Parenting teens has always been an adventure, but parenting teens during and after a pandemic has added new layers of complexity to the job. Watching teens suffer during the pandemic was one catalyst that prompted Dr. Lisa Damour, New York Times bestselling author, to write her newest title, “The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.”
The second catalyst for this title, Damour said, was that mental health, which has become an interesting popular topic, isn’t talked about in everyday platforms the same way that psychologists define it.
“In popular culture, mental health is increasingly seen as being happy or feeling good,” Damour said. “But psychologists define good mental health as emotions that make sense in the context of the situation, and then managing those emotions effectively.”
Damour felt that parents needed a resource that helped identify emotions and reactions that are developmentally appropriate for adolescents. Knowing what is healthy allows parents to identify when behavior is moving into unhealthy areas so they can seek help for the teens.
“The Emotional Lives of Teenagers” walks parents through how adolescents develop during puberty, the difference gender makes in emotional development, and how parents can help teens manage their emotions. In addressing PRA’s K12 community, Damour offered suggestions for parents at all levels.
In chapter three of the book, Damour explained that students in kindergarten through 4th grade are in the second stage of child and adolescent development, which is called latency. It is a time during which children are largely free of “supercharged emotions.” She said during this phase most children are “easy-going and a lot of fun to parent.”
“What they benefit from most is a family life that is a healthy combination of warmth and structure. It is important for parents to provide predictable patterns and roles at home and to show high levels of affection,” she said. “They want to know that their parents not only love them but that they like them as well.”
Damour writes that the brain is starting to undergo major “physiological renovation” before the outward signs of puberty begin, resulting in teen behavior starting earlier than most parents are expecting.
“Parents shouldn’t be surprised when their sixth and seventh graders start to engage in ‘typical teenage behavior,’” Damour said. “It’s not premature for kids at 11 and 12 to begin exhibiting these behaviors.”
Students in middle school continue to need warmth and structure at home, but they also need adults who are prepared for the fact that younger teens can become overwhelmed by their emotions. During these years, the adults in their lives should be a steady presence as they learn to manage their emotions.
As teens move into high school, parents should be prepared for them to pull away. Damour said this stage can be hard for teens as they are seeking increased independence but still have to live at home.
“The key to later adolescence is to understand that it is the teenager’s job to become increasingly independent,” she said. “Parents shouldn’t take it personally when teens push away, become more private, and look for ways to be independent. We should see these as signs that everything is just going as it should.”
Damour said all adults who work with teens should realize that they can’t prevent teens from experiencing distress. The goal should be to help teens experience distress while demonstrating healthy ways to express their emotions and how to bring their emotions back in control.
Damour will speak to the Prospect Ridge Academy community on April 25 about how adults can support and cultivate adolescent mental health, when to worry about a teenager, and what to do about it. PRA is partnering with Stargate School to bring this event to our families. The event will be held at Stargate starting at 6 pm. Tickets are free but space is limited. Reserve your seat today by clicking here.
“The Emotional Lives of Teenagers” is available now at your favorite book seller.
By Amy G. Partain
PRA Communications Manager