How to Give Your Teen Constructive Criticism

Give your teen advice in a helpful manner.

Thomas Fricke/Corbis/Getty Images

When you say, “You shouldn’t do that,” to a teenager, your feedback is likely to be met with an eye roll. By the time kids turn into teens, they don’t think they need much help from adults—especially their parents.

But, just because your teen doesn’t appreciate your words of wisdom, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer your advice. Constructive criticism can be essential to your teen’s well-being.

Your teen needs to know how to improve their social skills. They’ll need guidance on steps they could take to be healthier. They’ll need your advice on how they can improve their chances of success.

There are many reasons why you should give your teen constructive criticism.

Why Constructive Criticism Is Important

It’s important for your teen to be able to hear constructive criticism without automatically becoming defensive or argumentative. Their future boss, college professors, and partner will likely give them constructive criticism from time to time. Being able to hear those words—and apply them—could help them become a better person.

But before they can take that advice, they’ll have to be open to listening to it. Then, they’ll need to be able to evaluate that advice and be open to changing their behavior.

Every time you give your teen constructive criticism, you give them an opportunity to grow and change. You also give them an opportunity to practice handling feedback from others.

Critiquing your teen’s performance, whether you’re giving feedback on how they filled out their job application, or you’re telling them what you noticed during their baseball game, is important.

Pointing out mistakes in a gentle manner can help your teen see that mistakes aren’t something they should be ashamed of. Instead, you can use it as an opportunity to show them how to bounce back from failure by turning their mistakes into a learning opportunity.

Constructive Feedback vs. Setting Limits

If you’re offering constructive feedback, view your role as a guide. Point out what your teen did well while adding what she could do better next time.

Remember that constructive criticism is your opinion. It’s different from addressing a broken rule or a serious violation. Instead, it’s about offering advice about how your teen could improve.

Suggesting your teen tuck in their shirt before they head out to a dance is constructive criticism. Grounding them for missing his curfew is about setting limits.

Start With a Positive Relationship

Have you ever received criticism from a boss whom you didn’t respect? Can you recall a time during your adolescence when an adult you didn’t admire offered you unsolicited advice?

If you don’t trust the person giving you feedback, you won’t listen to what that person has to say. Rather than thinking about how to apply their feedback to your life, you’ll invest your energy into thinking why this person’s advice doesn’t matter.

Before you give your teen constructive criticism, make sure you have a healthy relationship.

If your teen respects you, they’ll have respect for your opinion.

But even if you aren’t on the best of terms, make sure you still set healthy limits and follow through with consequences when necessary. As you work to build your relationship, you can start offering more feedback about the little things.

Address the Behavior, Not the Person

Keep your comments focused on what your teen does, not who they are. So instead of saying, “You always dress like a slob,” try, “Wearing your pajamas pants out in public might send the wrong message to people about how you feel about yourself.”

Point out the behavior that concerns you and say why you are concerned. Don’t attack them and avoid bringing up more than one issue at a time.

Be Kind, But Direct

Resist using sarcasm or teasing your teen about their choices. Express your concern in a kind, but clear manner.

So rather than hint around that their dress is too tight, be upfront about your concern. You can still be kind and gentle, while also using direct communication.

Use a neutral tone of voice and try to use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. Instead of saying, “You don’t ever manage to get your homework done at a reasonable hour,” say, “I think it would be a good idea to establish a schedule for yourself so you can get your homework done earlier in the evening.”

Listen to Your Teen’s Opinion

After you’ve expressed your concern, ask your teen for their opinion. Ask questions like, “Do you think that could be a problem for you at some point?”

Don’t be surprised if your teen doesn’t see things the same way you do. Your years of wisdom will give you a different perspective and they're likely to insist you don’t understand what it takes to be a teen in today’s world.

Showing a willingness to listen to your teen can go a long way toward encouraging your teen to listen to you.

Mistakes to Avoid

Your teen will be more likely to listen to your constructive criticism if you avoid these common communication mistakes:

  • Don’t draw comparisons. Saying things like, “You should do your homework right after school like your brother does,” will likely lead to a defensive reaction from your teen. Treat your teen like the individual that they are and avoid drawing unfair comparisons to other people.
  • Skip the lecture. The longer your lecture, the higher the likelihood that your teen will tune you out. Keep your advice crisp and actionable. A few sentences will work best.
  • Avoid being overly critical. Being too harsh on your teen will cause you to lose credibility.
  • 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'll find something that works best for them.
  • Don’t nag. If your teen doesn’t listen to your advice the first time, they're not likely to listen the second time either. Make your opinion known, but don’t nag.

How to Deal With Your Teen’s Reaction

There will likely to be times when your teen responds to your feedback with anger. Whether they argue that you’re wrong or they insist, “I know Mom!” don’t get into a power struggle.

Underneath their frustration and irritability may be some shame or embarrassment. And they may need some time to calm down before they're ready to think about your advice.

Ignoring an eye roll or simply walking away when your teen says, “You don’t understand. That’s not how this works,” could be the best option.

Then, you can address the issue at a later time. Say something like, “Whenever I offer you advice on how to improve your driving, you insist you already know everything I tell you. I’m concerned that you aren’t listening to me and you won’t learn how to become a better driver.”

Acknowledge that it’s tough to hear feedback sometimes. Say, “I don’t like it when my boss points out my mistakes. And sometimes I get angry. But, listening to their advice helps me do my job better.”

If your teen really isn’t listening, at some point, you’ll need to decide if you need to press the issue or let it go. If it’s a serious issue, you may need to instill consequences if your teen’s behavior doesn’t change. If it’s a minor issue, you might have to learn how to live with it.

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, an international bestselling author of books on mental strength and host of The Verywell Mind Podcast. She delivered one of the most popular TEDx talks of all time.