Teens Under Pressure

I recently listened to a great interview by Rich Roll and Dr. Lisa Damour. Dr. Damour is a Yale educated psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author who specializes in education and child development. She writes the monthly adolescence column for the New York Times.

Dr. Damour contributes regularly to CBS News, speaks internationally, and acts as a Senior Advisor to the Schubert Center for Child Studies at Case Western Reserve University. She serves as the Executive Director of Laurel School’s Center for Research on Girls; she is often referred to as “the teen whisperer.”

In the interview, Dr. Damour reflects her extensive experience working with teenage girls. She provides an overview of her findings, as outlined in her two books: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood and Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls.

As I found her approach intriguing, I followed up by reading Dr. Damour’s book, Untangled. It is a clearly written and accessible resource. The backbone of her thesis is there are seven distinct stages of teenage development. She provides tips and tactics for navigating each of them:

  1. Parting with Childhood: At age twelve, most tweens feel a sudden, internal pressure to separate from anything childlike. Healthy adolescent development requires parents who can handle rejection.
  2. Joining a New Tribe: Belonging to a friend tribe is of key importance to a teen. The fear of being tribeless – distanced from one’s family yet without a peer group – leads to the idealization of popularity and the social connections that come with it.
  3. Harnessing Emotions: The brain remodels dramatically during teenage years. The intense emotions that your daughter broadcasts are what she actually experiences. Take her feelings seriously regardless of how overblown they may seem.
  4. Contending with Adult Authority: Instead of reflecting on why we have the rules, teens focus on trying not to get caught while breaking them. Help her understand the rationale for the rules and the potential for unintended consequences.
  5. Planning for the Future: Help your daughter to develop a growth mindset by celebrating effort over outcome. Focus on helping her to be her best, not the best.
  6. Entering the Romantic World: The parent has three jobs: to alert your daughter to the fact that she has an inner compass; to support her in asking for what she wants; and to make sure she knows how to express what she does not want.
  7. Caring for Herself: Frame your commentary on nutrition, weight, exercise, sleep, sex and access to substances (alcohol and drugs) in terms of your daughter’s developing ability to care for herself. Empower her to make safe and loving choices.

As the parent of a ten-year old daughter, I find Dr. Damour’s perspective to be very practical and actionable. Even though my child is not quite a teenager, she is entering the realm of pre-teen behaviour; and I have already found Dr. Damour’s advice to be helpful in navigating challenging moments.

If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you start by listening to the interview with Rich Roll. It provides a high level overview of Dr. Damour’s overall philosophy and approach. If you check it out, let me know what you think!

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