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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?
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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.

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