Ep 234: The Emotional Lives of Teenagers
Manage episode 359018368 series 1952577
Lisa Damour, author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, joins us to illuminate what's going on in kids’ heads when they're emotional. We talk about why teens sometimes seem to act irrationally, how we can teach them coping strategies, and what we can say when they’re shutting us out.
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Full show notes
Teens are dealing with a lot–impending adulthood, changing bodies, rigorous schoolwork and a complicated social scene–it’s no wonder they’re emotional! As parents, it can be hard to help them manage all the ups and downs, especially when teens are screaming at us or locking their bedroom doors.
This week, we're talking all about teen emotions: how to help them learn coping strategies, why they might be lashing out, and what’s really going on in their heads when they’re making mountains out of molehills.
Joining us is psychologist and author Lisa Damour, to talk about her recent book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable and Compassionate Adolescents. Lisa has been recognized as a thought leader by the American Psychological Association, cohosts the Ask Lisa podcast, writes about adolescence for the New York Times, appears as a regular contributor at CBS News, and maintains her own clinical practice!
In our interview, we’re talking about the two different kinds of reasoning teens apply when making a decision, gendered differences in teen’s emotional coping mechanisms, and how we can connect with kids, even when it seems like they want nothing to do with us.
Hot vs. Cold Reasoning
In the episode, Lisa explains how teens typically oscillate between two kinds of reasoning. Cold reasoning occurs when teens are using their logical rational mind to make a decision, while hot thinking typically refers to their thought process when they’re in emotionally or socially charged situations. While they may reach one conclusion when they’re using cold reasoning, that conclusion might just fly out the window when a situation gets much more emotional or social.
For example, teens often tell us they’re not going to drink or smoke, that they’re going to stay in and study, that they’re not going to waste time dating someone when they want to focus on the future. But later, when they’re at a party or riding in a car with their friends or seeing their crush at a social gathering….they might not make the same choice they swore by earlier! For teens whose brains are still developing and who often make decisions based on social pressures, these two kinds of thinking often end up in conflict with one another.
To make sure teens stick to their rational decisions, Lisa suggests we present them with the hot situation while they’re still in a cold state of mind. Try walking them through the whole party scenario while you’re alone together in the kitchen, hours before the party starts. Doing this can help ensure that your teen will still behave rationally when they’re placed in an emotionally, socially charged situation.
Teens don’t just need strong reasoning to handle the perils of high school, they also need to know how to cope when things go awry. Lisa and I are talking about how we teens tend to fall into gendered patterns of coping, and how we can help them find more effective methods.
Cultivating Better Coping Mechanisms
From a young age, kids are often conditioned to follow certain practices for emotional management, and typically these are shaped by their gender, says Lisa. Boys are taught to push through tough times by using distractions like sports, video games or work. Girls are typically taught to use their words to describe what they’re going through, and are socialized to have a vocabulary to describe emotions. This leads to patterns later in life: boys acting out or hurting others to cope, girls developing conditions like depression and anxiety, Lisa explains.
Boys are also often struggling with self esteem during puberty, as girls are typically developing faster. This applies to both minds and their bodies, with girls often beating boys out in the classroom as well as in sports. This can be tough on boys' self esteem, and is often the reason why they’re so mean to girls. Lisa even explains that this frustration in boys can often lead to the earliest occurrences of things like sexual harassment and assault.
To fix these complicated gender discrepancies, Lisa explains how we can help kids develop healthy coping mechanisms and self esteem. For boys, a sense of value in adolescence can come from doing service work or cultivating a skill. For kids of all genders, music can be a healthy way to both work through and escape from the tough feelings of teenage life. As parents, we might want to just jump in and solve problems for our kids, but Lisa explains that we’ve got to help them learn to manage their feelings on their own.
If we want teens to learn to handle their emotions, we’ve got to get through to them first! Lisa and I talk in the episode about how we can connect to teens, even when they seem to want nothing to do with us.
Teaching Emotional Management
Sometimes it seems like everything we do is annoying to our kids, no matter how hard we try! This is because kids are starting to develop their own brand and identity, says Lisa. They still think that we reflect on them, and therefore when we do something that contradicts the personality they’ve created for themselves, they’re frustrated. Alternatively, they get annoyed when we do something that’s similar to the brand they’re trying to cultivate, because they want to separate themselves from us as much as possible!
It can be endlessly frustrating to deal with this constant teen angst, but Lisa reminds us that it’s not always as personal as it feels. She explains how we can provide teens with a few options: being nice to us, being polite to us or simply just having space. She explains that providing these options often prompts teens to think about what they actually want, and can help the two of you communicate instead of just bickering.
In the episode, Lisa explains how we can also work on our listening skills–so when teens do decide to open up, we can be ready for them. She describes a method she often practices with her own teenage daughters, in which she plays the role of an editor and acts as though teens are reporters. Instead of interjecting while they’re speaking to immediately offer up advice, she listens to their entire spiel, and then offers up her best attempt at summarizing everything they just said, like a headline. This shows teens you’re listening and trying to understand, instead of just throwing advice their way.
In the Episode…
There’s lots of great insights in this week’s interview with Lisa! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:
- Why teens need negative feelings
- How adolescence can heighten emotions
- Why teens want to talk late at night
- How to get teens to actually listen to your advice
If you enjoyed this week's episode, you can find more from Lisa at Dr. Lisadamour.com. Don’t forget to share and subscribe, and we’ll see you next week!