How to Keep from Embarrassing Your Millennial-Aged Child

  • Cindi McMenamin Contributing Writer
  • 2019 15 Jan
How to Keep from Embarrassing Your Millennial-Aged Child

It happens. For reasons unbeknownst to us, we cause our young adult children to become annoyed or worse yet, embarrassed, just by being ourselves. 

Call it a generational thing, but chances are your parents did the same thing to you. Aging is tough. It’s especially difficult when our actions or our reactions to our children’s opinions sound exactly like our own parents’ reactions to us back in the days when we thought we were so cool. 

It’s time we learn to step back, take ourselves out of the equation, and look at life through the lens of our grown children so we can be more of an inspiration, rather than an irritation. I’m not saying all of these suggestions came from personal experience, but here is what I’ve learned (from my own daughter and her myriad of friends) about how to keep from embarrassing your millennial-aged child: 

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  • 1. Don't be so vocal about what irritates you.

    1. Don't be so vocal about what irritates you.

    Apparently, when you and I put words to our observations, we are “judging” someone, according to our grown children. It may be the last thing on our minds to sound critical, or worse yet, judgmental, and yet that is not only their generation’s buzzword, but it’s their default perception. Say something unkind, you are judging. Let me take that a step further: Say anything not sounding like praise, and you are judging. 

    Instead of verbalizing it when you think someone is wearing something outrageous, immodest, or inappropriate, or even laughing at someone you think is funny (and didn’t laughter used to be a compliment, rather than a curse?), just keep it to yourself. Proverbs 21:23 says, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity” and in this case, from embarrassing their adult children. 

    In the words of Thumper from the Disney movie “Bambi” (and apparently a phrase every millennial is aware of): “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Highwaystarz-Photography

  • 2. Don't insist on speaking into every situation.

    2. Don't insist on speaking into every situation.

    Your political views, religious convictions, social commentary, and so on is going to be different, “outdated,” and possibly even more annoying than your children’s. It doesn’t mean you are wrong and they’re right or vice versa. It just means the two of you think and express yourselves differently. You see things differently. You interpret them through different worldviews. You express them differently. This gets especially sticky when it comes to defending your views. Often you are talking about the same or similar viewpoint but your choice of words may include some buzzwords that trigger in them a sense of intolerance, hatred, or (dare I say it again?) judgment

    I used to think I had to interject my Christian values into every conversation, but I’ve learned to trust that if I raised my child according to biblical principles, I must rely on the Holy Spirit to convict her heart and reveal truth to her, just as I must trust the Holy Spirit to do the same in my life. Instead of reacting to statements that may sound erroneous and uneducated or downright “too liberal,” thank God for your children’s differences and abilities to think on their own and ask that God will shine His light through them. (God can use way more than you think He can and in ways you might have never guessed.) 

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  • 3. Don't expect to be treated like a king or queen when you go to a restaurant.

    3. Don't expect to be treated like a king or queen when you go to a restaurant.

    It’s true that when you’re paying for a meal, a “tip” is to reward someone for their excellent service. But our grown children believe that we have a sense of entitlement and are downright rude if we don’t reward others simply for waiting on us, regardless of whether our expectations were met. Although you and I rarely mean any disrespect, to our grown children, our requests come across as complaints and our complaints translate to  ingratitude. 

    Many of our children have friends in the service industry (or may be in the service industry themselves) and tend to be more sensitive and compassionate to the plight of the server. Because companies set policies and not the employees, our kids believe we should extend grace, not argue with or complain at the people who are simply doing their jobs, and always give a generous tip. 

    Next time you feel you got substandard service in the presence of your young adult child, use the opportunity to give the person the benefit of the doubt and practice graciousness for the sake of your child who is watching your behavior. 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Rawpixel

  • 4. Don't refer to a person by their race or nationality.

    4. Don't refer to a person by their race or nationality.

    Do you remember being embarrassed, if not horrified, by the racial comments of your parents or their friends? We forgave it by chalking it up to their generational ignorance: “Dad, don’t you realize that is racist?” or “Mom, that is a racially-stereotypical assumption!” Now, apparently, we are just as racially insensitive as our parents were, but we express it in more subtle ways, or don’t notice it at all until we are called out on it. 

    In talking with a group of millennials about how their parents embarrass them, most said their parents often refer to people’s nationality or race unnecessarily. Millennials are better than anyone else in seeing one another as people, rather than people groups or nationalities. They describe or refer to each other by their talents, abilities, positions, titles, or color of clothing, not by what they look like or where they are from. 

    Whereas we tend to ask “What nationality is he?” out of curiosity or add racial clarifications without thinking about it (For example: “A really nice {insert race here} woman helped me with it”), it wouldn’t occur to our children to include one’s race in their conversations or descriptions of people. Be aware of how many times you refer to race or nationality when you describe someone, make verbal observations, or ask questions. It may help you become more racially sensitive and begin to see the world as your children do. 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/Rawpixel

  • 5. Don't "parent" them in public.

    5. Don't "parent" them in public.

    This bothered them as teenagers, and the embarrassment – or resentment – doesn’t diminish any as they get older. Once our children become adults, they want to be treated as adults. And when you and I offer them unsolicited advice, whip out a verbal correction or rebuke, or even coddle them as if they were under 10 years old, it serves only to embarrass or annoy them. 

    For the sake of the relationship, ask before you offer advice, confront privately and in a loving manner, and don’t exert your parental authority to win an argument, insist on a point, or “rescue” them in some way. I know some moms who speak their minds boldly simply because they’re mom, but to the detriment of the relationship. 

    Proverbs 13:3 tells us, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives” – and in some cases, their relationships with their children. Ephesians 4:29 is a good guideline when it comes to keeping from embarrassing our children when we open our mouths: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz

  • 6. Don't try to imitate their style.

    6. Don't try to imitate their style.

    When your child was young, he or she wanted to look just like dad or mom. Now that they’re older they do not want mom or dad dressing to look like them. Be yourself. They might think it’s old fashioned at times, but when you try to update yourself with their wardrobe or their generation’s styles, it not only annoys them, it embarrasses them. 

    Yes, millennials (and even celebrities who aren’t millennials by a longshot!) are wearing their shirts and sweaters tucked in at the waist and left out on the sides. But, when you and I try it, we not only look ridiculous, we look like we got distracted while dressing and accidentally tucked in part of our top, or just had a memory lapse and forgot to complete the tuck on the sides. Don’t try to be so stylish that you look like a parent trying to look like your kid. It only embarrasses them. 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/tixti

  • 7. Resist the urge to "fit in" with their circle of friends.

    7. Resist the urge to "fit in" with their circle of friends.

    Okay, I’m guilty of this one. When I’m around my grown daughter and her friends, it’s human nature to want to “fit in.” Therefore, I might try to speak their language or overcompensate when I’ve made a blunder. But some lines just weren’t meant to be crossed. If I say something that’s interpreted differently by their age group, they have enough sense to keep quiet about it and chalk it up to my generational ignorance. But if I catch it, attempt to explain it, and then try to put it in words they use and are more likely to understand, I just get myself in deeper. Before long, I’ve buried myself (and my grown child) in embarrassment. 

    Be gracious. Err on the side of saying less. And don’t be so concerned with how you look or whether or not you’re accepted by your child and his or her “crew.” They will respect you for it in the long run. 

    Photo courtesy: ©Thinkstock/fizkes

  • 8. Learn their boundaries and respect them.

    8. Learn their boundaries and respect them.

    As parents of millennials, we came from the generation where it was considered valuable to air your feelings and be transparent. But perhaps we talked our children to death and now they would prefer to go back to an era where certain topics weren’t appropriate to discuss anywhere or with anyone. Asking too many questions to get to know someone of that age may seem imposing, rude, or even interrogational, rather than friendly. 

    Remember, millennials are growing up in a world in which there is, unfortunately, less social interaction (and more texting and online chat rather than talking). That means some young people aren’t comfortable with our level of transparency or our attempts to “get to know them.” 

    Don’t, in a motherly way, ask a young man whom you don’t know if he has a girlfriend. He will be at a loss of how to respond. And don’t make the mistake I made by reaching out and touching the arm of a young woman as I complimented her on what she was wearing. My 26-year-old daughter was horrified and asked: “Mom, why would you ever touch a stranger?” I thought for a moment that she got that one all wrong. Then I remembered the world she has grown up in. Touch used to mean a kind gesture. Now touch can mean, to younger people, personal intrusion or unwanted attention. 

    It saddens me that we live in a world in which it is now risky to touch someone as a gesture of kindness. But a smile still goes a long way. Use it often and unsparingly. It can break down barriers that nothing else can, and it can keep your child from feeling needlessly embarrassed. 

    Cindi McMenamin is a pastor’s wife, mom, Bible teacher, and national speaker who has hopefully not embarrassed her adult child as much as she fears she has. She is the author of several books including the best-selling When Women Walk Alone (more than 125,000 copies sold), When a Woman Overcomes Life’s Hurts, When a Mom Inspires Her Daughter, and  Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. For more on her speaking ministry, or books and resources to help you grow in your relationship with God, your marriage or your parenting, see her website:

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