Contributed by Gail Slogoff
“It’s not what you say out of your mouth that determines your life. It’s what you whisper to yourself that has the most power.”
If you’ve ever caught yourself saying mean things to yourself, calling yourself lazy, stupid, or a failure, then you know what it’s like to have an inner critic. We can be incredibly judgmental of ourselves, and we often say things to ourselves that we would never say to a friend.
With so many social and academic pressures swirling around them, teenagers are particularly susceptible
to negative self-talk. They are usually unaware of how harsh their thoughts about themselves can be. The college application process creates an inordinate amount of external pressure. This pressure often leads teens to spend too much time worrying about where they will go to college. In the process, they become prone to developing an inner critic.
When kids are young, they learn how to share with others, how to cooperate in groups, and how to be nice to their peers. No one really talks about being nice to ourselves. Eventually, as children grow up, they begin to compare themselves to their peers and that’s when their inner critic begins to develop. But in order to like ourselves, we need to understand our inner critic.
The first step in trying to address your teen’s inner critic is to become aware of its presence. Here are some clear signs that her inner critic has taken over:
- Language. Pay attention to inner and outer dialogue.
Is she blaming herself for her situation?
Is she comparing herself to others?
Is she trying to live up to certain standards and expectations they she set for herself?
The language of the inner critic often shows up as denial, blame, resentment or anger. It also includes statements such as “I’m never going to get into college.”
- Physical. Observe when his inner critic is center stage.
Does he feel it in his body?
Is he unusually tired, tight or constricted?
For teens engaged in the college admissions process, it is common to see their internal stress manifest itself physically. Becoming aware of this is a critical step. Ask your teen to pay attention to his thoughts and acknowledge them.
If you think your teen is being hard on herself, there are ways you can help her to improve her inner dialogue and, hopefully, her self-esteem. Encourage your teen to use these ideas to face her inner critic:
Personify Your Inner Critic
Ask your teen to visualize her inner critic. Is it a villain from a movie or a cartoon? By attaching a character to her inner critic, she can see it every day and have an actual conversation with it. When we personify our inner critic, it helps quiets the conversation and becomes less powerful.
Determine Whether a Thought is True
Teach your teen to examine whether his thought is an opinion or a fact. Most of our critical comments about ourselves are opinions, and even worse, many of them are exaggerated or distorted. Help your teen realize that just because he thinks something, that doesn’t make it true.
When you hear your teen putting himself down, ask questions that can help him recognize negative comments. For example, if your teen says, “I know I’ll never do well on my ACT,” ask, “How do you know that?” Then, remind him of any positive evidence that doesn’t support his claim. If his emotions seem out of control, ask him what he is afraid of. Many times when we put our fears into words, we realize they are silly.
Encourage Your Teen to Journal
Teen journaling is a great tool for helping teens understand themselves better. I encourage my clients to get a notebook and start writing. One easy journaling suggestion is to have your teen write down something that her inner critic is saying. Have her read it carefully in silence and then acknowledge it. Next, ask her to write her response over it in dark ink or marker. Later, when she looks at the page, she will only see her voice, not her critic’s.
Help your teen recognize that his strong emotions might be skewing his perspective. Ultimately, by teaching your teen to challenge his negative thoughts and focus on the positive, his inner critic will be forced to quiet down.
About Gail Slogoff
Gail Slogoff is an Academic Coach focusing on stress and anxiety. She helps teens and their parents let go of worry, overcome their fears and gain confidence to navigate the College Application Process.