What's the matter with parents these days?

Mom is not cool in her jeggings and Uggs. Dad's a dork who drives a wreck. Together they're unbearable, singing along in the supermarket to "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

No wonder "Mom (or dad), you're embarrassing me!" is heard wherever teenagers are seen in public with their parents.

And yet, parental bad taste is not the true cause of teenage mortification. What's really going on is a normal stage of development, according to David Sabine, a clinical psychologist in Wichita Falls, Texas.

Sabine said teens feel, "I am more important than everyone else around me. If I have a pimple on my face, everyone in the world is going to see it." By extension, they think the world is also watching their parents, and they'll be judged by peers and strangers alike for what mom or dad says or does.

"They think they're just bound to be caught up in that wave of uncool," he said. "They feel that anything close to them is going to be noticed, when in fact nobody's looking and nobody cares."

The criticism can be mighty picky. Shari Von Holten of Wantagh, N.Y., embarrassed her daughter by doing the following: "I tapped my foot to music once in front of other people. I sang to a song in the car. I own a website. I mentioned her name in a conversation with my friend. ... Just my breathing is an embarrassment."

Using slang is bad, too. "I am not to use 'cool' words like awesome, sick, bling," said Stephanie Staples, mother of three teens in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

And never call attention to yourself. Dianne Sikel of Phoenix, Ariz., was banned by her son from ever bringing pom-poms to football after she spent one game waving them while cheering for his team.

Toyota uses the concept of kids' embarrassment over parental behavior to sell Highlander SUVs. One ad shows a kid in a nondescript sedan mouthing "Help me!" as his parents croon, "Just call me angel of the morning!" to the radio. In an adjacent lane, a boy in a Highlander, watching a video on a backseat entertainment system, comments, "Just because you're a parent, doesn't mean you have to be lame."

Adolescence is a stage when kids launch from parents in a big way, Sabine said, "at a time when peers are everything. They spend so much time fretting about that, the pressure leads them to emphasize and magnify anything that might reflect upon them. They are working so hard to be cool that they project the criticism onto mom and dad."

So how should parents respond when kids express embarrassment about something they said or did? Sabine says that rather than demanding respect or getting angry, it can be more effective to use humor and invite communication.

For example, Sabine says, you could sigh, in commiseration, "Yes, it is a real burden to have a dad like me." Or, you could "give them an opportunity to inform and teach you."

Fortunately, as teens mature, embarrassment over parents wanes. "By 16," Sabine says, "they have come to live with the idea that mom and dad are not going to be cool."

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