Some parents nitpick their kids. It’s in an effort to help them become a good adult, but there are negative consequences for the child. Teenagers who are nitpicked feel they cannot please their parents. They get so frustrated that they either rebel or shut-down. It feels hopeless to them.
I have worked with teens who deal with parents that just won’t let up on them. When I ask they parents what is good about the child they start with something good, and still find a way to make it a back-handed compliment. In those cases the teenager looks at me during their therapy session and seems to be shutting down. Once the parent has left the room the teenager often confides that they just don’t care anymore.
If you feel your teenager is never really trying hard enough, is too sassy all the time, and is generally defiant, it’s important to look at the relationship between the two of you. Possibly your teen is all those things and you are the nicest parent in the entire world. There’s another possibility though that you are incredibly difficult to please. Your teen has become defiant because they never can really meet your standard. You would answer me that they can if they would only do X, Y and Z, but your teenager doesn’t believe it anymore. Your adolescent would tell me that even if they did X, Y and Z you would think they could’ve done it better.
If this describes the relationship you have with your child, it’s important to start making changes right away. Don’t lose the closeness you can have with your teens because they find you difficult and you find them rude. Work at having fun with them! Think really carefully about whether the things you worry about matter as much as you think they do. As parents we fear that if our kids aren’t shaped the right way we’ve somehow failed to make them into responsible adults. There is some truth to that, but there are lots of ways to achieve responsibility. Parents who nitpick tend to lack flexibility. They have one idea of who their teenager is supposed to be, and they have a really difficult time letting their teen be anything else.
Yes, you need to require respectful behavior from your child. However, consistently making negative comments about what they eat, how they dress, who they’re friends with, how they played that last sports game, etc. will just drive them away. If anything they might get defensive because they feel personally attacked. When that happens you’ll possibly interpret it as back-talking. Then you’ll think they don’t respect you and your teen will think you don’t approve of them. That’s not a fun cycle at all!
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT