John Cowan - Embarrassing Parents

Publish Date
Friday, 17 March 2017, 1:22PM
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

By John Cowan


Millions of people have now viewed a particular BBC live news interview with Professor Robert Kelly but I am certain the vast majority have no idea what he is talking about. I have watched it myself several times and still haven’t a clue – because, as he witters on about Asian geopolitics, his pre-schooler daughter pushes through the door in the back of the shot, closely followed by her toddler brother in a walker and they photobomb this very serious interview.  Professor Kelly struggles to keep talking while trying to push the kids away. Then his wife slides broadside through the door in a panic and hauls the protesting children out. He almost keeps his composure but flickering around his professional face you can see that inside he is dying with embarrassment.  It is hilarious. In the same week, news channels endlessly replayed the clip of a toddler snubbing the Queen. The Queen has seen too many tantrums in her own family to be all that fussed; the humour in both these clips is that we all feel the agonising embarrassment of the parents.  We’ve all been there.  When I was a very small child, I said to a very large friend of my father that we had named our cat after him, because our cat was fat, too. 

Maybe it is part of a child’s job description to embarrass their parents, but it is certainly not our job to embarrass them – any more than we can avoid, anyway. With my appalling fashion sense and supply of dad jokes, I will inevitably embarrass my children but one place I do try to hold back is on-line. More than a quarter of British teenagers reckon their parents embarrass them on line, and a third of them block their parents on Facebook – or run multiple accounts to keep their parents from embarrassing them. Embarrassing pictures are the top offence, followed by comments on their feeds and their friends’ posts.  Today’s young people are not just more tech savvy than we are, they are usually more concerned about their online privacy than their parents; and they not grateful for all those the pictures you have posted of them. Even those old ones you put up years ago are still there, just a few clicks and scroll away.  If you have got kids, even young kids, think before you post any pictures of them.

My advice, become their social media friend when they are young, then settle back: don’t like, comment or post on their page. Let them forget you are there!  It will be such a valuable window for you on their world during their adolescence: don’t have that window slammed shut by being embarrassing.


About John

John has been with The Parenting Place ( for seventeen years as their senior writer and presenter.  He had various roles working with youth and families prior to that but actually started his working life as a scientist in neurophysiology at Auckland Hospital.  As well as writing and speaking, John is frequently on radio and television.

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