I am a 17-year-old boy. My parents are always criticizing me and telling me what I'm doing wrong in life. I don't get as good grades as my brother, but things come easier to him. I can't talk about any of this with my parents. They just tell me I have a bad attitude. I don't remember when I felt like they actually liked me. Can you tell parents that it really hurts kids when they criticize them all the time?
Thank you so much for writing in. I hope you hear me when I say that if your parents have trouble letting them know what they love and appreciate about you, it is about them, rather than about you.
It may be that they were led to believe that the best way to show love to children is to point out their mistakes so they can become more accomplished. Perhaps they are driven by worry that you won't "live up to your potential" unless they convince you to improve. Or maybe there are ways that your challenges remind them of their own. Regardless, if they have trouble pointing out what is magnificent about you, it is their issue. Know that there are qualities you uniquely have, and which will make this world a more brilliant place.
Your question touches on something I have been talking about lately in my counseling sessions with parents. That phrase is micro-rejections.
As parents, we often fail to consider the subtle messages we send our children. A sarcastic tone when we answer a question about what we're having for dinner can leave a child feeling diminished. A scowl on our face as we look over an assignment may convey that we aren't very smart.
Those small, hardly noticeable micro-rejections add up.
Now, I'm not saying that we should be ridiculously cheerful each time we engage with our children. As parents, there are invariably times when we come across to our kids as frustrated or disappointed, whether it's because of something they have done, or simply because we're tired or irritable.
And frankly, children who are raised to believe they walk on water and can do no wrong grow up to be adults who have unrealistic expectations of others. It's important for kids to discover that they can be loved and disappointing at times.
But if most of our interactions with our children are negative and unfriendly, those micro-rejections can erode a child's sense of being loved and lovable.
What matters to our children is that most of the time, they feel seen, loved, and enjoyed by us -- as they are. This is communicated not just by grand gestures or reciting "I love you," but in the quality of our interactions with them.
You are clearly a young man who understands the importance of kindness and compassion. I hope you discover that regardless of what difficulties your parents may have in expressing positive regard toward you, the person you are -- exactly as you are -- is a treasure.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.