Balancing Adolescent Emotions
The transition from childhood to adolescence can be, and usually is, a difficult one; for both the budding teen and parents, alike. Many girls understandably struggle with issues about their identity, self-esteem, relationships, body image and mood. Adolescents have a natural urge to assert their independence and explore their limits; they do this by taking risks, breaking rules, and rebelling against their parents while still relying on them for support. They also have to cope with disconcerting new sexual impulses and romantic feelings. These mixed emotions can become overwhelming at times and can set a tumultuous stage between teenagers and their parents.
Adolescent development begins due to hormonal changes, which trigger a new configuration of the brain. What this new brain will look like in the future depends on the teen’s regular behavioural patterns at the time. The process can be accelerated or delayed based on stress levels, social factors, genetics, lifestyle, past experiences, and personal decisions. This means that the maturation window of adolescence may remain open in abnormal situations. It also means that the level of support received in every aspect of a teens life is directly related to how she will bloom and establish herself as a separate and independent person. When not fully supported to become her true self, adolescents are at an increased risk of developing illness or mood disorders.
A teen’s intellectual maturity is not in question. Abstract reasoning, memory, and the formal capacity for planning are fully developed by age 15 or 16. However, adolescents, compared to adults, find it more difficult to interrupt an action that is currently underway. For example, they find it more difficult to stop speeding, check how deep water is before diving, or even choose between safer and riskier alternatives at the moment. It is easy for them to say that they would not get into a car with a drunk driver, but more difficult to turn down the invitation in practice. Adolescents' judgment can be affected by the urge for new experiences, thrill-seeking, and sexual and aggressive impulses. They sometimes seem driven to seek experiences that produce strong feelings and sensations.
Parents often feel challenged or even overwhelmed during their children’s transition into adolescence. Many of them struggle to maintain a positive relationship with their daughter who is changing so rapidly right before their eyes. The sweetness of childhood is often replaced by irritability and rebelliousness. Communication seems increasingly off, one side not understanding the other. If an adolescent's emotions are not validated and redirected in a positive way, they tend to cope with their disappointment and frustration in one of two ways: either they turn inward and portray signs of depression, moodiness, or physical illness or, their anger is turned outward as hostility toward peers, parents, or other authority figures.
Not having her emotional needs met can also become a setup for self-destructive behaviors of all kinds, including substance abuse, getting involved in destructive relationships, or engaging in multiple body piercings and tattoos. Finding a way to guide your adolescent daughter through the rough waters of her teenage years is not easy and requires an individual blend of nurture and limit setting. But making the conscious decision to be there for her and ride this rollercoaster with her is a great start. Then, you may be able to listen to your daughter with sympathy and curiosity of who she truly is. instead of with judgment. You may start to understand the hidden meanings of her unfamiliar behaviour and her peculiar choice of words. And most importantly, you will be able to maintain and even strengthen your relationship with each other.
There are multiple levels of awareness involved in cultivating emotional balance.
While these may appear to be simple and straightforward, for an adolescent girl they are quite difficult to achieve. Guiding and helping girls through these phases, by modelling and demonstrating them yourself, will help them understand what they are feeling and how to express their feelings appropriately.
#1: Be consciously aware that you are experiencing an emotion. This involves simply noticing and acknowledging that you are feeling something, even if you cannot determine specifically what the feeling is. It also includes being honest with yourself, for instance, acknowledging a feeling that you don’t like instead of pushing it away.
#2: Identify the particular emotion. To do so without external help, turn your focus inward and allow yourself to experience that emotion in your body. This might involve meditating, journaling or closing your eyes for deeper reflection. Different emotions are typically experienced in different parts of the body. Some examples are that anger might manifest as tightness in your neck and shoulders, sadness as an aching in your chest, fear as a knot in your stomach, and joy as warmth in your heart.
#3: Put the emotion into words. Saying aloud, “I’m feeling anxious” or “I’m feeling fearful” or “I’m feeling sad” can feel quite liberating. Putting the emotions you are feeling into simple spoken self-statements creates the space you can use to respond intentionally rather than reacting unconsciously or automatically.
Emotional regulation involves identifying the emotions that are being felt in the moment, and observing them without being overwhelmed by them. Regulation skills include self-soothing activities that help to reduce emotional intensity and provide a calming effect, such as: meditation, intentional breathing, yoga, listening to music you enjoy, progressive muscle relaxation, taking a walk or a hike, reading something pleasurable or spiritual, singing a favorite song, exercising, visualizing a comforting/relaxing image, journaling, etc. If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t have time to do any of the above, for example, you are in the middle of a heated discussion, try to step aside for just a few seconds and take a few deep breaths. It can help calm your emotions instantly.
The practice of distress tolerance involves accepting discomfort, and skillfully learning to withstand emotional pain or upset. Distress tolerance enhances your ability to cope with emotional strain by strengthening your resiliency. Building your emotional tolerance is an expansion of mindfulness practices, and involves the ability to nonjudgmentally accept both yourself and the current situation; in spite of any emotional discomfort it may bring.
It is important to clarify that acceptance of your emotions does not necessarily mean approving of them; it is, rather, learning to accept and co-exist with uncomfortable, distressing emotions with grace, dignity, and respect.
Emotions, especially powerful, disturbing ones, might seem permanent in the moment and we may feel that they will last forever. However, whether they are positive and bring smiles to our face or painful and bring hurt to our hearts and tears to our eyes, feelings are always temporary. They come and go like guests who come to visit: some are welcome and others, we would perhaps prefer would stay away. Sometimes they leave sooner than we would like; other times, they stay past their welcome — but it is important to keep in mind that eventually, intense emotions will fade.
ROLE OF PARENTS
To start, it is important to understand that all adolescent emotions are simply messages from their inner guidance system, as are your own. Each emotion is telling you something you should know and it should be felt in its entirety in order to be released. Not giving your teen a place to freely express her emotions without judgment causes the suppression of her feelings, which can lead to the development of illness or the urge to act out.
If your daughter does become moody or rebellious, give her space instead of attempting to cheer her up or change the emotions she is experiencing. It is crucial that your teen listens to and identifies her inner guidance that is needed to reach her own solutions. Make yourself available to speak to in a non-forceful and inviting way. However, parents will also need to make it clear that while regulating her emotions, her feelings have the ability to affect others. Taking time to figure out how to solve her problems is beneficial, but she needs to figure out how to solve them in a way that doesn’t negatively impact everyone else in the family.
Lastly, recognize that you are your daughter’s most important role model. She is constantly observing your relationships with your friends, partner, and colleagues. Your daughter will learn from seeing relationships that have respect, empathy and positive ways of resolving conflict. She is also observing how you manage your own emotions. Therefore, when you feel moody, tired and unsociable, instead of withdrawing from your daughter, you could say, “I’m tired and moody. I feel I can’t talk now without getting upset. Can we have this conversation after dinner?” Doing so will help your daughter identify what positively recognizing and managing her emotions correctly looks like.