· · · · · ·

Understanding the Emotional Lives of Teenagers with Lisa Damour

Understanding our tween’s and teen’s rollercoaster of emotions and how to cope and support them isn’t easy.

My special guest today is Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a clinical psychologist and author of three New York Times bestsellers, Untangled, Under Pressure, and her latest book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.  She is also the co-host of the Ask Lisa podcast and is recognized as a thought leader by the American Psychological Association. She earned degrees from both Yale and the University of Michigan and has more than 30 years of experience working with teens and families.

Her latest book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, is a life-changing book that we talk about today.

You are going to love Dr. Lisa Damour and what she shares today with us.

Where to find Lisa:

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed.

What You Will Learn: 

  • What does emotional health mean for our teens?
  • Some common myths about emotions and how to help your teen manage them.
  • Typical adolescent development of the brain and emotions. 
  • Helping our teens become more independent from us.
  • What is costly coping, and how can parents be on the lookout for it?
  • How do we know when our kids are in distress and need intervention?
  • What are some of the developmental things that are going on that cause teens to be on this emotional roller coaster?

Find more encouragement, wisdom, and resources:

Sign up for our Moms of Tweens and Teens newsletter HERE

And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you were failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone, and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our families and impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and becoming more of the mom and the woman that you want to be, welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

Hi friend, I’m so glad that you are joining me today.

I am thrilled to share this conversation with you. Understanding our tween’s and teen’s rollercoaster of emotions and how to cope and support them isn’t easy.

My special guest today is Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a clinical psychologist and author of three New York Times bestsellers, Untangled, Under Pressure, and her latest book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.  She is also the co-host of the Ask Lisa podcast and is recognized as a thought leader by the American Psychological Association. She earned degrees from both Yale and the University of Michigan and has more than 30 years of experience working with teens and families.

Her latest book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, is a life-changing book that we talk about today.

Here are a few of the things Lisa shares with us: 

  • What does emotional health mean for our teens?
  • Some common myths about emotions and how to help your teen manage them.
  • Typical adolescent development of the brain and emotions. 
  • Helping our teens become more independent from us.
  • What is costly coping, and how can parents be on the lookout for it?
  • How do we know when our kids are in distress and need intervention?
  • What are some of the developmental things that are going on that cause teens to be on this emotional roller coaster and how do we support them?

You are going to love Dr. Lisa Damour and what she shares today with us.

SHERYL:  Well, Lisa, welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens podcast. I am honored and excited to have you on the show and discuss your new book.

LISA:  Thank you. I’m really happy to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

SHERYL:  I have to hold it up for those watching the video: The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable and Compassionate Adolescents. 

It’s all highlighted and marked up. And I just love it so much. Because it speaks to the heart of what our tweens and teens need right now and what they need from us, I would love to start and have you share with our listeners what led you to write the book.

LISA:  Sure. So there were two things; one, of course, was the pandemic. And I’ve cared for teenagers for nearly 30 years. And I’ve never seen suffering, really, at that scope or scale. And it just, it was so bad for teenagers and their families. 

And then the other was something that had been in process before the pandemic but, I think, made the pandemic even worse than it had to be, which was a fair bit of misunderstanding about what mental health is. And so often, in the popular conversation about mental health, being mentally healthy is equated with feeling good, calm, relaxed, or at ease. And those are all lovely things. 

But that’s not actually how we, as psychologists understand mental health. And I think it sets an unattainable bar regarding an ongoing experience and then frustrating. So probably the main aim of this book because it’s a book that mentions the pandemic, but hopefully, it goes far beyond the pandemic. 

The main aim was to define mental health to match how we understand it professionally. Mental healthy people have feelings that fit their circumstances, even if those feelings are unpleasant or unwanted. And then they manage them effectively. They manage them in ways that bring relief and do no harm. And so my goal was to try to help reset the discourse, a little bit about what mental health is and how we support it in ourselves and our kids.

SHERYL:  Wow, I mean, I just think when you wrote that in your book and distinguished between those two, I think it’s so helpful, to just be able to see like, oh, gosh, having emotions and feelings is normal, and very uncomfortable, but normal. 

And I think, as moms, we need to remember, especially when our kids are feeling so many different emotions and coming out of the pandemic. We’re a couple of years out now, but I see; I work with moms, and they’re still struggling with kids, and our kids are dealing with many different emotions. 

And I like in the book how you talk about normalizing the behavior that can be expected when you’re an adolescent. And just that can make a huge difference in how we treat emotions. Can you explain, developmentally, some of the things that are going on that cause them to be on this emotional roller coaster?

LISA:  Absolutely. And so, the way the book is constructed, chapter one addresses many myths about emotion, like that they are harmful, which they rarely are. Chapter Two is about gender, which was interesting to write to unpack. 

And then chapter three, I could have called it What to Expect When You’re Expecting a Teenager, but it’s just like, here’s the typical trajectory of adolescent emotionality. And one way I’ll put it, Sheryl, I think the pandemic was so hard that there’s this wish to get back on a smooth road with our kids. And I would say I practiced so long before the pandemic that I have an in-my-bones understanding that typical adolescent development is a bumpy road. And then we were in a ditch for a couple of years. 

And now we are back on the bumpy road, right? And that is what we’re looking at. So for me, chapter three is like, let’s meet all these bumps, right? Let’s get to know them. No surprises; this is happening. There’s no getting around it. 

And so, a lot of it is driven by neurology. Much of it is driven by the remodeling of the adolescent brain; it’s becoming faster and more powerful. And the emotions get upgraded in what is probably not a perfect design. Before the prospective maintenance systems get upgraded, these poor teenagers walk around with gawky brains. It’s a very powerful experience when they’re upset. 

And their ability to maintain perspective is comparatively weak, which evens out over time. But they feel things intensely. And they don’t always have the controls that they wish they did, or that we wish they did, over their emotions; that is happening; they also need to become separate and individual, which invariably involves pushing away from us or feeling critical of us. 

And it doesn’t feel good. But one thing I think about all the time is what a feat it is to try to become an independent, ready-to-move-out human being while living under the roof with your folks being fed by them, driven by them. That is an extraordinary thing. 

And so, of course, they accomplish psychological independence to try to move into total independence, but it doesn’t feel good for the parent. That is happening.

And then they start their love lives sometimes. And then they have a lot of feelings about school. And they’re trying to sort out what they’re good at. I mean, it is a really wonderful and also a challenging time in development. And so I think the more we can just see what’s coming and not take it personally. 

SHERYL:  Yes, I cracked up when you said your teen couldn’t stand it when you chew food.

LISA:  That’s the title of 18. Can’t stand how you chew. No, it’s true.

SHERYL:  I have a little section and, like, chapter what, three? And I thought, Yes, I remember sitting at the dinner table. And my son was like, do you have to chew so loud? It was like you couldn’t do anything. 

LISA:  I think that is right. And so really try to lay out in that section. What is happening developmentally that makes us completely unbearable? And there’s a good reason. It makes sense. But it’s not fun for the parent. But the more we see it as an important developmental step for kids, the better it goes.

SHERYL:  Yeah. And what’s so helpful about that? Is that helpful not to take it so personally? And I think what age you said, is that usually, 13 or 14. Isn’t that around the time that you are so not cool?

LISA:  I would say that’s the height of it like that. Because what I talked about in that section about why your teen can’t stand how you chew – separation individuation – like this wish to develop an independent person, I call it branding language, actually describes it pretty well. And that is right around 13; I would say a little bit more for girls, maybe 14 for boys. 

And as kids move into that phase, there’s the separation side, which is they’re trying to develop an independent brand, and so that anything that we do, that is like the version of themselves, they see them themselves becoming that is aggravating. 

So maybe you have long liked Beyonce, and then suddenly your kid decides she likes Beyonce; now there’s gonna be a big problem, right? And you liking Beyonce is going to be a crisis, you should also consider working to become individuated; we’re still really caught up with each other. So anything we do that is not like how they see themselves becoming, such as the sweater you want to wear to an eighth-grade orientation that they think is kind of dorky like that, will also be incredibly aggravating. So what we’re into for a little while with our teenagers is a phase where everything we do that is like how they see themselves becoming is annoying.

Everything we do that is unlike how we see ourselves becoming is annoying. Everything we do is annoying. And it’s just not fun for anybody. Luckily, they usually outgrow it pretty fast when they start to, like, figure out what their brand is, right? And their brands. What’s neat is they start high school right around this time. And so then they like on a team, have an activity, or do something that becomes more and more personal and more skills are developed. And then they are less bothered by our dowdy or uncool brands. Not their problem anymore.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I love how you put the words you use in the book, like the personal brand, in such a way it clicks. I’m like, Yes, that’s why my daughters started dressing differently, then moving toward their peers. And so they were dressing like me, then they were trying out one group, and they were wearing all black. 

And then they kind of changed groups, and they’re trying to conform, fit in, and belong, and yet, they’re also arguing with us and going against our values. And the more we often push them to try to agree with us, like you’re saying, they push back.

What I find and working within my own life as a parent and working with other moms is it can be so upsetting to us, and when they’re going against and how you deal with that, if all of a sudden you’re saying something’s blue. They’re saying it’s green, but it’s blue, but it’s green, and how do you deal with that? 

LISA:  Yeah, so I have two teenagers, myself, I have a 19-year-old and a 12-year-old, and they’re girls. And one thing that I find is the real advantage is my clinical practice because I know what a crisis looks like and what to worry about. 

And so I can, I think, hopefully, take a more relaxed attitude towards things that I’m like, well, that’s not gonna ever amount to anything, potentially very problematic. And one of the ways I have thought about what’s worth getting into it with my kids is I use this to measure like, will this matter when they’re 30? It takes down the number of things you feel are worth getting into with your kid.

SHERYL:  Will this be worth it when they’re 30? My youngest is 23. So I can wonder. Why did I worry that she didn’t brush her hair? Or where she went to school? 

LISA:  Exactly. It will not matter when she started. That will not matter when she’s 30. Right? Short of incredibly revolting choices, like how they keep their rooms, right? I mean, it’s hard. It’s hard. Will it matter when they’re 30? Probably not.

SHERYL:  Yeah, yeah. Even my kids were all slobs that went through their knees. Now I’m like, Oh, my gosh, it took until you got your place.

LISA:  Yeah. So it is, I think a lot about, like, we mostly want to try to have a nice time with our kids. Because it’s fun, and that’s fun for us and fun for them. And it also, honestly, I think it also helps them to be better behaved. Because if they’re having a good time with us, they’re less inclined to make a choice, which will ruin that. 

Whereas if we’re having a hard time all the time, why bother being well-behaved? And I think a lot of how I’ve tried to get there as a mom is to pick and choose what’s worth throwing down about.

SHERYL:  Yeah, yeah. I want to quote you from your book. Because I was like, wow, the past decade, there has been a dramatic shift in how we talk and think about feelings. And in particular, the intense emotions that characterize adolescence. 

To put it bluntly, we became afraid of being unhappy somewhere along the way. And you go into a little bit of explanation about why this is. Can you briefly speak to this? Because I found it fascinating.

LISA:  Sure, sure. So, this was the intro to the book. And I try to lay out a three-part argument for what happened here. So one thing happened, and I don’t think any one explanation is the whole explanation. And I don’t even think the three explanations I offer probably told the whole story, but I attempt to try to wrap my hands around it. 

So one thing that happened is the rise of the wellness industry. So wellness is great commercialized wellness, can I think, sometimes sell something that cannot be achieved, which is this idea that there’s some emotional Zen out there. And if you just do all the right things, you can get there and stay there. 

And that’s not an option. And I think as much as wellness practices can help us maintain a sense of equilibrium, I want people to be cautious about anyone who’s suggesting that if they just are mindful enough, or do enough yoga, or have the right apps and oils, they won’t have to feel bad. It doesn’t work like that and never has. 

So there’s that, there’s also a this; I think I’d want people interested in how I lay it out because it was very carefully done in the book. Psychiatric medications are now very, very, very widely prescribed. This is often essential and wonderful, and life-saving and life-giving in many ways. And I, as a clinician, had many, many times in my practice said to someone, I think you would be helped by medication. 

But when we look at the statistics, it has shot up antidepressants and the like. They’re prescribed very quickly, often to adults, often in the absence of a more thorough or careful assessment or consideration of where the sadness, frustration, or difficulty is coming from, so this is a partial explanation. 

But I think the prevalence of psychiatric medications that are supposed to help with mood may have led to the idea that we don’t have to feel bad. So there’s that. And then, in terms of being frightened or anxious about distress, the last piece of my argument is like this. The kids are doing quite a bit worse. And we have very good data showing that that’s been true. 

Since about 2010, we’ve been seeing rising rates of distress in teenagers. And this is a well-done study, not just self-report; we’re talking about kids who are evaluated for depression, anxiety, and suicidality; those are all rising. And so adults have good reason to be more anxious when their kids become distressed. It’s a scary time, and it’s been a scary time. 

And then the headlines around us are often very harrowing and very concerning. And so I think all of those things together, and probably other things I’m not thinking of, have gotten us to a place where it’s scary when your kids are upset.

SHERYL:  Oh, yeah. Yeah. And you talk in the book about the difference, like what mental health means. And can you share that, as I found it very helpful?

LISA:  So, in contrast to, I think, this definition that circulates that you’re mentally healthier, kids are mentally healthy if you feel good. Well, you understand, as psychologists and have always had, there’s nothing controversial at all. And what I’m bringing across in this book is that mental health is about having feelings that fit your situation and then managing them. 

I talked about the pandemic, and part of what was happening is people are saying, Oh, my gosh, kids are so anxious. I’m like, Well, of course, there’s so much. Schools are shut down, and a lethal virus is circulating; what emotion but anxiety fits the moment? So that’s what I mean that, of course, they’re anxious. 

And then now, as things have returned, largely to what we remember from before if your best friend moves away, we expect a kid to be upset. If you have a huge test the next day and haven’t studied, like we expect the kid to be anxious. So these are all negative emotions; nobody wants to have them, and they are all evidence of mental health. 

And that’s the place where kind of, I find sort of staggering. I find myself at the inverse of the discourse right now. So many headlines are rolling up psychological distress with mental health concerns as though they are the same. When we think about how things work, and we all know this intuitively, much of the time, your kid’s psychological distress is evidence of their mental health, right? 

We want to see anxiety if they have not done what they’re supposed to be doing. We want them to seek to feel hurt and angry if somebody’s mean to them. It’s not that we want them to feel pain; it’s that we want them to have a reaction that will move them in a useful direction. So that’s how we want to think about it. 

And so then, really, where the rubber hits the road. It’s not about the presence or absence of distress like psychologists are like, Well, yeah, of course, there’s gonna be distress, like, that’s life. 

What we’re interested in is how it gets handled. So the kid whose best friend is moving away, we expect what we want to see, right? They want to talk about how sad they are; they want to maybe put on their sad playlist, listen to it, and cry alongside it to get some relief. And maybe then they want to cuddle the dog for a while, and then maybe they want to go watch a TV show and not think about it for a while. This is great. This is what we hope to see. 

We only worry when that kid is like, you know what, I’m so upset. I’m going to smoke a ton of weed, or I am so upset. I’m gonna ruin the mood of the house for a week. Or I’m so upset? I’m going to take it out on myself in some way. Right? That’s when we worry. That is the only quarter where we worry. Everything else is a typical and healthy development. 

SHERYL:  Yeah. It’s just how you put it; it makes so much sense. And yet, it can be so uncomfortable for us when we see our kids in distress. It’s the worst. And then I’ve noticed I wanted to do or see other moms in my community and my membership, is we want to jump in and fix it. And we want to reassure them right out of the box that you’re going to be okay or don’t feel that way, and we end up dismissing their feelings, and we mean well because we want them to feel better. 

But your book is about how being with them in those feelings will help bring healing and help them learn how to process their emotions. And then you give some language to it. So can you speak to that?

LISA:  Sure. So just to rest for a minute on what you said about what it feels like as a parent when your kids are upset. I don’t know that there’s a more universal, loving, and healthy instinct as a parent than to hate to see your kid in pain and to want to stop it. And I just, we all have that as our first reaction. 

I’d be more worried about a parent who did not have that as their first reaction, like, when our kids are in pain, we hate it. And so I have so much empathy for the parent who’s like, how do I shut this down? Right? Or how do I keep this from happening again? The only issue is that it doesn’t help our kids how we want it to. Right. 

And it’s what you said, which is that pain is usually productive, inflammation, or they can grow from it and draw strength going forward from it. And I think these are the essential thing; they need to learn how to do this; they need to learn how to manage their emotional distress on their own, and with that, with the help of people who love them. 

So what I lay out in the book’s last few chapters, or two, I call them, like playbooks for helping kids regulate emotion. And these are how psychologists think about emotion regulation. So it’s not like we can prevent distress. It’s not like we can magic getaway, but we help kids regulate it. And for psychologists’ regulation, we think about it in these two categories.

One is sometimes kids regulate by expressing their feelings. And sometimes, kids regulate by bringing their feelings back under control or taming them. For a psychologist, these are on equal footing; we see these as equally valuable emotional strategies. 

Right now, in the culture, we’re focused on first helping kids express emotion, and it has value, but it’s not always the end all be all. And so, the last few chapters of the book are just a whole bunch of different versions of supporting kids as they express feelings either verbally or non-verbally; not all kids use language, and a whole bunch of strategies for helping kids tame emotion, if either they don’t want to talk or talking to making it worse, which it sometimes does. 

And helping, hopefully, readers feel like they’ve got a repertoire they can turn to and that they can help their teenage return to when distress shows up, which will, that can, over time, mean that that young person can function more and more independent and less and less afraid of distress. That’s what we want.

SHERYL:  Yeah. One of the things you say in the book is that it makes sense, like validating their pain. It makes sense that you feel that way. Yeah, that can be such a grounding force.

LISA:  It can, and I would say teenagers, more than anyone else, need to hear that. And the reason, and you’ve already mentioned this, like, their feelings are so intense, right? This is also a neurological phenomenon, like they feel stuff hotly. 

And one true thing is that part of them is weirded out by how powerful their emotions are. They’re both having powerful emotions. And often there’s a part of them that’s like, this is weird; I did not hit the ceiling like this at 11. Right? This is different from what I remember. 

And there’s a part of them, I think, is often worried about themselves and what it means that they are reacting so intensely. So when a kid comes home with intense emotion about something, just say, You know what? What you’re describing makes sense. I get it. 

It’s a twofer. So one is your empathizing, which is 99% of the time all they want from us – they don’t want advice, suggestions, or questions of empathy. And two, you’re saying to them, you’re okay, there’s nothing wrong with you that you’re having this reaction because there is often a Is there something wrong with me question lurking around in there somewhere? So that simple gesture of saying, oh, man, you’re having the right reaction. It gets a lot of work done.

SHERYL:  Yeah. I just think how helpful that would have been for me when I was going through that because I thought, what’s wrong with me? Just to have somebody say that makes sense.

LISA:  Of course, you’re upset. 

SHERYL:  Yeah. So good. You would call it the saying, or maybe I had not heard of it before. Costly coping?

LISA:  Oh, yeah. I heard it before I started using it. I think I may have come up with it.

SHERYL:  I just want to have you speak to familiar scenarios that I’m saying so my, my son, okay, not my son, but just we’re, this is just kind of a combination of different things, went through the pandemic. And before the pandemic, he was very social. And so we have lots of friends. And then here he is isolated. 

Some of his close friends bullied him during that time on social media. So he thought we were friends. And he was hurt. And it was difficult for him, and his grades started dropping. And now he is isolated there; he’s out of it. But now he’s not socializing like he was before. 

And kind of putting his toe back, but not really. And then he’s always around the house, isolating playing just hours upon hours of video games. And so the mom is feeling anxious watching this go on. She knows he’s a social kid, but he’s not getting out. And he’s not talking about it. 

And she’s trying to gauge like, Is he okay, is he not? Okay, and how do I help him? When won’t he talk to me? 

LISA:  Man, that is such a vivid, and I think, a common picture you’re describing. So let’s break it down. There are a few things here going on. The first is that avoidance feeds anxiety. And when we’re talking about costly coping, avoidance is probably one of the most common things we say. 

And so this poor guy is anxious about what will happen between him and his peers because he was mistreated. And his solution is to just steer clear of peer relationships. And this is helping him feel better in the short term, right? 

You’re engaging or calling people if he thinks about attending a party. And then he starts to get anxious about how it might be received. If he decides not to do it, he’ll feel better in the short term, reducing his anxiety. The problem with the avoidance, though, is that, first of all, it does feel good. So the next time he feels anxious, he will be inclined to use it again because it works. 

The second is whatever he imagines about how he will be mistreated goes completely unchallenged by reality because he never checks it. So it sort of stays sealed, and remember, what happened? 

And so what needs to happen is he does need to be helped to sort of wade back in; the more he avoids, the worse it’ll be. The longer this goes on, the harder, and then, of course, you’re out of the loop with kids socially. I mean, it exacerbates quickly.

So the solution is to help him back in, even if it’s like one friend, and something safe, and just confronting the realities, hopefully, less problematic than what he’s daydreaming them to be. Yeah, so there’s that. 

There are a couple of things at work now, video gaming. One is this kid’s got tons of time. If we can just take away all psychological explanations, just put it down to a logistical and like, Wait, he doesn’t have anything else to do because he’s not hanging out with his friends, right? So he’s just filling time and has excessive time to fill. 

So hopefully, some of that could be addressed by getting him to at least baby steps his way back into social life. There’s also the reality that distraction is part of how we can tame an emotion suppress an emotion. A little bit’s okay. And I think that’s something I greatly appreciated in writing this book. 

Like we all use distraction all the time to quiet something uncomfortable if I’m writing and I’m frustrated with what I’m writing, I might like to do a little internet shopping, just not think about it for a little bit, right and then come back and then I write again, like that’s using distraction to address my frustration with the writing. And so what I’ve come to appreciate about distraction and its place in our overall emotional economies, distractions are not usually the issue – dosing is the issue, right? 

You want enough distraction that it helps you get back on track and feel better and doesn’t cause new trouble. You don’t want so much distraction that it creates a problem, right? So this poor guy, he’s spending hours and hours and hours. First of all, he is passive. Second of all, he is never addressing these feelings. 

Third of all, he’s using distraction to the exclusion of all other coping, like talking about how he feels or finding other ways to comfort himself that is adaptive, so for him, if he’s using constant video games and like okay, that is the ghosting is now an issue it’s causing it’s on your troubles. 

But I would say that talking to teenagers and my conversations about distraction are going much better; when it’s not that I’m an anti-video game, I’m pro-effective dosing. And to recognize that there are kids who come home, play video games for an hour, blow off the steam from the day, and they can get down to their work. That’s a pretty good outcome. 

So when we’re not wholesale against how they distract, I think it’s easier to have productive conversations about how distracting is working for them and maybe also come with a price tag.

SHERYL:  Yeah, that’s an empathy piece and that understanding. Understanding that’s something they enjoy doing. That is a distraction. Not going against it as you have will cause a fight right out of the box or defensiveness. Yep, those shutdowns. But more like coming alongside them. So what might be something she could say?

LISA:  So I think let’s treat the avoidance and distraction issues separately. So I think on the avoidance issue, it would be important to say, look, I get it like you had a bad experience. And it makes sense that you would avoid, right, like, and I see why you’re doing it. 

And then, I think helping teenagers understand how avoidance does work in the short term but exacerbates the long-term problem; I think unpacking that science for them is compelling. And then it can lay the groundwork for saying, you kind of get out there a bit like what feels safe enough, like what could you start with? 

So you don’t have to show up at the biggest party. But, like, is there a kid you could call that you feel would go up? So waiting. On the video game piece: I think the way to start the conversation is to say, look, you won’t be surprised. I’m slightly worried about how much time you spend on video games, right? You have to play your cards face-up with teenagers. They can see right through us. 

But then I think, but I’ve been thinking about it. And I think that I don’t see it as all bad. I think some of it is that you’re bored. But I also think some of it is that maybe when you feel lousy, it occupies your mind, and you don’t have to feel bad. 

And I think some of that’s okay; I’m worried that this is more than just some. And I’m worried that it may be causing the troubles that it doesn’t give you enough variety in how you’re spending your time and doesn’t give you any support around the stuff you’re feeling bad about by talking about it. 

So I’ve been thinking about that, right? Just don’t corner them. Play your cards face up, and lay out your concerns. Teenagers are so great if we are transparent and invite them into conversations about what we observe. They usually respond positively to that. 

SHERYL:  Nice. Just your voice is so soothing. When you say that, it’s so good, just thinking about it. We have to get real with our reactivity. Don’t we, our worry, that when we get escalated, and we’re feeling anxious and powerless, and like, oh, my gosh, she’s playing video games? No, this makes sense. 

And just the way that you model that. I’m for you. I care about you. I’m not trying to rip that controller out of your hands. I get it makes total sense. I spend four hours in front of Netflix every night, trying to numb out, and we got to work on getting back in there.

LISA:  A little bit. Yeah, bring some variety to how you’re coping and get you back with a couple of kids. Right. I mean, that’s the goal. But I think the nature of my training, and without even being conscious, I’m always falling back on this. People make sense. Kids do this stuff they do for reasons. 

And if we don’t start from that position, we’re going nowhere. It’s what you said; they’ll be defensive and feel like we don’t get it because we’re not even trying to get it. Where I would say that so much of my work is trying to stand in the teenager’s shoes and think, alright, this kid’s a rational reactor; they’re doing stuff that doesn’t work well or maybe costly, but I’m just going to assume they’re a rational reactor and try to figure out why they’re doing what they’re doing before rolling up on them with my ideas about what they should be doing instead. 

SHERYL:  That’s how costly coping where you think kids are, smoking pot, or they’re doing some drinking, or even I hear from a lot of moms or kids or cutting or eating disorders, behaviors like that. They’re getting something. 

LISA:  Coping. Yeah. And it’s helpful to remember that.

SHERYL:  Yeah. It’s costly and costs them something, but it serves a purpose. And we think about ourselves too, what we might go to, not that having a glass of wine is bad, but I’m gonna go to that too.

LISA:  If you do it all the time to manage every upset feeling, it’ll turn into a problem.

SHERYL:  Yes, exactly. And so, how do you dialogue with your kid? When do you see them going to this costly? Let’s say you’re smoking pot. Or what would you say to them? 

LISA:  I think you got as most of the way there, which is, you basically say, like, say they’re smoking a lot of marijuana or say they are cutting themselves say, look, you’re a smart kid. You’re doing this because it’s helping you feel better. You wouldn’t do it for any other reason, right? 

Like it’s working for you at some level, and we got to figure out; you got to figure out what purpose it’s serving. And then we have to figure out a way for you to serve that purpose so you’re not getting hurt. 

Either neurologically, from using lots of marijuana, or harming yourself. Like, the goal here is not that you never feel bad. We can’t promise that. But when you do feel bad, you have ways to feel better without getting hurt.

SHERYL:  Wow. Yeah, that’s just like I see you, and I want to support you to get what you want – some relief but healthily. So, so good. Lisa, how do we know when our kids are in such distress? So we need intervention?

LISA:  This is the key question, right? Because typical adolescent development is so spicy and rich, it’s not always easy to know when you should be worried. So what we’re looking for, we’re looking for a couple of things. 

One is we’re looking for a kid whose mood goes to a concerning place and stays there. So it’s no surprise if a teenager is high and low and high and low 14 times before 9 am, like that. 

That’s a teenager; we do not expect to see kids who are upset, sad, paralyzed by anxiety, angry, like day over day, even three days in a row of that, like, uninterrupted is very unusual for teenagers, as they should move, their mood should be much more all over the place. So we watch for that for a mood that just gets stuck somewhere. That’s not a good place. 

And then we watch for costly coping, right? So maybe they’re managing their mood, but they’re doing it by getting high, or they’re managing their mood. And they’re doing it by self-harming, right, or they’re managing their mood by ruining everybody else’s. Right? I mean, that. There are many ways they could go about it that would amount to coping but would add up over time to a problem.

SHERYL:  Yeah. It seems like getting a kid to therapy. And I think this ties in with what you were saying about kids already feeling like something’s wrong with them. They’re resistant to going to therapy. A lot of kids right now. Now, many kids are going, and it’s hard to find a therapist. But what if your kid is not very open to it?

LISA:  It’s true, right? I mean, if they’re already worried that there’s something wrong with them, I think a lot of teenagers just by baseline are to say, like, you know what, I think you need to talk to a therapist, right? For most kids, we’re like; it’s like their worst nightmare to hear that. 

So when I need to make that suggestion to a teenager, I will usually say something like, for what you are up against, you deserve so much more support than you have. And feel like you should have a pro. Not just somebody doing this amateur hour like you should have a pro to help you through this. This is hard. And that phrasing is that way, which is entirely accurate. Changes the dynamic around.

SHERYL:  Wow. That’s where everybody that’s listening right now gets on and buys your book. Pause the podcast, I’m getting my notebook, and I’m writing that down. Yeah, because it could be like, Okay, we need to see a therapist, and then they’re like, nope, forget it, I’m gonna go in my room, slam the door, I’m not coming out. Such a different approach.

LISA:  And it is because they’re up against something big. Right, they deserve more support to get through it than they have and more support than the parent can offer. Right? It is very hard to feel like I can’t get my kid what they need. But you can reframe it like you deserve more support than I could offer. You deserve more support than you’ve got, like; let’s make this happen.

SHERYL:  You also talk about giving kids space because processing information can take a while. You don’t need to get them to say yes right away. No, especially if this is based, I think, on that.

LISA:  If you’re just bringing them on, like, let them think so, I think a lot of times in raising delicate subjects, it’s helpful to say to again, I want to run something by you, you don’t have to let me know what you think right away, like chew on us a little bit. But here’s what I was thinking. And they may have an immediate answer, but you don’t want to corner a teenager.

SHERYL:  Yeah, yeah. And leave it open. And then they can think about it. Yeah, so, so good. So how to find a good therapist? They’re having trouble with that as well.

LISA:  Yeah, my favorite recommendation is to ask your pediatrician. Pediatricians have a very good feel for the local talent, and they also know your kid. And so they can often do a very good job of making recommendations that will be a good fit. So that’s what I would say by way of a first stop.

SHERYL:  Okay. Yeah, they’re helpful. Well, how can the listeners find you? And I have a question to ask you. Because I already was telling everybody, I led a workshop. And I was already telling them to buy your book. And then one of the moms went on, and I said, We should do a study around this book. Does it have a book discussion in it? 

LISA:  The website does. So if you go to my website, and for all of my books, if you go to the book page, there are free downloadable discussion guides for both parents and educators on all three books.

SHERYL:  That is awesome to know. Because this is such a good book to get a book study on, we were talking about it. So I think it’s just very helpful, very validating for moms to parents. Thank you. Yeah. So, tell them where to find you.

LISA:  So my website is https://drlisadamour.com/. And that’s got a hub for everything I’ve got and many resources. And I’ve organized the resources into categories to make finding what they want easier. 

So there are six categories. And it’s like mental health, stress, coping with family relationships, and risky behavior. There are all these things that I think we’re looking for when we’re thinking about kids. 

And then, when you click on the category, what will come up? I have a podcast called Ask Lisa, the Psychology of Parenting. And we just did an episode on cutting, and we just did an episode a while ago about, like, if a kid refuses therapy. So there are half-hour-deep dives into these topics and many more. And so my podcast will come up. 

Also, the work I’ve done for the New York Times will come up on TV work I’ve done, so I tried to make it so that people can get what they’re looking for. And then I put a lot of energy into putting good content out on social media. So I put a lot out on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter feeds that I used to put out, hopefully, small and easily digested support for families.

SHERYL:  Yeah, I love your Instagram feed too. Thank you. You have such good snippets to chew on about what’s helpful or what you can say.

LISA:  Thank you so much.

SHERYL:  Thank you so much for coming on. It’s been super helpful, and I enjoyed talking to you. 

LISA:  I’ll say the same. I appreciate this conversation.

Similar Posts