Skip to content

What To Do When Your Teen Won’t Stop Criticizing You

When I put myself in the shoes of parents, I struggle to grasp what it must be like to witness a child’s birth, nurture that child’s development, change their diapers, nurse them, take them to school & sports …. only to have them grow up and say things like:

  • “If you had only ______, things would have been better.”

  • “It’s because of you that I’m struggling with _______.”

  • “You’re embarrassing.”

  • “You don’t understand me and what’s happening in my life.”

  • “I wish you were more like ________’s parent.”

  • “I just want to get away from you.”

Oof – what gut punches. It must be so disorienting to have the kid that you held when they were tiny and helpless hit you with such feedback or criticism. I am sympathetic to parents who are on the receiving end of this.

At the same time, I understand on a personal & professional level why teens get to the point that they deliver these low blows. Children are around their parents all the time. They have a front-row seat to their parents’ weaknesses and worst moments. So it’s no wonder they become bonafide experts on what their parents might still need to work on.

And this is not inherently a problem – teens can provide parents with valuable feedback for this very reason. A teen’s perspective on their parents is unique from that of co-workers, friends, etc. because of their close vantage point. With the right communication skills & boundaries in place, these conversations between teens and their parents can be enlightening, productive, and respectful.

However, without these skills & boundaries in place, a teen’s ‘feedback’ for their parents can be brutal. If a parent does not have the tools to know how to respond in these situations, they may become defensive, or otherwise act out of character towards their child. This reaction may give their child more content for ‘feedback,’ presented non-constructively, which may result in another reaction from a parent, leading to a vicious cycle.

Here are some guidelines for teens & parents on how to avoid this:

For parents:

  1. Teach & model constructive criticism – Put in place a boundary that you are open to hearing feedback from your child, but will not tolerate offensive, disrespectful, or non-constructive criticism. You would not tolerate a co-worker who said, “You’re lazy and horrible at your job.” It would be different if your co-worker said “When you don’t turn in the reports on time, it makes my job a lot harder. I need you to get them to me on time.” Teach and model giving & receiving constructive criticism. Hold a boundary and communicate that you will be removing yourself from the conversation until the feedback is based on behaviors and actions and not an attack on who you are as a person.

  2. Practice non-defensiveness by tending to your emotions – Acknowledge to yourself when your child’s feedback makes you feel hurt, scared, angry, confused, etc. You are absolutely entitled to this feeling and experience, but I strongly advise against sharing your feelings with your child in the moment (see #3 below). Instead, practice self-validation and self-soothing. When your child says something that makes you feel scared that you have failed them, say to yourself “I’m feeling really scared right now” and give yourself compassion. Tell yourself that you will give your fear the attention it deserves when the time is right.

  3. Work on staying with your child’s experience – When your child shares something you have done to hurt them, do not immediately make it about you. Do not speak about your intention or your own emotional reaction yet, acknowledge the impact. Validate & summarize your child’s perspective so they know you hear them. Only after you have done so may you gently push back or share how you have a different perspective.

  4. Focus on being good rather than perfect – Parents who put excessive pressure on themselves to be perfect actually make things worse for their children. Parents are bound to mess up – it is inevitable. If you are unable to admit that you mess up because you are focused on being the perfect parent, you will unintentionally make your child question their own reality. Your job is to be as good as you can be, not to be perfect.

For teens:

  1. Engage in constructive criticism – Your point of view is valid, but an attack on someone’s character (even your parent) is unacceptable and will get in the way of you getting your point across. Take responsibility for how you communicate your point of view.

  2. Access compassion & practice patience – It’s your parents’ first time living too! They don’t have it all figured out and will make mistakes.

  3. Take care of yourself – If your parent is not skilled in the above (they aren’t constructive with their own feedback, they can’t regulate their emotions, they are defensive) – come to terms with this and figure out how to protect & care for yourself. Unfortunately, it’s really hard to change other people before they are ready to do so. If your parents are in this place, it doesn’t really mean that they love you less – it means that there’s likely a barrier to them learning the skills they need to have healthy communication with you. You may need to grieve the fact that you wish you had a parent who already had these skills. You will definitely need to recognize how this impacts you and holds you back. Once you’ve done so, you can focus your energy on finding others (mentors, teachers, therapists, friends, supportive adults) who can provide you with what you need.


Parents & teens who are able to put these practices into place have an opportunity to share and receive feedback that will help them grow in closeness. Parents & teens who are not able to use communication skills and uphold boundaries when it comes to giving feedback will likely enter into a cycle of low blows, defensiveness & arguing. This will create emotional distance. Parents hold the responsibility of setting an example by modeling constructive criticism, tending to their own emotions, and focusing on being good rather than perfect. Teens hold the responsibility of accessing compassion, practicing patience, using constructive feedback rather than personal attacks, and recognizing what is out of their control. When this is accomplished, parents and their kids have an opportunity to create a trusting relationship based on respect, care, and transparency that helps both of them grow.

  • Meghan Malloy, The Arrow House, Program Therapist
Posted in