Teenagers need permission to feel

Each parent has a universal wish to see their child healthy and happy. These wishes seem reasonably attainable, but it feels less straightforward once your child becomes a teenager. According to The State of the World’s Children report (2021) by UNICEF, one in seven teenagers have a mental illness, and suicide is one of the top five leading causes of death among teenagers. As parents, we attempt to remain flexible while working full-time, managing each family member’s schedule, staying in contact with friends and living a healthy lifestyle. This often does not leave much time and energy to focus on our teenager’s mental state. In addition to this lack of time, teenagers often struggle to express their emotions. Drs. Marc Brackett and Brene Brown discuss this lack of time and difficulty understanding emotions on the podcast Unlocking Us: Permission to Feel.

Dr. Brackett mentions that we often ask some variation of “how do you feel?”, but we rarely expect and desire to give or receive an honest answer. The reason for this is two-fold: first, dealing with someone else’s emotions can be time-consuming. Second, and most importantly, it can be daunting and uncomfortable to admit or hear about sadness, anger, fear and anxiety. It is often difficult for both parents and teenagers to talk about emotions, because we might not know how to make sense of them and how to support our teenagers through their feelings.

Identifying, naming and understanding the causes and consequences of one’s emotions are skills that most of us did not learn when we were younger. As a result, we avoid talking about emotions because they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable. However, emotions are unavoidable. We all experience various emotions in a given day, whether we talk about them or not. Avoiding talking about our feelings often leads to depression and anxiety, which impacts how we perceive ourselves, others and the world around us. Emotions can feel foreign, but they become a powerful tool for growth and change when we are able to understand and process feelings. As parents, it is essential to create time and space to explore and understand emotions from a curious and non-judgmental perspective. This may be in your home, or it may be in therapy. Creating an environment in which emotions can be explored and dealt with in a healthy way may be the key to longer-term health and happiness.

Written by Vernandi Dyzel, psychologist
Kühler & Partners