“Girls, more than ever, are in need of emotional support from their parents because they are not getting it where they are spending most of their time: online.” Lisbeth Splawn
One challenge of raising teenagers is teaching emotional regulation.
As Dr. Lisa Damour says, teenagers often have the right feeling on the wrong scale. They need help bringing their feelings down to size. As parents, we do this by naming their feelings, talking about them, and using a tone that conveys warmth and confidence in them.
It sounds easy, but in the moment, it can hard, uncomfortable, or irritating to witness a teen’s unpleasant emotions. Personally, I want to rush my daughters through them. I want to give pep talks or life lessons. I’ve told them how they should feel before listening to how they do feel. I’ve expected them to master emotions that still elude me.
I didn’t realize my tendency until my daughter told me one day, “You and Dad are always like, perspective, but I’m allowed to be upset over dumb things for five minutes.” And you know what? She was right. While my instinct is to “fix” emotions that make me uncomfortable (or make me want to cry) my girls benefit more when I let them feel what they feel and give them room to vent. After all, emotions buried alive always resurface.
At the same time, I know that emotions can make or break a girl. They’ll affect every relationship, down to her children and grandchildren. We all know girls and women who act like a bull in a china shop, and some of us have been that bull ourselves, creating relationship wreckage as emotions spin out of control. Feelings are great followers yet terrible leaders, and just because a girl feels an emotion doesn’t give her a right to act on it.
So how do we let our daughters vent and unload — yet also teach them to take raw emotions to a more evolved place? How do we help them identify their triggers and know when to walk away?
It’s impossible to have healthy relationships without emotional intelligence. And since relationships matter deeply to girls, emotional intelligence should too. An emotionally intelligent girl knows not to send angry texts when she’s seeing red. She tunes in to her feelings without dumping them on others. She empathizes with friends who are down and need encouragement. She listens to her instincts and pays attention to body language. She finds healthy outlets for her pain. She works on these learned behaviors.
To attract emotionally intelligent friends, our daughters must first get themselves in a good place. Here are ideas to help your daughter reach that goal.
1. Remember that a teenager’s response to the world is driven by emotion, not reason. Dr. Frances Jensen, author of The Teenage Brain, says that during adolescence, more than any other time, emotions rule our lives.
“Teenagers are usually up or they’re down,” she explains, “and they are very rarely something in between. As parents we sometimes experience our teenagers’ emotional highs and lows as frighteningly out of control, and because our teenagers are as of yet unable to smooth things out using their frontal lobes, it’s up to us to be the filter, the regulator, to provide the sense of calm their brains can’t yet provide.”
Teenagers have a hyperactive amygdala (the primitive part of the brain, the center of “fight or flight”) and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex (the rational part of brain that doesn’t fully develop until age 25). This gap helps explain the heightened emotions that distort reality. By acting as your daughter’s reality check, you can be a voice of reason and calm in the chaos.
2. Love your daughter and let her vent— but don’t be her punching bag. Teenagers push limits, and sometimes we take more than we should because we sympathize with their struggles, we hate fighting, or we’re scared of losing them.
But if you tolerate disrespect, you set a bad precedent. One day it won’t be you who your daughter is coming home to; it will be her roommate, her spouse, her child. It’s okay for your daughter to vent and unload, but not if she disrespects you or someone else in the process. Expecting respect is an act of love that will help her have healthy relationships and keep her emotions in check.
3. Watch for rumination. It’s good for girls to talk through problems, but dwelling is another story. There comes a point where enough is enough, and it’s time to move on. In today’s culture of self- focus, girls often get so wrapped up in their feelings that they ignore the feelings of those around them. One cure for this is service or an act of kindness, helping your daughter get out of her head and and think about someone else.
4. Encourage self-care. Controlling emotions is easier when your daughter is in fighting condition. When her life is a flurry of too much stress, too little sleep, poor eating habits, and an overload of screen time, her defenses come down. She is vulnerable and likely to snap. Feeling rested and healthy can make a big difference in how she responds to events.
5. Help her avoid technology when she’s not feeling the love. We all get angry and overreact at times, but keeping these moments private — and undocumented — can prevent your daughter from burning bridges. People don’t forget the accusations, attacks, or passive-aggressive remarks that fly in heated moments, so remind your daughter to stay off technology until she has cooled down. Otherwise, she may ruin a relationship by channeling her emotions into a keypad.
6. Encourage one-on-one resolution. Most girls never learn conflict resolution. When they feel hurt or upset, they blow up or bottle it up. They give the offender a piece of their mind, or they pretend they’re fine while letting the truth seep out through underhanded jabs, cold shoulders, and passive-aggressive remarks.
Issues can often be resolved (or partially settled) when two girls talk without accusations. When one can calmly say, “Hey, this wasn’t like you, but it really hurt my feelings when you kept teasing me at lunch. I don’t want this to come between us, and that’s why I’m telling you, because I value our friendship and want to work through it.” This approach makes a friend more likely to listen and less likely to get defensive. It gives her a chance to apologize and keeps little issues from turning into big ones.
7. Limit social media time. I’ve yet to see a study that says spending time online makes girls feel better about themselves. What I do see is massive evidence of the negative side effects of social media and screen time. As Lisbeth Splawn wrote on Dr. Meg Meeker’s website, “For teen girls today, the greatest obstacle to emotional health is social media.”
As we all know, many girls are addicted. They cling to their phones like life support. Only with intervention will they take necessary breaks. You know your daughter better than anyone, and you care about her well-being, so set boundaries when she needs them.
8. Help her cultivate a healthy thought life. Your daughter gets to choose the way she thinks. She chooses her attitude too. More important than any conversation you have with her is the conversation she has with herself. Is it negative? Prideful? Preoccupied with appearance? Does her mind spin out of control with worries, fears, and lies from the enemy? Ask God to renew her mind and help her create a healthy thought life thatinspires healthy choices, actions, and habits.
9. Empower her to handle hurtful people. Your daughter is a flawed, imperfect human surrounded by flawed, imperfect humans. And when people are hurtful, she can deal with them by understanding that nobody is a waste. Everyone serves a purpose. The worst behaviors offer the best examples of how not to act, and while some people teach her who she does want to be, others teach her who she doesn’t want to be. Even sharks can offer unforgettable lessons on social graces, dignity, and the importance of being kind.
10. See conflicts as opportunities. Emotional intelligence grows best in loving relationships. Your daughter may not realize that not everyone thinks like her until her blunt honesty makes a sensitive friend cry. If she holds grudges, she may not value grace until a friend forgives her. Through conflict, your daughter gets exposed to different viewpoints that can expand her heart, her mind, and her relationships.
As moms, we can take our daughters only as far as we have come. To raise emotionally healthy daughters, we must be emotionally healthy ourselves, always growing our intelligence and setting a good example.
When your daughter feels emotional, listen and let her talk freely. Stay calm and give words to her thoughts and feelings. Assure her that her feelings are normal, find healthy outlets, and teach her coping strategies. Most importantly, point her to God. Encourage her to pray and get quiet before acting on knee-jerk responses. With time and practice, she’ll learn to manage her emotions. She’ll know how to work toward measured responses that lead to peace, clarity, and stronger relationships.
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Posted by Kari on March 13, 2022