-conscious toward their parents in the latency years — age 7 to 9 — which is also when they start to retreat psychologically,” Fran Walfish, PsyD., a Beverly Hills based psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “During the early childhood years (until age 6), children learn to self-soothe, master speech and language, body functions ,and learn self-reliance. But around age 7, they acknowledge who their parents are — for better or worse — and the large role they play in their lives.” Enter the teenage years, when kids strive to differentiate themselves as individuals (often through bad music, skipping curfew, or otherwise-rebellious behavior) and form a solid identity, which can conflict with how they were raised.
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Even celebrity parents who, while iconic to us, can be downright mortifying in their children’s eyes. On Tuesday, Madonna told the Today show that her 18-year-old daughter Lourdes was “horrified” by her 56-year-old mom’s provocative songs (“She just wants me to be her mom,” explained Madonna). The superstar added that she isn’t even allowed to attend football games at the University of Michigan, her daughter’s college and Madge’s own alma mater. “You think my daughter wants me at a game?” Madonna asked. David Beckham also told a British talk show host that his 15-year-old son Brooklyn begs his dad to drop him at school one block away due to Beckham’s ritual of shouting “I love you” out the window to his son. And after Lenny Kravitz’s risqué Super Bowl performance with Katy Perry in February, Kravitz’s 26-year-old daughter Zoe created a meme composed of her father’s performance alongside a screen shot of herself with a terrified expression on her face. “Dad?” Kravitz jokingly captioned the photo.
The root of all this shame: A child’s inability to identify as separate than his or her parents. “Parents are embarrassing to kids because everything a parent does is a reflection on the child,” says Walfish.
Granted, some parents strive to embarrass their children — Dale Price, a father-of-three in Utah, made headlines for wearing outrageous outfits (Wonder Woman, Raggedy Andy, the Little Mermaid, Michael Jackson) and waving to his 15-year-old son Rain as the teen boarded the school bus each morning. Price chronicled his morning routine in a blog called Wave at the Bus, which Rain called “horrifying.” And another father (also in Utah, oddly), frustrated by his daughter’s skimpy outfits, decided to teach her a lesson about modesty by cutting a pair of his jeans into short-shorts and forcing to her to accompany him on a family night of miniature golf.
Extreme examples? Yes, but even well-intentioned parents can accidentally embarrass their children. “For example, a 7-year-old boy who is becoming aware of his sexual feelings might suddenly dislike being kissed by his mother,” says Walfish. Family dynamics can also play a role. If a parent constantly dotes on a child who happens to be an introvert, the hyper attention could cause him or her to retreat.
The good news: Most kids outgrow that shameful feeling toward their parents when they enter adulthood or become parents themselves. When my son was born, my husband and I excitedly tattooed his name on our inner wrists. The gesture is meaningful to us but in hindsight, I wouldn’t blame my kid for buying me gloves every Christmas. We’ll wait and see.