Don’t Be THAT Parent: Why Criticism is So Dangerous


By “Angry” Dr. Rob

Two Disclaimers

Though I am annoyed and frustrated as I write this article, please don’t discount the content as the article draws on research and the principles are sound.

Likewise, though I was outraged at the extreme behavior of these two parents, please know that I don’t pretend to be a perfect parent myself – far from it.

That said, I am a bit angry!

Screaming “Little League” Mom

Last week I attended my 12-year-old son’s baseball game. Like his father, this child adores the game of baseball and generally has a good time win or lose.

On this particular evening, the starting catcher was out of town. The young man who was catching didn’t have as much experience, so he missed a few balls and made a few errant throws. Honestly, this child’s performance wasn’t much different than most of the other boys on the team.

However, I quickly started to feel awful for this young catcher – but not because of his baseball skills. Rather, after every mistake there would be a harsh and loud criticism from a woman in the crowd (presumably his mother):





Look, I’m no rocket scientist, but I’m going to guess that this child wasn’t trying to perform poorly in front of his family and peers (for full effect, read the prior sentence with dripping sarcasm).

C’mon mom!

Like me you might be thinking, I wonder if her son even enjoys playing baseball anymore.  Honestly, I don’t know how he could (especially when mom is present).  I left that game incredibly frustrated about what that obnoxious parent was doing to her child’s development. Ahhhhhhhh!!!!!

Four Days Later

Fast forward to Saturday and I was then watching my 8-year-old son play in a soccer game. Please note that I said 8-year-old son (not my 28-year-old son playing for the World Cup Championship game).

This time the “obnoxiousness” came from a dad on the other team. I don’t believe I am exaggerating to state that he yelled at every young child on that team. I had never witnessed such an incredibly competitive (and poorly behaved) spectator at a children’s soccer game. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I felt so badly for those children (especially whichever one was his).

You Are Better Than That (Literally)

While these two instances frustrated and saddened me, I gratefully acknowledge that most parents aren’t that destructive to the psyche and self-esteem of children.

Most of you are about as opposite as you can possibly be from the parents I described above. I suspect that if you are the kind of person who reads marriage and parenting articles, you are likely an intentional and engaged parent (not a perfect parent…none of us are, but one who is diligently striving to build your children and give them the best opportunity to succeed in life). Keep it up!

But, even for those of us striving to be mindful and intentional parents, is it possible that we too may be guilty of over-criticizing our children?

The Most Common Parenting Mistake

Dr. Kenneth Parish (Ph.D. and a therapist of 30+ years) noted that the most common parenting problem that he has observed through his work with children and families is that parents are too critical of their children. In his article entitled The Harmfulness of Criticism, Dr. Parish noted that much of our criticism is well-intentioned. “We criticize because we are anxious about our child’s future. We want her to improve, and eventually succeed in a competitive world. We think of our criticism as constructive, or not as criticism at all, but rather as instruction and advice…”

Yep, I’m guilty of thinking that way sometimes. How about you?

3 Reasons Why Criticism Can Be Harmful

First, according to Dr. Parish, “when frequent criticism persists, all other efforts to improve our family relationships are likely to fail.”

Second, for those with teenage children, neuroscientists from Harvard, Cal-Berkeley, and Pittsburgh recently shared research findings that suggested that adolescent brains simply “shut down” when being criticized by a parent.

Third, additional research also noted that children’s self-esteem can plummet when parents are overly critical.

Obviously, none of us want these negative outcomes. So what can we do?

The Antidote to Criticism

At the conclusion of Dr. Parish’s article, he noted the following: “There is no better antidote for frequent criticism and argument, and no better way to help children bounce back from the common frustrations and disappointments of childhood than patient and respectful listening.”

So, there it is!

The challenge for you and for me is to take the time to truly listen and empathize with our children. But, as you strive to patiently listen to your children, don’t forget to also include some patience for yourself too. We may all inadvertently slip back into “critical parent” mode from time to time!

Becoming consistently patient and respectful listeners may not come easily for all of us (especially when we are stressed or busy), but it is absolutely worth the effort!


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