Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Deal With My Parents’ Criticisms?
“MANY parents believe the best way for them to help their children improve is by criticizing what they do wrong.” So wrote Clayton Barbeau in his book How to Raise Parents.
No doubt about it, if you are a young person, you probably get corrected by your parents almost as regularly as you get fed. As irritating as this may be at times, such criticism is not necessarily a bad thing.a All of us need correction from time to time; constructive criticism can be healthy, beneficial.
On the other hand, parents do sometimes go overboard, nagging their children to the point of despair. (Colossians 3:21) Or they may let their emotions get the best of them and berate and humiliate their youngsters over minor blunders. Regardless of the manner in which the criticism is rendered, though, it is possible to benefit from it. After all, your parents likely have your best interests at heart. As the Bible said long ago, “the wounds inflicted by a lover are faithful.” (Proverbs 27:6) True, because your parents are so close to you, their faultfinding can hurt deeply. But if you learn to respond wisely to criticism, you can minimize the pain and maximize the gain.
The Wrong Way
Consider young Stephanie’s experience: “When my mother came home from work,” Stephanie relates, “she started nagging about the fact that I didn’t clean the house or throw out the garbage yet. She said, ‘You can’t do anything right around here, but when it comes to going out, you do that right.’ I said, ‘When it comes to nagging, you do that right.’ She started screaming at me and I walked away and closed the door to my room to shut out her voice. She burst in wildly, yelling that I was going to be punished.”—My Parents Are Driving Me Crazy, by Dr. Joyce L. Vedral.
Sound familiar? Then you know how much it hurts to be told that “you can’t do anything right.” Nevertheless, what did Stephanie accomplish by blowing up at her mother? Whining, yelling, or rebelling may only bring out the worst in a parent. What little satisfaction gained by blowing off steam will likely pale in comparison with the punishment that is sure to come. Furthermore, a Christian youth who speaks disrespectfully to a parent suffers some spiritual harm—and risks God’s displeasure.—Proverbs 30:17; Ephesians 6:1, 2.
Stephanie’s mother may not have handled matters in the best way. But isn’t it likely there was more than a grain of truth in her complaints about Stephanie? So by resisting criticism, Stephanie not only made life more difficult for herself but also missed out on a chance to make needed improvements.
The Value of Listening
The Bible gives this advice: “Listen to counsel and accept discipline, in order that you may become wise in your future.” (Proverbs 19:20) Yes, squelch the urge to justify yourself, whine, or fire back some criticisms of your own, and focus on what exactly is being said. ’Teen magazine put it this way: “Listen to criticism with your head and not your emotions.”
Doing so helps you avoid magnifying or exaggerating what your parent is saying. Is your parent really calling you worthless or a complete failure, or is he or she simply saying you did a sloppy job of painting the garage or of cleaning the stove? If the latter is true, why overreact? “There is no one on earth who does what is right all the time and never makes a mistake,” says the Bible. (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Today’s English Version) And even if you did fail at some particular task, it hardly means that you are a failure at life itself. So remind yourself that you have other strengths and virtues.
Keeping Cool Under Fire
“Every time he does something stupid,” confessed one father, “I say, ‘You jerk.’” What if your parent likewise resorts to name-calling or other verbal abuse? First, get hold of your emotions! “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.”—Proverbs 17:27.
Don’t focus on the supposed injustice of what is being said; that will just get you angrier. Focus, instead, on the areas in which you need to improve. Remind yourself that your parents love you and that they are probably not being malicious. (The father quoted above admitted: “I shouldn’t be calling him a jerk all the time. Soon he’ll believe it.”) Give them the benefit of the doubt if they appear to be tired or stressed-out from work. “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.”—Proverbs 19:11.b
While a counterattack would be inappropriate, you may be able to take some of the steam out of the assault. For example, try rephrasing your parent’s words, refocusing them on the problem. If your father calls you a jerk because he doesn’t like the way you waxed the family car, try responding: “You’re upset because I did a poor job of waxing the car.” Or you might simply agree with the criticism. (“You’re right, Dad. I should have done a better job.”) Or try asking for specific ways to make improvement. Says Proverbs 15:1: “An answer, when mild, turns away rage, but a word causing pain makes anger to come up.”
Do you remember Judge Gideon? The Bible says that he led the nation of Israel to a dramatic victory over the enemy nation of Midian. Gideon then sent messengers to the prominent tribe of Ephraim and asked them to block the escape of the defeated Midianites. The Ephraimites responded, capturing two of Midian’s princes. But then the proud tribesmen “vehemently tried to pick a quarrel” with Gideon! They were offended that they had not been invited to participate in the battle earlier on.—Judges 8:1.
This verbal attack was clearly unjustified. And had Gideon been the impulsive type, he might have given the Ephraimites a piece of his mind—and precipitated civil war. Instead, he replied: “What now have I done in comparison with you? Are not the gleanings of Ephraim better than the grape gathering of Abi-ezer?” (Judges 8:2) Gideon’s reply meant that in capturing the Midianite princes, the Ephraimites had accomplished more than had Gideon himself. Gideon’s mild and humble reply thus deflected the unfair criticism and maintained peace.
The lesson? Avoid overreacting when your parents criticize you. Staying calm can prevent you from saying or doing something you’ll later regret.—Compare Ecclesiastes 10:4.
Kind words are not enough, however. Take action! Remember, “the wisdom from above is . . . ready to obey.” (James 3:17) Start cleaning that room, polishing the car, cutting your hair, changing your wardrobe, or making whatever adjustments your parents want you to make. This is the best way to halt further faultfinding.
On the other hand, you may honestly disagree with the criticism. After all, even the best of parents are not infallible. But rather than trying to resolve matters in a storm of shouting, wait for the “right time,” then talk with your parents. (Proverbs 15:23) “With those consulting together there is wisdom,” says Proverbs 13:10. Present your grievances in a calm, grown-up way, giving your parents specific reasons as to why you disagree. Perhaps you can persuade them to see things your way. If not, you may simply have to bow to their authority as parents.—Proverbs 6:20.
In the long run, though, yielding to their discipline can benefit you. Why, even the perfect man Jesus “learned obedience from the things he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8) You too have many valuable lessons to learn. You already have to cope with criticism from teachers. In the future, you could have employers to deal with. Learn now to handle criticism.
In time you may even come to appreciate your parents’ point of view. A young man named James says of his parents: “They were firm with me in areas such as school, congregation, and chores. Sometimes I couldn’t even take a break! But as I got older, I came to appreciate that excellence requires hard work.” Was that not a lesson worth learning? And you will learn similar valuable lessons yourself by learning to handle criticism.
a See the article “Why Is Nothing I Do Ever Good Enough?” in the November 22, 1992, issue of Awake!
b We are not speaking of verbal or physical abuse by parents who clearly suffer from emotional problems or have problems with alcoholism or drug abuse. Such ones may need professional help.
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Yelling, whining, or justifying yourself usually brings out the worst in a parent
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Asking your parent for specifics on how you can improve may take the sting out of criticism