The Dangers of Over-Complaining for Tween and Teen Girls


Kids love complaining and while parents usually pay attention to what their kids complain about, they don’t often give much thought to the quantity of their complaints. However, a recent study from the University of Missouri suggests we ought to pay more attention to how much our kids complain.

The study found that engaging in too much ‘complaint-talk’ had a negative impact on tween and teen girls’ mental health. Tween and teen girls are big talkers to begin with and today, girls have more options than ever to communicate with their friends.

The average tween and teen often begins texting, tweeting, IMing, posting and calling their friends before they even show their face at the breakfast table. These talk-a-thons can continue during recess at school and throughout the afternoon and evening.

For girls, having a BFF is a wonderful thing except that their conversations often turn to complaints and ruminations. The study found that spending hours a day focusing on such issues did wonders for the girls’ friendships—but at a price.

The Problem

1. Tween and teen girls who spend too many hours complaining and ruminating with their friends often end up feeling more depressed and anxious over time.

2. Excessive complaint-talk with their friends can have a negative impact on tween and teen girls’ self-esteem and sense of identity.

3. Tween and teen girls have trouble regulating the amount of complaint-talk they engage in and they neglect to balance their discussions of complaints with problem solving.

The Solution

1. Parents should educate their tween and teen daughters on the dangers of over-complaining. The best way to do so is to have a serious sit-down talk, so the girls take the topic seriously.

2. Parents should empower their daughters to monitor their own complaint-talk so they can both enjoy the venting and bonding it provides as well as avoid the risks to their mental health.

3. Parents should suggest their girls limit complaint-talk to no more than one hour a day. This will mean girls might have to expand their topic of conversations to include more neutral or positive subjects.

4. Parents should teach girls to include problem-solving when discussing complaints (boys tend to do this more naturally than girls during the tween and teen years). The best way to do this is by adding questions such as “What can I do to make this situation better?” or “What can I do to make myself feel better about the situation?” and “What can I learn from the situation to help me manage it better in the future?”

5. Parents should practice these problem solving skills with their daughters when complaints come up in family discussions. Remind girls to ask and answer the problem-solving questions if they neglect to do so naturally. However, only remind girls to include problem solving once they have fully expressed their feelings about their complaint. Problem solving should be an addition to their expression of feelings about a complaint not a substitution for doing so.

6. Parents should suggest girls teach their BFFs the problem solving techniques they learned. This will make them feel empowered and also enlist the cooperation of the friend in limiting complaint-talk.

Complaints have many positive functions when they are voiced productively and in moderation. As parents, we too can benefit from paying more attention to how we complain and to whether our complaints are getting us the results we want. Learning to complain effectively can protect the mental health of our tween and teen daughters and it can do wonders for us as well.

Guy Winch, Ph.D, is the author of The Squeaky Wheel.