book cover of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers

Emotional Lives of Teenagers

If you are a parent or educator of teenagers, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents needs to be on your summer reading list. (If this post doesn’t convince you, maybe this conversation between Lisa Damour—the author—and Ezra Klein will.)

The book is what the title suggests, so rather than offer a summary I’ll give you a few of my takeaways:

  1. Sleep is the most important thing. Yes, we should care about how and why our kids are using devices. Yes, we should care about the ways they use their bodies and their friendships and all sorts of things. But good mental and emotional health starts with good sleep. 
  2. Negative emotions are necessary and helpful. Our job as adults is to help teenagers learn how to handle emotions like anger, fear, and sadness in ways that lead to growth. As Damour writes: “Mental health is not about feeling good. It is about having the right feelings at the right time and being able to manage those feelings effectively.” (And she does a great job of helping adults consider when these emotions are tipping towards clinical depression or anxiety that calls for help from professionals.)
  3. Gender matters. Damour does a great job of making space for kids who are gender fluid or questioning their gender identity, but she also underscores that in general, boys and girls process the world differently for both physiological and sociological reasons. These distinctions help us give boys permission and space to feel and develop empathy and girls permission and space to express and feel anger. 
  4. Conflict is to be expected and is, in fact, a sign of growth: “If everybody is doing their job, teenagers will be pushing for more freedom and flexibility than their parents are inclined to allow, and parents will be pulling back on them…” Teenagers need to individuate themselves at the same time that they need us to provide structure and boundaries. 

I will return to this book throughout the teenage years ahead of us. Highly recommend.  


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