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How to Talk about the Emotional Lives of Teenagers
This podcast will focus on understanding teenagers’ intense and often fraught emotional lives—and how parents can support them through this critical developmental stage of life.
Many would agree that most teenagers are emotional. Sometimes those emotions are worn on the sleeve while other times they are more covert but often ever-present. How do we understand our teenagers’ intense and often fraught emotional lives—and how do we support them through this critical developmental stage? For that, we have the pleasure of having the fabulous Lisa Damour back on our show today.
Recognized as a thought leader by the American Psychological Association, Lisa Damour, Ph.D., co-hosts the Ask Lisa podcast, writes about adolescents for the The New York Times, appears as a regular contributor to CBS News, works in collaboration with UNICEF, and maintains a clinical practice. She is the author of two New York Times bestsellers, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls (we had Lisa on the show to discuss it!). She has a NEW book out! Wooohoo! It’s called The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents which is the #1 New Release in Popular Adolescent Psychology on Amazon! She and her husband have two daughters and live in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
- Adults are frightened for teenagers, very anxious about teenagers. Need to strengthen relationships with teens.
- Reassure- that a lot of what people are looking at is actually normal adolescence.
- Teenagers feel their emotions more intensely than children do and more intensely than adults do.
- And this is just a straight up neurological phenomenon. Both negative and positive emotions. They feel the negative more but they also enjoy things more.
- Your kid’s gonna be upset. That is a done deal. You don’t have to be too frightened of it. And even further, adolescent distress is often evidence of their mental health!
- Gender and emotion: At birth, there’s no distinction to be made, right? There’s nothing that biologically drives girls to be one way about emotion and boys to be another. But we have really good evidence and I have a whole chapter of that evidence on what happens at the level of socialization. And what we know is that by and large, and of course this doesn’t apply to all kids everywhere, but the broad strokes are we socialize girls to feel at ease talking about emotions. We also permit a great number of emotions in girls. And by and large we socialize boys to be tough invulnerable. And we permit a very small number of emotions in boys largely anger and pleasure at someone else’s expense.
- And then there’s the question of kids who do not fit traditional gender binaries. And on the one hand we don’t have a ton of highly specific research about the emotional experience for them other than that to say it’s really hard to be a gendered non-binary child. And we know this and there’s a lot of reasons for that. And so I also really tried to work through how we support gender non-binary kids or kids who don’t fit the traditional gender categories as well as we possibly can.
- So we’re going to try to, according to your book, help the boys to feel okay about discussing their emotions in, you know, this is a safe haven.
What is the experience for kids who don’t fit traditional categories and how do we support them really well? And I think you know, we have some data showing that for girls, expressing anger can be very costly if you’re a girl of color, expressing anger can be enormously costly.
- For boys expressing vulnerability, expressing anything that is at all intimate or tender can be very quickly policed by their peers. Yes. Seen as somehow weak, seen as somehow feminine.
- How do we get boys to speak to us? Sometimes it’s the men who have to get involved- express themselves, giving their sons “permission” to speak candidly too.
- Imagine what would happen if a revered coach talked about emotions other than anger?
- Why your kid hates how you chew. Mom and Dad become- not so cool. “got to come up with their own brand”
- Individuation: own brand
- Here’s where the rubber hits the road in this height of separation, individuation, anything we do that is unlike the emerging brands our teenagers see themselves having is a problem. Anything that we do with it is like the emerging brands that our teenagers see themselves having is a problem. Right. Everything we do is a problem.
- I’m your little kid and I’m my own person. And truly by 14 or 15 usually kids have had enough time to be serious about sports or serious about, you know, debate or serious about things that are not us. And then they’re like, okay, well your brand is your problem, but I have my brand and then it all dies down.
- It can feel personal.
- Style, bedroom look, they personalize—to make it reflect their brand.
- Tour her in her brain, if we were to go inside her young teen brain, what we would see is that the emotion centers are really, really powerful. They have been upgraded and her ability to stand back and maintain prospective centers are awaiting their upgrades. So they are comparatively weak.
- Teens need to understand the why.
- Emotion regulation: half of it’s expressing, the other half is getting it under control.
- Helping kids maintain perspective is a strategy.
- Trouble with emotion regulation? Question: how’s the child sleeping?
- Sometimes it’s ok to use screens to help regulate. Adults do this too.
- Social media is complex. Getting kids to think about it at the level of sophistication that’s going to serve them well isn’t going to happen before 13 or 14. So the longer you can hold off the better because they really do want to be thinking about this in pretty sophisticated ways because it’s some pretty sophisticated stuff In terms of its impact on them.
- A lot of kids don’t need social media to stay plugged in socially, even if they may need a phone.
- just as by way of a structural or intervention, like the longer you wait on giving kids social media, the better.
- It’s really better if kids don’t have tech in their bedrooms. Three reasons to get tech out of kids’ bedrooms and it gets to all of this. (1) it interferes with their sleep. If there’s anything you wanna do to help your kid have good emotional regulation, they’re gonna sleep better tech in the bedroom messes with sleep. (2) They need a break. Yeah. They need a break. Like I think about like, you know, I’d come home from practice and then like it was like me and my folks, right? And like I could talk to one kid on the phone. Maybe we’ve got three way calling going. I talked to two kids on the phone. But I think there’s real value in having some part of the 24 hour cycle where they are just off the clock with everybody. (3) And then the last reason, this is just from practicing for a long time, if your kid’s going to do something really impulsive on social media, it’s at one o’clock in the morning in their bedroom.
- , I think the best gift we can give our teenagers is to do what we can to be a steady presence when they are having a powerful emotional experience.
- We have to take really good care of ourselves. We have to be accepting of the idea that they’re gonna be upset. We have to recognize that they are reading our reaction to get a sense of how upset they need to be. And so part of actually how we help kids dial down emotions is that we actually don’t meet them at the full height of that failing. And we also are better able to do this if we feel like we’ve got a set of strategies to help that kid feel better.
- “The best thing we can do for teenagers is to strengthen their relationships with the adults right around them.”
- Your kid’s going to be upset. That is a done deal. You don’t have to be too frightened of it. And even further, adolescent distress is often evidence of their mental health!
- For boys expressing vulnerability, expressing anything that is at all intimate or tender can be very quickly policed by their peers. It can be seen as somehow weak and feminine.
- Here’s where the rubber hits the road in this height of separation, individuation, anything we do that is unlike the emerging brands our teenagers see themselves having is a problem. Anything that we do with it is like the emerging brands that our teenagers see themselves having is a problem…Everything we do is a problem.
- “You cannot prevent your kid from being in distress sometimes.”
- “Teenagers can be so great and so reactive. And the job of adults is to try to serve a containing function.”
- “When a kid is upset, having them talk more about what is wrong is not always the best option.”
- Helping kids maintain perspective is a strategy.
- The best gift we can give our teenagers is to do what we can to be a steady presence when they are having a powerful emotional experience.