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Section 5
Parenting Strategies: Parent–Adolescent Conflict

Question 5 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the five-step Redefining Parents’ Rules.  These five steps included: uncovering the facts; hearing the teen’s input; listening to reason; dialoguing; and compromising.

In this section, we will discuss the technique Identifying the Critic.  There are four steps in Identifying the Critic.  These four steps are:  hearing the internal voice; recognizing its presence;  monitoring the voice; and determining emotional feedback.  One obstacle to communication with teens who exhibit oppositional defiant disorder is the ever-present inner critic. 

4-Step Technique: Identifying the Critic
I explain to my clients, "A critic is a negative inner voice that attacks and judges a person.  Every person has their own critic."  Teens with low self-esteem have critics that constantly critique their every move.  The critic will blame the teen for everything that goes wrong and every choice a teen makes.   The critic makes perfection impossible and brings thoughts of failure when it is not obtained.  The critic also calls a teen names such as dumb, weak, immature, and incapable.  But you know the important idea behind a critic is that a teen believes what the voice is telling them is reality.   

♦ Step # 1. Hearing the Internal Voice
The first step in Identifying the Critic is being able to hear the internal voice.  I often start out with a visualization exercise.  Josie, a 17-year-old basketball player, was acting out at school, bullying her classmates and talking back to her teachers.  I wanted to understand just what motivated Josie to act out in such a way. I asked Josie to try to hear her critic.

A. First, I recited
to Josie the following, "Take one minute to close your eyes and relax.  Try not to think of anything around you or issues in your life. Could you do it? No, of course not.  Every moment of our lives, we are thinking and judging our environment and people around us.  You are either configuring past events, current standings, or a future agenda.  To you, it’s obvious that some of this self-talk is productive.  However, the critic also plays a role in every human’s day to day life.  Sometimes it can guide you, but if that inner critic is the one producing the negative images and ideas in your mind, it can be destructive." 

B. I then asked Josie to describe to me and her father just what the critic sounds like.  Does the voice have a gender?  Does it sound like anyone the client knows?    After she had opened her eyes, she stated, "I never realized how noisy my head is.  It never slows down!"  As you can see, Josie has tapped into the white noise. She just has to be able to give it shape.    

♦ Step # 2. Listening to the Critic
Second, I asked Josie to try listening to the critic which some of my clients find is a difficult task.  Josie must notice the critic when it is calling her stupid, idiot, or no fun.  Moreover, there are some situations when the critic is particularly strong.  The step "listening to the critic" also involves determining and recognizing these situations.  Some of these situations may be contact with people Josie finds sexually attractive, situations in which she has made a mistake, or conversations with parents or anyone who might be disapproving. 

Josie was having trouble listening to her critic.  After a few weeks had passed, I asked Josie, "How did it go?"  Josie answered, "Okay, I guess.  I realized more of how my critic works and where my negative thoughts sometimes arise.  However, I am still not sure of when the critic is present."  I explained to Josie that we would deal with that in our next step, monitoring the critic.

♦ Step # 3. Monitoring the Critic
In addition to hearing and recognizing the critic, I asked Josie to begin recording when she hears the critic taking part in her thoughts.  This step is known as monitoring the critic. In knowing how to hear the voice and recognize situations when the critic is particularly strong, Josie is ready to see how the critic is apparent in her life.  For one day, I asked Josie to be as observant as possible of when the critic is present.  Then, I gave her a piece of paper.  On the second and third day, I asked Josie to write down her thoughts, what time she had these thoughts, and the critical statements that are brought on by these thoughts.  When Josie came back for her next session, some of the thoughts included:

-- 8:15  My teacher hates me for being late.
-- 9:00  I hate school and my peers for judging me.
-- 10:45  I’m an idiot for missing all those questions on my test.
-- 11:38  I say the most juvenile things.
-- 1:27   Will I ever be able to control my temper?
-- 2:53   I hate school, when will it be over?
-- 3:45   I’m the worst basketball player ever.

I asked Josie, "What do you think of your list?"  Josie replied, "I’m ashamed.  I feel like the voice is always with me and carrying negative thoughts constantly."  I explained to Josie that these self-attacks help her see when and how often the critic is in her day to day life. 

♦ Step # 4. Determining Emotional Repercussions
I then tell Josie of the final step in Identifying the Critic.  The final step is to figure out how these critical thoughts can determine the way you feel.  "Josie, at night, I want you to draw a line down your paper and write Helps Me Avoid Feeling and Helps Me Feel or Do.  For each critical thought in your notebook, write down if the thought has been positive or negative.  Then, write how it affects your feelings. 

--  8:15   My teacher hurts my feelings by not understanding my tardiness.
--  9:00   I need to be more positive and open to my friends.
-- 10:45  Motivated to study harder for my tests.
-- 11:38  Social anxiety.
--  1:27   Motivated to control my temper.
--  2:53   Social anxiety.
--  3:45   Motivated to become a better player.   

As you can see, Josie and I found basic categories.  Some of the attacks reinforced motivation and self-improvement.  The critic set high standards for Josie.  Josie is a perfectionist

I then asked Josie to try and find a pattern among all these feelings and if they resemble anyone close in her life.  Josie stated, almost without hesitation, "My dad is just like this.  He always thinks the boss is out to get him. He’s always trying to do more, get more out of his job.  My inner critic doesn’t sound exactly like Dad, but they share a lot of things in common."  She laughed, "They should go bowling together." 

Josie’s father, Jackson, responded, "I had no idea that my behavior was affecting my daughter so much.  I hope she realizes that she doesn’t need to do these things for me and that I love her no matter what she decides her success is."  As you can see, Josie’s father, although he was the source of the critic, also turned out to be a means of Identifying the Critic.  Think of your Josie.  Is her inner critic a manifestation of a demanding parent?

In this section, we discussed the four-step technique Identifying the Critic.  These four steps were:  hearing the internal voice; recognizing its presence;  monitoring the voice; and determining emotional feedback. Would playing this section be beneficial to a teen client of yours?

In the next section, we will explore distinct ways to Destroy the Critic.  These methods include:  unmasking the purpose; talking back; and rendering the critic useless.

- Beato, A., Pereira, A., Barros, L., & Pereira, A. I. (2017). Parenting Strategies to Deal with Children's Anxiety: Do Parents Do What They Say They Do? Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 48(3), 423-433.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Beato, A., Pereira, A., Barros, L., & Pereira, A. I. (2017). Parenting strategies to deal with children's anxiety: Do parents do what they say they do? Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 48(3), 423-433.

Hou, Y., Benner, A. D., Kim, S. Y., Chen, S., Spitz, S., Shi, Y., & Beretvas, T. (Jun 13, 2019). Discordance in parents’ and adolescents’ reports of parenting: A metaanalysis and qualitative review. American Psychologist.

Kopala-Sibley, D. C., Klein, D. N., Perlman, G., & Kotov, R. (2017). Self-criticism and dependency in female adolescents: Prediction of first onsets and disentangling the relationships between personality, stressful life events, and internalizing psychopathology. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 126(8), 1029–1043.

Lippold, M. A., Hussong, A., Fosco, G. M., & Ram, N. (2018). Lability in the parent’s hostility and warmth toward their adolescent: Linkages to youth delinquency and substance use. Developmental Psychology, 54(2), 348–361.

Martin, M. J., Sturge-Apple, M. L., Davies, P. T., & Gutierrez, G. (2019). Attachment behavior and hostility as explanatory factors linking parent–adolescent conflict and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(5), 586–596.

What are four steps in the Identifying the Critic technique? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 6
Table of Contents