In other words: yes, your teenagers will experience crises, despair, probably heartbreak. They will cry, argue with their friends, go through all kinds of strong emotions. Existential. Cubed. And often in the carpet.
If you are reading these lines, it is probably because you already know it (and live it). Eyes to the sky, it was small beer. Hello, the doors that slam and the aftershocks that fuse. It’s not necessarily pleasant, we grant you that, but that’s how it is.
“For teenagers, strong emotions are not optional. They’re not bugs,” writes clinical psychologist and author Lisa Damour, incidentally mother of two teenage girls (ages 12 and 19), in her book The Emotional Lives of Teenagers – Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents, in bookstores. recently.
Objective: to explain the functioning of the adolescent brain (in turmoil), to demystify emotional reactions (often gendered, she dwells on it, with as many nuances for the non-gendered public) and to distinguish the normal (as epic as it is) from the more worrying. In a nutshell: empower parents. Plenty of concrete examples.
The one who regularly writes texts in the New York Times, to whom we owe a popular podcast (Ask Lisa), reference books on the subject (including Untangled – Guiding Teenage Girls) and who has more than 25 years of practice behind the tie, put it back here, because obviously the message is not getting through.
Especially for 10 years, she notes.
In other words: we began to view negative emotions with a dim view, to fear tears, to banish anger. In short, to seek to prevent sadness at all costs. And revere happiness a little too much. With all of us in general, and with teenagers in particular.
A timely reflection, especially after this pandemic, which has been “incredibly painful for adolescents”, she recalls in an interview with La Presse.
But be careful, danger, she tells us. Why, by the way? With infinite delicacy, and all the necessary nuances, the psychologist expresses her thoughts. “Because doing so deprives them of opportunities to learn how to manage themselves. Needless to say, sadness is a part of life. Shit happens, as Shakespeare said, and despite all our good intentions, our young people will not escape it. Might as well equip them, right?
Before we get to that, why? Why do the melancholy, ups and downs of our emotions have such a bad reputation today? Still as nuanced, the psychologist notes that mental health is increasingly misunderstood, confused or associated, in popular language at least, with a question of well-being. As if, to have a healthy psychological health, one had to be in a constant state of bliss. “And the marketing of wellness, and all of the products derived from wellness,” she says, “sells the idea that it is possible […] to prevent distress. But this is false. It is not true. And that raises unrealistic expectations. »
And so many disappointments.
Besides the wellness industry, the psychologist wonders if the notable increase in drug prescriptions in recent years might not also have something to do with it. Certainly, she specifies, Prozac certainly saves lives, that is not the question. “But I can’t help but wonder if all of this hasn’t contributed to perpetuating this idea that we and our children should all spare ourselves this reality: that being human is also experiencing emotional pain,” she wrote, by way of introduction.
So if mental health isn’t wellness, what is?
But still ? Her book begins precisely with a concrete example, taken from a conversation with a friend, to illustrate this concept, fundamental if ever there was one. Worried about a depressed son on the eve of a move to another city, this friend called for her lanterns. His answer (with a question)? “Is your son depressed all the time or does he have his ups and downs?” If so, I actually think his depression is a sign of healthy mental health! »
Morale: “You don’t need to be alarmed if your teen is sad about something for a little while, but you should be alarmed if he’s sad about everything for a long time. »
From the age of 11, after a sweet and blissful period of latency, young people’s brains start to work again. A real little revolution takes place there, which will stretch until the age of 24: neurons multiply at breakneck speed, connections are made and broken, with the emotional consequences that we know. Six tips for managing your teen (and helping them manage themselves).
Does your teenager have a friendship problem? No need to cry with him. He needs a parent by his side. Listening (a real listening) and empathy. That’s all. Moreover, it is not uncommon for young people to pour out on their parents their litany of misfortunes and then seem to be doing rather well (although they ruin our days in the process). We are talking here about outsourcing, a technique well known to psychologists, quite effective, thank you. All this to say that by remaining solid despite everything, you send him the following message, oh so constructive: “I trust you, you will find a strategy to get through this ordeal. A lesson for life.
Of course, it is good to talk, to verbalize your emotions, it often gets the bad guy across. It is demonstrated. “But talking about your emotions feels good until it doesn’t,” says clinical psychologist and author Lisa Damour. Beware of the rumination of negative thoughts, what. She suggests, in case of overflow, to offer a diversion: “Let’s talk about it tomorrow; Until then, how about we go to the movies? The good old classics (we’re talking about the Lion King here) also work miracles, it seems.
Have you decided that the time for confidences is at supper time? Good for you, but it’s a safe bet that your youngster will choose the precise moment when you finally want to doze off to confide. Seize the moment. Others still prefer texting, or give themselves up without warning, at the bend of a red light in the car. Stretch the journey and take the opportunity to listen always. Show empathy, but no more. Note: You can ask questions, but don’t give feedback unless explicitly asked. But you probably already know that!
Certainly, some confide, but many also express themselves differently. Learn to read them. Some teens simply seek physical comfort, while others express themselves more through the arts. Others, finally, will confide, of course, but elsewhere, and not to you. “Having a young person who confides is a possibility, but it is not the only possibility. Our job as a parent is to support, as long as the strategy helps to manage and adapt. »
This is all well and good in theory, but very complex in practice. Whatever happens, don’t take it personal. He confides elsewhere, in a neighbor, an acquaintance? “It is in the order of things that the adolescent becomes more secretive, more independent, he is learning to manage himself without you”, recalls the psychologist, pointing out that the emotional brain generally and on average reaches its maturity after 14 years. In other words: the worst is played at 13-14 years old. “It’s usually most intense in the early teens…”
Three things to watch out for: negative emotions that stretch over time; emotions that interfere with the proper functioning of the young person (and prevent them from going to class, seeing their friends, etc.); when the management of emotions harms the health of the adolescent (here we are thinking of dangerous behavior, substance use, etc.). If necessary, do not hesitate to consult a health professional. That said, concludes Lisa Damour: “Yes, there are fragile adolescents, but most are able to withstand a certain level of distress and navigate through it. […] I hope my book will reassure parents about the emotional highs and lows so typical of teenagers. »