How to criticize a teenager such that it doesn’t result in a war at home – is a problem many parents face.
A very upset mother told me the other day that she was being accused of damaging her teenager’s self-esteem by everyone else in her family.
“What should I do?” She asked me.
“If I don’t tell him what he is doing wrong – who will tell him? How will he know that he needs to change? How will he improve?”
“But if I tell him – I am told I am damaging his self-esteem and destroying his confidence. I am stuck. What should I do?”
The answer to her question is not easy.
Yes – we need to correct teenagers and point out what they are doing wrong so that they change and improve.
But when we point out mistakes we must be careful to ensure that we are offering constructive criticism and not destroying their self-esteem or sounding like their enemies.
10 Things to keep in mind when you give your teenager constructive criticism
Never criticize your teenager in front of others
Teens care a lot about what others are thinking about them.
When you criticize your teenager in front of someone else – your teenager will not listen and absorb what you are saying.
Her/his whole focus will be on somehow saving face and looking good in front of the other person.
You will find your teenager getting angry or answering back or doing something foolish to look smart
When you compare your teenager to someone else – it becomes a personal attack.
Teenagers are constantly struggling with their identity and trying to prove to themselves that they are good enough.
When you compare – you are putting your teenager’s worst fear into words. When you compare your teenager begins to believe that she/he is not good enough.
And this is what really damages self-esteem.
Also read Do you compare your child with others? Stop immediately !
Remember that you are saying this because you want your teen to improve.
Do not criticize unnecessarily. And don’t criticize everything about your teenager.
If you want your teenager to get better marks – only talk about how to improve the marks.
Do not deviate from the topic by bringing in other things like
“You also keep your room so untidy” and “You never wish my friends when you meet them”
Keep the ultimate goal in mind
The point of constructive criticism is not to criticize – but to pin point an area of weakness and develop a strategy to overcome that weakness.
Think with a calm brain before you begin to speak to your teen.
When we are in an emotional state – we focus more on being critical than constructive.
When we criticize for too long our teenagers start blocking our words and by the time we reach the constructive part of our criticism – they are no longer listening.
Don’t make it about yourself
Often we criticize only because we are feeling bad or embarrassed.
“I was so ashamed of your behavior” or “I felt terrible that everyone else got good marks other than you” – is the wrong way to begin the conversation.
If it is your problem you will be the one looking for solutions. And that will not work.
Ensure that your teen takes ownership of the problem.
“I know you wanted to get better marks” or “I know you didn’t mean to behave badly” – is a better way to begin talking.
When your teen feels understood in the middle of a difficult situation – she/he immediately wants to be the person you imagine she/he is.
Always believe that your teen’s intentions are good. All you need to do is help her/him find a way to follow through and execute her/his intentions.
Start by focusing on the positives
When you begin by noting the positive things in a particular situation – you immediately get your teen’s attention. You also catch your teen by surprise because she/he is expecting you to only say nasty things.
Begin with “I like the way you wrote this answer”
And then go on to point out her/his mistakes
It is important to show your teen what she/he has done right, because in addition to not knowing what your teen has done wrong – she he probably does not know what she/he has done right.
A lot of times teens are just experimenting with different ways of doing things. They are trying to study differently – write differently – dress differently and behave differently.
When we criticize them about the experiments that have gone wrong, we must also praise them for the experiments that have gone well.
If they know what they have done right – they can repeat it.
Focus on improving the process
In my experience of working with teenagers – I have always found that their intentions are good.
The problem is invariably with the process employed
When a teenager does something wrong – her/his brain shuts down. And it becomes impossible for her/him to analyse where the mistake lies and what can be done differently next time.
Analysis is not easy for adults either. And many adults find it difficult to figure out where the mistake lies and what can be done differently next time.
If you are struggling to find out where your teen can improve – do not hesitate to reach out for expert help.
Give your teen specific action points
It is not enough to point out the obvious and tell your teen what mistakes she/he has made.
What your teen really needs is a new goal and a plan to reach that goal.
Help your teenager to set an achievable goal. So – for a teen who has got a 30 % in math – set a goal of 60% marks in the next exam.
Break up the syllabus into small chunks – such that your child is doing only 20 sums a day to reach her/is target of finishing the entire syllabus.
Also locate the 1 hour in the day when your teen will be able to sit down and do these 20 sums.
And if you want your teen to follow your plan – allow her/him to have a say in the plan.
No matter how much we want to change things for the better for our teens – until and unless we have their wholehearted participation – we cannot change anything.
Also read Academic Pressure :15 Ways To Manage Pressure Of Studies In Students
Constructive criticism is not something you can deliver to a teenager and walk away.
Teenagers have short memories.
Teenagers have lives full of stress and distractions.
If you want your constructive criticism to create something of value for your teen – you have to remain connected and check if the plan you made is being executed as planned.
If the plan is not working – you will need to sit down and discuss and change the plan.
Also read How to give your teenager space while staying connected
Be loving and helpful
Always remember that the reason you are criticizing your child is because you love her/him.
Begin every discussion by stating that you are saying what you are saying because you love your child.
Offer your help. Don’t sit on the other side of the table and judge your teen for not doing what she/he should.
Never run away from correcting your teenager. It is our duty as parents to show our teenagers that they are going wrong when they do.
But always be gentle and understanding when you speak to your teen. And allow your teenager to have a say in the decisions that you make for her/him.
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