Teen-agers have a rule: No cool parents allowed!

May 13, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

Stephanie Confer, a 34-year-old mom who wears faded jeans and T-shirts and likes to sing along with rock songs, always felt she was a totally cool mom.

Until her teen-age daughter Jackie started dropping hints to the contrary.

Ms. Confer realized her loss of cool status when she was driving Jackie and some of Jackie's friends to the movies recently.

"I was singing along with the radio and when 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen came on, I started doing this head-banging thing. Jackie told me to stop," says Ms. Confer.

Jackie, 14, rolls her eyes upward in exasperation and gives her mother a playful shove.

"It embarrassed me because it was so high-pitched," says Jackie. While Jackie expounds on her mother's new singing technique, Ms. Confer -- who sells jewelry at her parents' jewelry store in Burton, Mich., and moonlights as an actress -- smiles sheepishly and promises to sing more softly from now on.

Is this unusual? Is Jackie being overly sensitive? Not really.

"Most teen-agers are humiliated by their mothers and that's just a fact. I don't know why, but it is," says Nancy Kennedy, a Floridian who's writing a book called "Confessions of a Formerly Cool Mom." It's based on her s personal experiences with her daughter Alison, 16.

For instance, Ms. Kennedy has been told by Alison that, at 38, she's far too old for certain expressions like "duh" and "way cool."

"Humiliating yourself in front of your teen-ager is something nobody told me about," says Ms. Kennedy. "I had to learn the hard way."

Why do teen-agers get embarrassed like this?

Andrew Fuligni, a graduate student at the University of Michigan who is studying adolescent development, suspects it's because teens trying to distance themselves from their mothers set up their own boundaries.

"Teens want to retain a closeness but just kind of want to be on their own. They don't want to look like mama's kids, especially in front of their friends. So sometimes you can't do things like hug them," says Mr. Fuligni.

"Coolness is the kids' arena and they don't want their moms messing in it at their level," he adds.

Arnold Keller, executive director of Psychotherapy and Counseling Services in Northville, Mich., has noticed that most teen-agers have a firm stereotype of a mother. If you deviate, you're in trouble.

Says Mr. Keller: "Teen-agers want their mothers to act like the mothers of their friends, and if you transgress from that too much -- if you have your hair spiked, wear tight clothes or sing in public and none of the other moms do that -- you'll get criticized."

And don't call undue attention to you or your teen. Like when Ms. Confer and daughter Jackie went shopping for clothes recently.

"I asked Jackie if she wanted some new bras and she ran and hid," says Ms. Confer, eyes wide and still surprised at the reaction.

Jackie adds some details.

"There we were, in the middle of this store, and you yell: 'OH, HON, DO YOU NEED ANY NEW BRAS?' All these boys were walking past laughing so I ducked down. . . .

While mothers get rapped for humiliating their teens, it seems fathers can escape such censure.

Mr. Keller has noticed this in his therapy with families. Martha Heiler, 45, of Redford, Mich. confirms it.

"My daughter Carrie [16] will chide me for what I look like, especially if I wear mismatched clothing," says Ms. Heiler, who works with hearing-impaired students. "But her dad can wear anything and he just gets teased a little."

If you're the proud mother of a teen and feel confused over her or his red-faced embarrassment of your non-coolness, heed Carol Larabell's advice: Find out what you're doing wrong and stop it.

"I rarely embarrass my son Chris [17] but I learned the hard way by going though it with my daughter [Tina], who is now 21," says Ms. Larabell, a thirtysomething homemaker from Troy, Mich. "I finally learned that sometimes she wanted to be left alone. I also learned that you have to watch what you say in front of your teen-agers, especially when their friends are around. You have to not ask questions, you have to not hug them unless they initiate it and you have to accept the fact that they're young adults -- which is probably the hardest part of all."

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