Giving Your Teen Constructive Criticism

Let’s face it: no one is ever excited to receive criticism. It can hurt to be told you’re wrong or not doing something right. However, without criticism, we will never be able to grow or improve. When someone offers us criticism, they open our eyes to perspectives we may have overlooked or never considered, and they offer new ideas for tackling a problem. Criticism is actually a valuable tool to help us become successful.

Your teen definitely needs your guidance because they lack so much experience. A parent’s criticism can help a teen improve a skill, develop a healthy habit, or manage good relationships. But perhaps the most important reason your constructive criticism is important for your teen is to allow them to practice handling feedback from others – something they will have to do throughout their adulthood. Your teen’s future college professors, boss, and romantic partner will all give them constructive criticism from time to time. Being open to hearing feedback without becoming defensive or argumentative, evaluating criticism objectively, and applying criticism to their life will help your teen become a better person.

Ways to Provide Criticism Constructively

While criticism is definitely valuable, its delivery is arguably the determining factor in whether the criticism is accepted or not. Providing criticism to anyone is a delicate balancing act and it is easy to offend the person to whom you are offering advice. This is doubly true for teenagers who are hormonal, easily embarrassed, and striving to stake out their independence. Knowing that, it’s important your criticism is delivered in the right way in order for it to be received. Here are tips for how to provide your teen constructive criticism:

  1. Establish a good relationship.

Have you ever received criticism from someone whom you didn’t respect? Have you gotten unsolicited advice from someone who doesn’t know you that well? We never receive feedback well from someone we don’t trust. If you want your teen to listen to what you have to say, you must establish a healthy relationship with them. Your teen needs to trust you and believe you want the best for them. You can learn more about how to create a good relationship with your teen in our previous blog, Healthy Adult-Adolescent Relationships. If your teen respects you, he’ll have respect for your opinion.

  1. Address the Behavior, Not the Person

When you have criticism to offer, make sure you focus your comments on what your teen is doing, not on your teen as a person. Point out the behavior that concerns you and explain why you think it’s not a good idea. Do not call your teen names or attack something that is important to your teen. For example, if your teen’s wardrobe is an issue, you might say, “people make judgments based on outward appearances, so you should be aware of the message you are sending to others through your clothing choices.” You should not call your teen a slob, slut, or any other derogatory name.

  1. Pick Your Battles

You might feel that your teen needs to make a lot of improvements, but the best way to have criticism received is to only bring up one issue at a time. When you offer too much criticism, it makes someone feel like they can’t do anything right and shuts them down. Instead, focus on the one area that bothers you the most. Make sure to notice if they make any improvements in that area, and compliment them!

  1. Put it in Perspective

Make sure that both you and your teen have the right perspective when it comes to criticism. As the parent, you should be viewing your role as a guide or a coach. You are offering feedback on what your teen did well and where he/she could improve, all in an effort to help them be more successful. As the teen, your son or daughter should understand that mistakes are not bad, but rather experiences that help us learn and grow. Make sure that you never put your teen down for making a mistake. Instead, offer encouragement and help them to see mistakes as learning opportunities.

  1. Listen to your Teen’s Opinion

After you have offered criticism, invite your teen to express their own opinion. Your way of doing things is not the only way, and parents are not always right. Your teen may have a very different perspective on the situation, and you should at least be willing to listen to their ideas. Sometimes teens don’t agree simply because they think you don’t understand what it takes to be a teenager in the modern world, but regardless of their opinion, your willingness to listen and understand their ideas will help establish a positive relationship that will encourage your teen to value your opinion.

Mistakes to Avoid When Offering Criticism

There are a few common communication mistakes that can cause someone to discount your guidance. The way we deliver our criticism significantly impacts whether someone will accept or reject it. These blunders will cause anyone, not just your teen, to become defensive. You will have a much more receptive audience to your feedback if you avoid these mistakes:

  • Don’t compare. Comparing someone to another person never helps and is often unfair. Treat each person like an individual and deal with their behavior individually. Saying things like, “You should finish your chores like your sister does,” will just hurt your teen’s feelings.
  • Avoid sarcasm. When giving criticism, keep your tone neutral. Teasing your teen about their choices or using sarcasm will only make them defensive.
  • Skip the lecture. The longer you talk, the more likely your teen will tune you out. Keep your advice short and sweet.
  • Don’t be harsh. If you are overly critical, or nitpick everything your teen does, you will lose your credibility. Pick one thing to focus on at a time and be gentle and kind in the way you talk about it.
  • Don’t use backhanded compliments. It’s important to praise your teen, but avoid using backhanded compliments. Saying things like, “I’m so happy you made your bed today. If only you could do that all the time,” will frustrate your teen.
  • Remember there’s more than one way to do things. Don’t get caught up thinking your way is the best way to do everything. Your teen will likely find their own way of doing a lot of tasks and they will find something that works best for them.


How to Deal with Your Teen’s Reaction

There will be many times when your teen reacts to your well-intended feedback with anger, regardless of how well you deliver the message. Don’t take the bait. More than likely, your teen’s anger is masking their embarrassment. Ignore their eye roll and walk away from the argument. More than likely, your teen just needs some time to calm down before they can consider your advice. If your teen frequently reacts with anger to any criticism you offer, try talking to them about it when they are feeling calm. Let them know that you find it hard to hear criticism, too. Let them know that you have their best interests at heart and you want to guide them towards being more successful.

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