Opinion Blog

Ask a Psychologist

Helping Students Thrive Now

Angela Duckworth and other behavioral-science experts offer advice to teachers based on scientific research. Read more from this blog.

Student Well-Being Opinion

Ouch! Why Teens Criticize Adults

Adolescents can be our toughest judges
By Lisa Damour — March 01, 2023 1 min read
Why are teenagers so tough on adults?
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Why are teenagers so tough on adults?

Adolescents often speak to authority figures in a way that younger kids don’t. I wrote something for parents about the topic for Character Lab as a Tip of the Week, but it can be useful to keep in mind in schools as well:

“Pack your bags! We’re going on a guilt trip!” one of my teenage daughters said to the other.

I’d just made a passive-aggressive comment about the dirty dishes they’d left in the sink, so maybe I deserved that remark. But it still stung. And if my kids have such an easy time giving pointed feedback at home, might they also be unkind when they’re out and about?

All parents probably worry about raising kids who allow themselves to be jerks to others. But here’s something I know about development: Adolescence is a time of heightened friction at home, in part because teenagers become acutely perceptive of their parents’ shortcomings and are often quick to point them out. They do this because they are coming to terms with the fact that we, the only parents they have, are far from perfect. They hope for us to improve, especially before they move out, so they tend to save their toughest feedback for us.

So how should you react when your teen hits you with zingers? Your teen knows you well—often better than you know yourself—and their observations are usually spot on. But they also know when they’ve crossed a line and they expect to be called on it. It’s important to remind kids that all people—parents included—are more likely to make good use of their input when it’s delivered with compassion.

Don’t be defensive when teens criticize you. That either closes down communication or escalates friction, sometimes into a full-blown conflict—two outcomes that serve no one well.

Do push back if their feedback is more hostile than helpful. Consider saying, “I’m sure you have a point, but we don’t speak to each other that way around here. I’m interested in what’s on your mind, but you need to let me know in a kinder way.” I’m in constant awe of how quickly my daughters are growing and changing. And thanks to their keen commentary on my not-so-endearing quirks, I’m growing and changing, too.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Q&A How to Address Parents' Concerns That SEL Goes Against Their Values
A Texas instructional coach shares insights she has learned from talking with hesitant parents.
3 min read
Illustration concept of emotional intelligence, showing a woman balancing emotion control using her hand to balance smile and sad face icons.
Student Well-Being Pause Before You Post: A Social Media Guide for Educators in Tense Political Times
5 tips for educators and their students to avoid making harmful or false statements online that they later regret.
6 min read
Tight crop of a man's hands using a mobile phone with the popup box that reads "Delete post, Are you sure you want to delete this post? Cancel or Delete"
Gina Tomko/Education Week + Getty
Student Well-Being Opinion What Does the Dangerous Political Climate Mean for Schools?
Educators and researchers offer advice for navigating political polarization in the classroom.
5 min read
Grunge Collage styled urban graphic of US election
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Student Well-Being Q&A Why Educators Need to Better Understand What Drives Kids' Cellphone Addictions
As more school and day-to-day tasks are completed on smartphones and computers, teens struggle to manage their screen time.
3 min read
Young man and woman without energy on giant phone screen with speech and heart icons above them. Addiction. Contemporary art collage. Concept of social media, influence, online communication
Vanessa Solis/Education Week + iStock