A while ago we put a call out on Facebook for any burning questions that our readers needed answering. And one of the questions asked by more than one parent was this: “Why are teen girls so judgmental?”.
One mum writes:
“I can’t believe how judgey my 15-year-old is. She never stops criticising me, her friends, complete strangers, and (most sadly of all) herself. So my question is WHY are teen girls so judgmental like this and WHAT can I do to snap her out of it? Thank you!”
This questions is almost an offshoot of one I answered a while back (the “why is my kid such an asshole?” question – and can I just interrupt myself to mention that the asshole article is one of our most because it’s one of the most Googled! Ugh, teens!).
Anyway, it’s an offshoot because teens are assholes in general and being a judgmental asshole is just a manifestation of that general assholery. And don’t be mistaken – teen boys are judgmental, too. They just haven’t made it a sport like teen girls.
Now, before we ironically go judging teen girls for their behaviour, let’s be fair. They honestly can’t help it – the hormones make them do it. They are cranky at the world, feeling crappy about themselves and therefore looking for trouble. Things will settle down.
Until they do, here’s an overview of what makes teen girls so judgmental and a few tips to ease them away from it.
Ironically, the biggest driver of teen’s off-putting judgmental attitude is their need to belong. They are hyper-aware of what other people are doing at this age because they want to fit in with a perceived ‘normal’. So they notice everything.
Their identity is a work in progress and they are very busy weighing up every option they come across. Their busy brains are constantly scanning: that, not that, that, not… their mother.
The things they don’t like are equally important to teens as the things they do. That’s because part of “fitting in” involves “filtering out” and that’s one of the reasons why teen girls are so judgmental. Disassociating from anything ‘other’ is a quick way to validate the identity they want to belong to and gain acceptance by their tribe. So they notice something outside of their peer group norms and judge it as undesirable.
Boys do it too, of course they do. However, boy tribes are larger and often centred around ‘doing’ things – like sport, gaming or another hobby. Girl tribes tend to be smaller and focused on ‘talking’ about things – sharing interests, discussing feelings and that kind of thing. For this reason, it’s helpful for girls to form ‘doing’ friendships with boys as it draws them away from their usual insular group.
It also helps to make sure our teen girls understand the role being judgmental plays in gaining acceptance and instead steer them towards thinking critically and celebrating difference. We can also help by providing them with plenty of opportunities to expand their friendship groups – be that through work, sports, volunteering or other groups. Anywhere that they can interact with diverse groups of people in a way that builds empathy, understanding and a broader perspective.
The changes puberty brings are like an inner cyclone, razing everything in its path. Teens feel unbalanced and constantly under attack. This turmoil also pulls their focus inwards, meaning that, yes, everything is about them. This leads to teens feeling judged themselves (even when they are not).
No wonder then that they are a walking bundle of insecurities about their appearance, their abilities and their place in the world. And no wonder all that turmoil seeps out into judgment and envy.
Externalising their inner angst by judging others as being inferior can temporarily boost unsteady self-esteem.
While we would never want to encourage this defence mechanism, it does help to remember that when teen girls are so judgmental, they are just trying to find their way.
In order to pull them through this stage, it’s important to teach our girls that there is ‘enough to go around’. Enough popularity, enough prettiness, enough athleticism, enough good grades – whatever floats your particular teen’s boat. There’s enough room on the broom (did you read that book to your young kids, too?).
It helps to encourage their strengths, celebrate their achievements, and provide constructive feedback when asked, rather than criticism.
This might help: 5 techniques I’m using to stop criticising my kids
It goes both ways
You’ll notice, of course, that teen girls reserve their most excruciating judgment calls for themselves. It’s one of the things that really breaks our hearts as mothers – our delicious, loveable girls turn into teens who don’t love themselves, not one bit. Instead, they shrink themselves to avoid being judged by others.
This is not helped by their constant attachment to social media. Platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram have made an unrealistic, filtered standard of perfection the unachievable goal. Teen girls relentlessly compare themselves (and others) to these artificial standards and judge themselves lacking. And remember, unlike when we were in school, they don’t ever get to shut off the opinions of their friends (though setting some limits on screens can help with that!).
Keep talking to your teen about the role social media plays in making her feel bad about herself. Help her to think critically about the images she sees and the biases she encounters.
One of the most important things we can teach our kids is self-compassion and kindness. We do this best by offering ourselves the exact same thing – yep, the old role model technique strikes again. Have you ever listened to the things you say about yourself out loud? Check the way you talk about yourself and try to keep it positive. Try not to say anything about yourself out loud unless you have something nice to say… sound familiar?
More on this: 5 ways to teach kids the power of self acceptance
Calling them on it
Yes, teen girls are so judgmental it hurts, but they are often unaware that they are even doing it. The next time your girl says something harsh about someone else, draw her attention to what she’s just said. Try not to do it in a critical way. Rather, simply ask her what she would do differently. It might go something like:
“OMG, look at his hair, it’s awful.”
“What sort of style do you think would look better?”
Or if she criticises herself:
“I’m so fat, I hate how I look in these jeans.”
“I think they look great, but would you rather wear something else?”
Or (the usual ) she criticises you:
“Are you wearing that? Why would you say that? Why don’t you do something nice with your hair? Etc”
“Thanks for noticing, I like the way I look/ choices I’ve made.”
By subtly drawing attention to the judgement calls she makes, you can help your teen become more aware of the way she speaks to herself and about others. With a bit of luck, she can replace her negative judgments with the same noticing, but more empathy, kindness and positivity.
Above all, remember that this too shall pass. Most teen girls move through the judgy early teen years and become really quite nice to others by year 10 and beyond. Good to know, right?