As parents, we can use this valuable information to be in a better position to help our kids navigate the turbulence of adolescence. We need to emotion coach our teens to acknowledge and understand their emotions to help them learn the necessary skills to be social and successful adults.
In our previous article, we talked about engaging with our kids about their technology use. If you have decided to embrace technology, then finding out what is meaningful for your tweens and teens about tech can be a powerful way to maintain connection and guidance during a time when it’s normal for them to pull away.
Given the huge amount of time and energy teens spend online, parents can be the emotion coaches their teens need by harnessing rather than fighting the technology to help learn valuable life lessons. Let me give you an example of a family that has been successful.
Emotion Coaching During Adolescence
When Alyssa started 8th grade, her parents, Amy and Robert, noticed her moodiness was getting worse. She felt left out by some old friends and felt sad one minute, angry the next.
Alyssa stopped playing guitar, which she’d loved, and spent more time on Instagram than any other activity. Respecting her privacy, her parents shared concerns about online safety with her, but believed this was a passing phase, so didn’t press the issue.
I met them when Alyssa was 15 and in her freshman year at high school. She had become secretive and argumentative with her parents. Amy had discovered some concerning texts that Alyssa had exchanged with a boy from school. She saw an Instagram post that referred to Alyssa cutting herself. Robert was dismayed, asking “Where did she go?” He told me that Alyssa spent at least 5 hours a day on social media.
Amy and Robert knew they needed to take action to help Alyssa. They read about adolescent brain development and realized that being angry with their daughter would only fire up her emotional brain. If that happened, they knew she would become angry and wouldn’t reflect on her decisions. The emotional part of her brain would dominate the part that was under construction – the prefrontal cortex.
So instead, they took a longer term view and knew it was vital that she develop more awareness and evaluate her online decisions. By taking a calmer approach, they enabled her to think through the potential consequences of her impulsive texts and posts.
They worked on remaining calm and talked with her about her social media use in a practical, level-headed way. They learned that while most of her friends online were supportive regarding her emotional turmoil, some were mean-spirited. They helped her sort through who to unfriend and why.
By being interested and understanding without lecturing or punishing, they modeled how to manage difficult emotions, a vital skill for adolescents to learn.
Because of this, they were in a better position to set limits and open up an ongoing conversation. Perhaps most importantly, they opened the door to a closer relationship with Alyssa, who now sees her parents as approachable.