What should

parents know about teens and their emotions?

Consider emotions like a member of one's personal board of directors, advised psychologist and author Dr. Lisa Damour, borrowing a colleague's metaphor.

"Emotions help inform our decision-making and how we want to live," she explained. "They're very important to helping us navigate our lives, but very rarely are the ones calling the shots."

Adolescents, however, can often seem at the mercy of their emotions. Damour will offer Hinsdale-area parents guidance on raising psychologically aware teens who are able to manage their feelings in a Feb. 7 Zoom webinar based on her soon-to-be-released book, "The Emotional Lives of Teenagers" (see Page 22 for details).

"A huge part of how we connect within anyone is though shared emotional experiences and talking about what we're feeling," Damour said. "Teens that have fluency with their emotional lives are better equipped to build and maintain stronger connections to others."

Damour will cover challenges that come with the life stage, like anxiety, risky behavior, friendships, romances and the influence of social media. That last one's a more recent factor, of course, but most stimuli are true of every generation.

"A lot of it can be explained by, 'Oh, they're teenagers,' " she said. "There are some very timeless aspects of adolescent development that can be sticky but not a sign that something is wrong."

She cautioned parents' to resist the urge to shield their children from adversity.

"It's totally natural to want to prevent or quickly get rid of pain in our children," she said. "But we send a very strong message that we don't think they can handle discomfort."

Instead, be available but let them work through their feelings.

"Part of why we want teenagers to develop a strong understanding of their emotions is so they don't have to feel afraid of very powerful feelings," Damour said. "Negative feelings are often quite instructional, and they help us be tolerant and accept a degree of distress, through which they can learn quite a bit and grow."

Parents should recognize that forging healthy bonds with their teen isn't always a smooth process.

"It's natural that adolescents are going to find friction with their parents in their desire for more freedom and autonomy," Damour said. "When teens are sharing their distress with us, most of the time all they are looking for is a listening ear and some empathy."

Rather than reflexively offering advice, assure them that you're genuinely listening.

"Really tune in and say, 'That stinks!' " she suggested.

The goal, as they become adults, is for them to also be attentive to others' needs.

"When teenagers can be curious and accepting about their own interior landscapes, they can be curious and tender about other people's emotional experiences," she said.

And the more parents understand, the more they can find joy in the journey.

"Teenagers are great," Damour said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean