Young People Ask . . .
Why Is Nothing I Do Ever Good Enough?
“I found it very difficult to please my father when I began working for him. I was only 15, and the work was very complicated; when I made a mistake, he became critical.”—Randy.
“My mother seemed like a police detective—always looking for areas where I failed. Before I had time to finish my chores, she would inspect my work, looking for mistakes.”—Craig.
“My parents were always lecturing me about something. They said I just couldn’t seem to get my act together. School, home, congregation—they just wouldn’t give me a break.”—James.
DOES it sometimes seem as if nothing you do is ever good enough to please your parents? Do you ever feel like your every move is under a microscope, that you are always being watched, constantly critiqued, but never passing inspection? If so, you may feel that you are living under a cloud of parental disapproval.
Your situation is hardly unique. Dr. Joyce L. Vedral observes: “According to most teenagers, parents nag. . . . They harp on everything from keeping your room neat to taking out the garbage, from using the bathroom to the way you dress, from your choice of friends to your marks and homework.” While this may understandably get on your nerves sometimes, it is not necessarily a bad thing. It is only natural for parents to give their children discipline and correction; it’s one way they show their love for them. As the Bible puts it, a father will reprove “a son in whom he finds pleasure.”—Proverbs 3:12.
Now if you never received a word of correction from your parents, wouldn’t you wonder if they cared about you? (Proverbs 13:24; compare Hebrews 12:8.) You can be grateful, then, that you have parents who care enough about you to set you straight! After all, you are young and relatively inexperienced; correction may sometimes be in order. Without guidance, you could easily be overpowered by “the desires incidental to youth.”—2 Timothy 2:22.
Consider some of the problems those desires can cause for youths. Says writer Clayton Barbeau: “It’s a dangerous world for teenagers: every hour, a young person is killed in an auto crash related to drinking; an estimated twelve thousand teenagers commit suicide each year; a million girls a year get pregnant; three million kids today are alcoholics; sexually transmitted diseases are widespread.” (How to Raise Parents) No wonder your parents may be bent on giving you a steady stream of correction! As the Bible says, “a wise person will listen and take in more instruction . . . Wisdom and discipline are what mere fools have despised.”—Proverbs 1:5, 7; compare Proverbs 10:17.
Why It Hurts
Still, “no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous.” (Hebrews 12:11) This is particularly so when you are young. After all, your personality is not fully developed; you are still growing up and discovering who you are. So criticism—even when carefully thought out and delivered in a kindly way—may trigger resentment. The book How to Survive Your Adolescent’s Adolescence concludes that teens have an “extreme sensitivity to criticism.” As one youth says, “criticism hurts me.”
But when it is coming from your parents, the hurt can be especially deep. In her book Helping Your Teenager Deal With Stress, Dr. Bettie Youngs reminds us that it is through “the approval or disapproval of others” that a youth “develops an opinion about his self-worth and value as a human being.” Parents, though, are the greatest factor in helping a youth form this self-concept. So when a parent corrects you or complains about the way you do something, it can be devastating, painful.
Even so, should you conclude that nothing you do is ever good enough? Or that you are a complete failure simply because your parents have pointed out a few of your flaws? Really, all humans fall woefully short of perfection. (Romans 3:23) And making mistakes is part of the learning process. (Compare Job 6:24.) The problem is, your parents may have little to say when you do something right—and may be quite vocal when you err! This hurts, but it hardly means you are a total failure. Learn to take reasonable criticism in stride, neither belittling it nor being overwhelmed by it.—Compare Hebrews 12:5.
What if the criticism is unfair? Some parents do set unreasonably high standards for their children. They may irritate their children by constantly nagging them about trifles. And parents who have legitimate causes for complaint may mete out criticism in a harsh, demeaning way. Dr. Bettie Youngs also says that parental “name calling, lecturing, sarcasm, shaming, blaming, and threatening” are “destructive patterns of communication, . . . which undermine the child’s self-confidence and sense of worth.”
When the righteous man Job was attacked with a barrage of unfair criticism, he cried out: “How long will you men keep irritating my soul and keep crushing me with words?” (Job 19:2) In a similar way, being constantly put down by a parent or being measured by unrealistically high standards can exasperate a youth, causing him to “become downhearted.” (Colossians 3:21) The book Coping With Teenage Depression, by Kathleen McCoy, even claims that “the inability to live up to high parental expectations can cause significant loss of self-esteem and trigger reactive depression in adolescents.”
Indeed, such unhealthy criticism often triggers a vicious circle: Your parents find fault with you. You react by feeling bad about yourself. Because you feel bad about yourself, you tend to perform poorly when your folks ask you to do something. The result? More criticism!
Behind the Criticism
How can you stop this destructive cycle? First, try to understand why your parents feel the way they do. Is their nagging or constant criticism really malicious? Not likely. Asks Dr. Joyce L. Vedral: “Why do they nag? They nag because no one is listening, or at least no one is letting on that they are. The more they feel ignored, the more they nag.” Do you really give your parents evidence, then, that you are responding to their complaints? Or do their words fall on deaf ears? If so, don’t be surprised if the faultfinding becomes more and more frequent—and intense! Might it stop, though, if you simply applied the words of Proverbs 19:20? That verse reads: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.”
Sometimes a parent becomes overly critical, not because of any particular failing on your part, but simply because he or she happens to be in a bad mood. Has your mom had a tough day at work? Then she might be more prone than usual to pick on you because your room seems sloppy. Is your dad angry and frustrated over failing family finances? Then, he might unwittingly speak thoughtlessly “as with the stabs of a sword.” (Proverbs 12:18) Granted, this is unfair. But “we all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man.” (James 3:2) So if Mom or Dad seems tense or upset, the smart thing to do is to try to tread lightly and avoid arousing any criticism.
As imperfect humans, parents can also be afflicted with feelings of inadequacy. Failure on your part can make them feel as if they have failed! Explains Dr. Vedral: “You may bring home a bad report card, and your father may say, ‘What, are you stupid? I have an idiot for a son.’ Your father of course doesn’t really think you are an idiot. What he’s really saying is, ‘I’m afraid I am not doing my job in motivating you to study.’”
Such fears can also move parents to set unrealistically high standards. One youth named Jason lamented: “Nothing I’ve ever done has ever been enough. If I rake the leaves, Dad wants to know why I didn’t clean the garage while I was at it. If I make an ‘A minus’ in school, my folks want to know why it wasn’t an ‘A’ and tell me I’m a failure.” But a school counselor spoke with Jason’s parents and made this discovery: “Their excessively high expectations for their son reflected their own feelings of inadequacy and their disappointment with their own career choices and financial status.”—Coping With Teenage Depression.
Whatever your situation at home is, perhaps you can better appreciate why your own parents may tend to be critical at times. But what are some ways to cope with parental faultfinding? Are there ways to benefit from their criticism? These questions will be discussed in a future article.
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When a parent complains about the way you do something, it can be devastating