Lisa Damour: Understanding Today’s Teenagers

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How hard is it to be a parent today? After a pandemic? With social media breathing down our necks? It’s so hard! Navigating the delicate balance between granting independence and providing guidance can be daunting as a parent.

Dr. Lisa Damour (New York Times bestselling author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers) has dedicated her life to unraveling the intricacies of adolescence and offering practical, heartfelt advice.

In this conversation, Lisa and Kate:

  • offer a more reassuring definition of mental health (hint: it’s about having the right-sized feelings that fit the situation at hand and managing those feelings effectively).
  • emphasize the importance of being a steady presence in kids’ lives, as well as offer scripts to try with your own teenager
  • give language to what parents might be feeling if they missed this kind of parenting themselves

CW: Mental Health awareness

Watch clips from this conversation, read the full transcript, and access discussion questions by clicking here.

Follow Kate on InstagramFacebook, or X (formerly known as Twitter).



Kate Bowler, Lisa Damour

Kate Bowler  01:51

Hey, I’m Kate bowler, and this is everything happens.


Kate Bowler  02:03

So raising teenagers bad or even just the thought of raising teenagers feels different today than it used to or so says my mom, long gone are the landlines, mixtapes, and the three TV channels that I would fight my sisters over. You might find yourself needing a teenager to adult dictionary to help us decode their language of shoulder shrugs and whatever mid means. And yes, I think this rant officially indicates that I am gloriously and wonderfully old. But the world has changed, hasn’t it. And navigating that delicate balance between granting independence and providing guidance can be daunting. Especially as we hear about the ways that teenagers mental health has been so affected by the pandemic, by social media, and by the social pressures that still exist from when we were young. I was once a teenager waiting for a reason to listen to the Reality Bites soundtrack and wear more eyeliner than the Lord intends, it was wonderful. But you just get the feeling that every person who’s young is doing it for the first time. And in a way we all are. We get a lot of questions from you beautiful listeners about talking to young adults in your life about hard topics and navigating their mental health concerns. So I wanted to talk about this very subject with one of my absolute favorite experts. Dr. Lisa Damour.


Kate Bowler  03:35

Lisa is she’s the best. She’s a psychologist, author, and advocate for the well being of young minds. She is the author of three New York Times bestsellers, including her latest the emotional lives of teenagers, which I find myself referencing like about once a week and I don’t even have a teenager in my house. She co hosts the wonderfully practical ask Lisa podcast. It’s so good. Every episode focuses on like just one topic that you have a question about. And she it’s just entirely like her the way she has dedicated her career to unraveling the intricacies of adolescence and offering practical heartfelt advice. And I also had the great joy of being able to talk to her about this in person over a cup of coffee, which was a complete delight. Guys, she really is the real deal. This is a conversation for anyone who works with teens who loves a teen or was once a teen. Yeah, that means you too. Here we go.


Kate Bowler  04:42

Lisa, I feel so lucky that we’re sitting down because your work is so kind and sharp and insightful. And also when I realized that you also have a deep and abiding let’s say hatred but maybe hatred of toxic positivity, my heart lit up. I hate it to say we hate it. You really make a strong argument about how our preference for positive emotion might actually not be good news when it comes to parenting. Can you walk me through some of that?


Lisa Damour  05:17

Sure well, first, let me to say it’s such an honor and a treat to be with you so thank you for having.


Kate Bowler  05:22

Thank you.


Lisa Damour  05:23

So I wrote a book recently, the emotional lives of teenagers in which I truly lay out an argument that is not at all novel, not at all innovative. There’s nothing controversial about it is straight down the middle of psychological science. And basically, the argument of the book is that the cultural discourse around what constitutes mental health has veered extremely far afield, from what we know to be true of psychologists. And what I mean by that is that so often when people are talking about mental health or being mentally healthy, either directly or implicitly, they equate that with feeling good. They just feeling good, right? Happy and easily, you know, and those are lovely things but psychologists, the rest of us were like, that has nothing to do with mental health like that actually has like, it doesn’t even figure in like, we have nothing against happiness. But that’s not that’s never bad, how we size this up. And so I wrote this book to do my little part to try to course correct about what mental health even is. And so in the book, I bring across a definition that I came up with, but it’s basically standard to the field, which is, mental health is about two things, having feelings that fit the situation, even if they’re not pleasant feelings. And then probably more important, managing those feelings effectively going about coping in a way that brings relief and does no harm. So we can unpack that 40 ways but it’s, I think, in the end, a vastly more reassuring definition of mental health, because it does not hinge on the idea that you could get to a place of feeling good and stay there. That has never been on the menu. It doesn’t need to be on the menu. It is much more about how we handle the vicissitudes of life.


Kate Bowler  07:21

It just reminds me of one of the most sane, early thoughts I had, after my diagnosis was and it was just it was in the form of a prayer. It was like, God, let me see the world as it really is. And that, because in I just felt so much pressure to be so performative. But when you describe, wouldn’t it be nice if we allowed people to have feelings that fit their situation? I think, wow, I initially, I found that thought almost an impossible one to reach for. And you make an argument that culturally, we may just, I’m thinking maybe for the last 50 or so years, I imagined, like since the rise of an overwhelmingly certain kind of therapeutic paradigm, we we are more and more worried about negative emotion. And we have it now you’re thinking like a cultural and maybe medical preference for grouping everyone on the more positive side?


Lisa Damour  08:18

That’s, I think that’s exactly right. I’ll put it to you back in the inverse, because I think this is so often how it comes across is that, you know, we have all these headlines right now on the adolescent mental health crisis, which is real. But we also have all these headlines that equate psychological distress with a mental health crisis, you know, so often when I’m looking at the paper and how these things are communicated at scale, being in psychological distress is often seen as the equivalent to having a mental health crisis. And the way we actually think about it, as psychologists is often the opposite. And what I mean by that is, there are plenty of times where we expect to see distress and are more concerned about its absence than its presence. So garden variety examples. Say your kid has a huge test tomorrow, and they have not even started studying, we want to see anxiety. Under those conditions, we are much more worried about the kid who is feeling nothing in that moment. Your best friend moves away we expect to see sadness, we’re much more worried about someone who has no reaction to that. And so my work right now is really around trying to advance a view that is quite literally 180 degrees away from the cultural message right now, which is, you know, psychological distress mental health concern. And I’m like, unless it’s not unless you’re extremely excellent mental health. That happens. When I say it’s, so this is not earth shattering stuff. It’s just that the discourse has moved we moved very severely in one direction.


Kate Bowler  10:03

And then you worry that we might have such an intense over response that we’re like, okay, then medication or one medication can be appropriate. But you’re just like, like, it sounds like you want to stretch out the pause between like a bad feeling and what we do next.


Lisa Damour  10:18

Right and I think the worries I have like the reason I’m committed to this, you know, effort right now is, it’s scary under any conditions for a person to think I’m deeply distressed. Does that mean I have a mental health concern? Like that’s like, I don’t want people to have to worry like that. And then, you know, I’ve worked on adolescents, my whole career and 30 years into taking care of teenagers. By its nature, adolescence is this highly disruptive time with a lot of emotionality and a lot of negative emotions. And so then, you know, the thing I think about all the time as these headlines come one after another, it’s I think, like, what must it be like to have your first teenager, to have them having these sort of garden variety meltdowns, which I promise you teenagers have always had? Mine included, and looking at this in your kitchen, and you’re thinking, is this adolescence? Or is this an adolescent mental health crisis? Because it looks like a crisis? Like no question, and I just ache for the parents and caregivers who are trying to raise probably typically developing adolescence, in the context of a lot of worry about teenagers, and I think a lot of misunderstanding about mental health and teenagers.


Kate Bowler  11:34

I can, it just makes me think, too, that one of the interventions that I hear most commonly because I’m reading a history of self help right now. And then some of the recommendations, you know exactly where my brain is going, they’re like, great, well, then, then what we need to do in order to prevent any kind of mental distress is self care. And if we teach them a certain regimen of like, and then it just becomes like, what, like bubble baths forever? Like, how’s that gonna go.


Lisa Damour  12:00

It’s actually I don’t know, I wasn’t the person who had this thought, it came up in a conversation with a friend, and it came actually through a religious leader in our community. And so I don’t know who said it, and I can’t give proper credit, but I’m not going to claim it as my own. And this person made the observation, you know, like, so self care, is very self focused. It’s very focused on the self. And if we want to feel better, often, it’s actually about thinking about what other people need and caring for others and making oneself of us. And, you know, not to some, you know, torturous extreme, you know, not to some martyrdom, but you know, there’s a real limit on how much self care can help us feel good about ourselves.


Kate Bowler  12:42

And my mind was just underlined that. It does seem like it might run the risk of, if we’re so worried about an unhappy teenager, and then more so and then we want either to like, bubble, wrap it with a lot of, well, I studied, like, the limitations of affirmations, but a lot of like, attempt to just constantly reframe in a positive direction, or then okay, well, then boundaries, boundaries around yourself. And then so when you say, well, actually, it’s being attuned with other people, I think that is a worry that like, how do we create, that we created like nurture empathy, in when our response might be like, okay, let’s just, let’s just protect them more.


Lisa Damour  13:28

So I would say, let’s simplify it and say it’s a two part process. So I think a huge part of how we nurture empathy and teenagers is actually to be deeply empathic with them. I think that there’s a lot of good work that gets done in modeling, like really feeling deeply with a teenager taking their feelings very seriously, caring very much about what they feel, I think that’s how we create the capacity for them to turn around and do that for other people. I think it’s actually really essential that we start there. But then I think the second part is to keep at already in terms of ways to feel better, right? So I’ve been very empathic with you now what will help you feel better. Keeping very high on the list, going and making yourself useful. You will feel better, right? And doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it. It doesn’t mean you’re going to feel better instantly. But keeping that available as a key option, in terms of how we help young people feel better.


Kate Bowler  17:07

How dare you advocate, sir.


Kate Bowler  17:36

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  17:39

If people are noticing, like a parent is noticing a really big feeling in their teenager, how can they have a little bit more framework around whether that feeling is like too big, and they need help? Or if it’s in a reasonable range of up and down?


Lisa Damour  17:55

It’s a really tough question for parents to be able to assess in the moment. And the reason for this is that teenagers have incredibly potent emotions, and they just do it’s the nature of adolescents. And it’s true for their positive feelings, you know, they’re more like yeah, about anything than they will ever be again. But when they’re down, they are down and it is scary. There’s some things that are very, you know, easy, easy red lines, right? Like, you know, if you have any reason to think the teenager may be a risk to themselves or others like obviously, like, you know, call out the brigades. Mostly what we want to see is that whatever mood a teenager has, it doesn’t last that long. That teenagers, you know, the term we use technically are highly labile. They move from one feeling state to another. And so what I want to see is, maybe they had a rotten night, and they were really upset. And the parent was tender and empathic and supportive and listened, and said, What would help you feel better? And the kid says, nothing, will help me feel better. And then you say, okay, well, I’m gonna go watch TV, if you want to join me feel free is an hour later, it’s as though nothing happened. Or the kids actually gleeful about something. You’re looking at typical adolescence. Or the next day, right? I mean, they may have made me really sad through the night. We only really worry about adolescent moods if they go to a concerning place, and then hang out there. And you don’t have to wait that long. I mean, two days is a really long time for a teenager to be you know, deeply upset or paralyzed by anxiety or horrendously angry, you know, two days is a really long time in the life of a teenager. So it’s more around how long it lasts, and less around the depths of the emotion because they feel things deeply.


Kate Bowler  19:46

I picture like elasticity when you’re talking, like the expanding contracting.


Lisa Damour  19:51

Yeah, you gotta ride it. And and I think that the challenge that ideal responsive apparent, is very easy to describe. enormously hard to do. It’s to try to be a steady presence. So you have this kid who’s having a massive emotion. And even in the midst of that part of what they’re doing is they’re reading the response of the adult. And if the adult joins them right there, you know, the kid is deeply upset about how a grade came through or a breakup. And then the adult is just as upset as the worse will they will they match the it would scare the bejesus out of the kid because the killer thing like I thought this was a 15 year old says problem. This is apparently a 52 year old size problem, right? So that’s why even if we’re not feeling steady inside, if we can do our best to try to seem steady, that’s a real gift to kids. So we want to try to do that, which often also means getting our own support and our own having our own people to call and going for […]  that’s the gift we can give them is to not overreact to try to help them maintain a sense of perspective by keeping you know, grip on our own.


Kate Bowler  21:01

And would you describe that as like, because I’m, as you can already tell, like not great at robot face.


Lisa Damour  21:09

Yeah, very stretchy, easy to read face.


Kate Bowler  21:11

Yeah, so Should someone like me go for like, empathic and just empathic presence, a warmth and not bananas.


Lisa Damour  21:21

My face would do a lot […] kids can read better than anybody. I have, two daughters. My younger one who’s about to be 13 said to me recently, she’s like, I can tell from the look on your face when you have stopped listening to what I’m saying and are waiting for me to pause. So you can tell me something? And I’m like, I’m sure you can.


Kate Bowler  21:41

You make such a good thing about that and I’ve been thinking about, I love your book. And I just thought about it a lot when you wrote it, and I’m thinking about in terms of like parenting and friendships, but like, you really don’t want us to jump on, jump on the problem. No, half a breath, quarter a breath.


Lisa Damour  21:58

At least, at least because here’s the thing. That’s almost never what people want. And it’s funny, I’ll tell you that adults example. Like I give a million in the book about parents and teenagers. But um, 5 – 10 years ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s father, it wasn’t a tragedy it was an old guy. We were all there as friends, you know, to support our friend whose dad had died. And I ran into a friend of mine named Lisa. And I hadn’t seen her for a while. And like, Lisa, how are you? And she’s like, I need back surgery, and I go, oh, me, that sucks. She goes, thank you oh, my God, thank you. She’s like, everybody else is like, well, have you tried? Of course, I have done things like, just like, sign up for back surgery. She’s like, Thank you for just agreeing that this sucks you know? Like, there it is, like his while very, very powerful thing. Oh, my gosh, that really sucks. So I try but of course, in my own parenting, I mess this up, like, on an hourly basis.


Kate Bowler  23:02

I will fix problems no one’s asked me to fix. I mean, I’m like taking apart a car and putting it back together it was fine.


Lisa Damour  23:08

It was fine, there’s no reason yes, another one that has extreme value for teenagers. It’s valuable to anybody, but has special value for teenagers and I’ll say why is to say anybody in your shoes would be upset. And so it’s just it’s another version of just pure empathy, you know, not adding anything for teenagers. They can find their emotions very destabilizing. And I remember in my training, I was on my postdoc or something. So I wasn’t like, totally new, but I’m still pretty new as a clinician. And I had a senior supervisor say to me something that when she said it, I didn’t believe it. I thought it’s not true. She said, you need to work with the assumption that all teenagers secretly worry that they’re crazy. And I was like, and now over time, I’m like, yeah, and I think it’s because a couple of things happened in adolescence. One is that emotions that were not so intense, become more intense, you know, 9 10 11 year olds, like, they’re cool, like, you know, stuff doesn’t really get to them. And so then you have a 13 year old, who as a function of neurological changes, is feeling things very, very vividly. But can remember being 11 and not losing it over the same thing. They’re losing it over now, so that’s very concerning to them. And then at 14, and these are all like, you know, averages. There’s a cognitive watershed, a neurological watershed, where a new gear gets added to their thinking, like, they add a dimension, they add the capacity for abstraction, and it’s got nothing to do with intelligence. It’s just the brain developing. But they can start to think about thinking and they can start to you know, imagine strange things and they can, you know, suddenly have very profound thoughts, which for a lot of kids can be pretty weird, but so you have these sweet 13 and 14 year olds who are like their feelings are on steroids. They’re thinking but they haven’t had before. It is scary for them and so when they get upset to have a tender adult, say, anyone in your shoes would be this upset, is it’s a twofer. And here’s the two for like one is you’re giving empathy, and the other is, you’re not crazy. And that’s really what they are needing to hear.


Kate Bowler  25:19

Yeah, one of the other things I really like about how you frame the validation experience is with the precision of language, because I remember how much I’ve cherished it. When someone says, you’re upset because this is really upsetting. You’re mad, because this is infuriating. Like that was late in the game for me, but like the right language to even try to shade in some of the colors of my feelings also really felt like that was I’m just thinking of the like, things that made me feel not crazy. Can they have precision in there? Is it hard for them to match up the feeling that they’re having in their body with like the word?


Lisa Damour  26:03

I think it’s hard for most people, I think there is an interesting phenomenology around teenagers now that has emerged in last 10 to 15 years, where there’s a huge amount of discourse around using mental health terms. You know, a lot of social media arbitrated, you know, sort of permeated society.


Kate Bowler  26:25

I have that kind of mass apologizing.


Lisa Damour  26:28

Yeah, or mass use of pathological terms to describe what may often be everyday experiences, you know, and I say this, like, mostly just as an observer, you know, I just like to watch what they do. So one of the things is that, I think more now than even an earlier like, this one, I was like, decades when I practiced, teens can be very quick to use terms like anxiety, depression, in this very, very broad way. It can rub adults the wrong way. And I understand why, but what I would say is like, treat it as an opportunity, you know, they’ve brought you to the neighborhood, right? Like they’re feeling uneasy, or they’re feeling sad, like down. And then your job is to help them locate a more precise house within that neighborhood. So you say you feel anxious, okay, now an anxious neighborhood, tell me a little bit more, oh, you’re really angry at your you and your friend are in a fight. Or you’re not sure what to wear to this party that you’re really excited about, you know, something you say, I hear that you feel anxious, I’m wondering if we’re also feeling like, really frustrated with your friend, or I wonder if like, you’re anxious about the party, but also kind of like excited to go, you know, so we can just take it as an overture that allows us to hone in on something more specific and blow past the fact that they may use these broad generic terms, and they may not use them accurately, opposed to being like.


Kate Bowler  27:52

We haven’t gone through that evaluation process.


Lisa Damour  27:56

We don’t have to do that. And there’s, there’s let me give you two good reasons why it’s worth doing that. So one good reason is language on its own, reduces distress. So the act of saying, I feel sad, I feel worried, you know, just uttering the word. We have objective physiological measures that tell us that the mere utterance of a feeling word reduces the intensity of the emotion is kind of an extraordinary, and actually, in many ways, truly magical thing. The other is thinking, Kate, like those people who you told how you were feeling like I’m mad, and they’re like mad, you should be infuriated. Okay, that is a profound expression of empathy, because they’re like, I’ll see you and raise you. You think you feel mad? I can actually listen so thoughtfully that I can return to you something even more precise than what you gave me. Which means I was really less than, you know. So there’s no and I feel yeah.


Kate Bowler  29:03

And what I love about all of it, is like, it’s not easy, but it’s very economical, right? This is all free.


Lisa Damour  29:12

And it doesn’t take much. I think that people jump to the big project of like, oh, I have a friend who knows how to do back surgery in your area, right, as opposed to.


Kate Bowler  29:24

That’s the perfect analogy. Because I think the other temptation, I mean, especially if someone I don’t know, has an expertise in one thing, then they hear it and they’re like, oh, I’m out of my league, like out of my league is a big feeling.


Lisa Damour  29:38

Yeah, it is and, and so I hope I can just offer reassurance. That’s okay people don’t want your expertise. Like they really don’t like what they want is someone to acknowledge like, you’re in a pickle, like and I’m really sorry, and I care about you and I wish you weren’t this way.


Kate Bowler  29:53

Yeah, I do really love when people have the right term for what they experienced. Like I had a friend recently who had a terrible job travel experience. And I would have said it was some kind of like, socially displacing emergency and he was like, oh, no, I just got boondoggle. And boondoggle is such a funny word about like, I like that feeling of like accidentally being waylaid. And I was like, wow, the right word really does sort of paint the picture what actually.


Lisa Damour  30:17

Yeah, and then contains it, it makes it you can play with it. You can show it to people. You can look at it from different sides. Yeah, I mean, that’s what therapy is at its best I mean, all we have, the only tool we have is language. In the kinds of therapy I’m trained in nice. And that’s why it works, right? Because as soon as you have an experience that felt amorphous or overwhelming, or isolating, and alienating, as soon as you can bring it across into language, now you can go do all sorts of things with it. And that’s like, I love my job. Because that’s what we get to do.


Kate Bowler  30:59

It was just thinking I see so much joy, vocational joy. When you talk about like, helping someone find the right, like hold it up to the light in a certain way.


Lisa Damour  31:08

Yeah, when we’re doing our job well as clinicians that’s what we’re doing. We’re not fixing problems, but helping people talk about what they’ve been through.


Kate Bowler  31:24

We’ll be right back.


Kate Bowler  33:02

I wondered if you could help me understand a little bit about the gendered nature of these dynamics that there’s different biological processes that might create a different category of experience for teenage boys and girls for the most part.


Lisa Damour  33:42

Yeah. I actually wouldn’t say there’s, there’s very little biological, very little, to the degree that there are biological precursors that set boys down one path and girls down a very distinct other path when it comes to the nature of how they express their emotions. Boys are a bit more active, starting in utero. And that activity can look like aggression as they get into, you know, toddlerhood and we have a lot of research showing that can easily be channeled into non aggressive behaviors. But sometimes I think there can be like, oh, boys will be boys. And then they’re allowed to be aggressive in ways that are not kosher. These are cultural framework. These are cultural frameworks. But they’re powerful. So the cultural frameworks are hugely powerful, and they start early. And they’re surprisingly basic, and predictable, which is, you know, girls are supposed to be, you know, warm and tender and boys are supposed to be tough and invincible, and those messages are transmitted very, very powerfully to our kids.


Kate Bowler  34:55

How early will they feel those differences.


Lisa Damour  34:57

Early and I will tell you though, like, the best part about writing a book I’m sure you’ve had this experience is you end up learning all sorts of things, you know, like, you go in with the things you mean to say, and then you’re like, Oh, I thought it was gonna say that, but it turns out that actually, when I really, really spend time on it, you know, it changes gears. And for me and reading this book, what I thought it was gonna say is, girls get to be vulnerable. And, you know, sad, boys get to be angry and tough. The boys piece held up right in terms of the cultural scripts and what is allowable for boys, they ride in this incredibly narrow channel of emotion like anything, a one lane and it really no two lanes, they can express two emotions, freely anger, and pleasure at someone else’s expense. Like that’s what the culture gives boys, it’s horrible. Girls actually enjoy many lanes on their highway. So they get to be sad, they get to be anxious. There’s plenty anger and girls that they show. And that piece was a little less expected. For me. There’s a huge asterisk on that, which is if you are black, that is not a safe thing to do. But when we look at the data of the expression of anger and girls, what we see is little boys express more anger than girls do, adolescent girls express more anger than boys do. And then I like laughed at this research paper, except for one form of anger where girls outpaced boys all through development, which is the expression of disdain. Like, ask about this, also ask about who’s expressing as like, they have a 13 year old daughter.


Kate Bowler  36:51

I feel condescended to and you’re younger than.


Lisa Damour  36:54

So that’s the nature of it and then the other thing I learned and the writing of the book, it kind of opened my eyes to something which is because girls and women are cultivated to talk about feelings, be comfortable expressing feelings. And it came as no surprise as I got deeper into this that so often what I would get the question of like, how do I get my son to talk about his feelings? It was the mother asking me this. And as I did the work on looking at the research about boys and looking at how byes, third, fourth, fifth grade at the latest, boys start to feel like oh, feelings are for girls toughness is for boys. Then if the only person let’s say in this heterosexual family who’s asking about feelings, is their mother, they’re like, see, proves my point. Feelings are for girls. And so for me, the big takeaway from reading through those sections was if we really want boys to talk about their feelings, it actually is the men in their lives who need to be like hey, buddy, how you feeling? And hey, buddy, here’s how I’m feeling because I worry now in a new way that all these really well meaning moms are entrenching the exact thing they are trying to get out, you know, you’re trying to change.


Kate Bowler  38:11

I have my child with this giant fishy eyes also has my same absolutely jello face, like all the feelings. And I keep looking at him kind of wondering when I won’t see all this the range of feelings? Because that’s just one of the most defining quality about modern manhood is you get like the amusement and  like Meanwhile, I’m just like then that little up and down trying to like get the other. But I just I would I one of the things I would really grieve is a is a flatness of an effect, when I just see this like Technicolor face, right?


Lisa Damour  38:45

You’ll see, you’ll see. I also think there can be home roles and world rules. You know, and I hate that they’re under being world rules for boys, you know, I but I’m also a pretty realistic person. And I think if you say to your son, you can cry on the playground, there will be no ramifications. But I think there can be conversations where you say, of course you’re sad, and of course you’re weeping. That’s exactly the right feeling at the right time. I think it’s really dumb that you can’t do this in front of you know, your peers and if anyone does do it in front of you like you’re going to be the guy who supports him like I think you can have those conversations but I don’t think it’s an all or nothing.


Kate Bowler  39:25

Yeah, I hope so. With this some description of how different I don’t know the right word, but like disorders, I guess, also have gendered aspects because our cultural scripts like box genders in a different way. Could you describe those for me a bit.


Lisa Damour  39:47

So there are a few cardinal rules in psychology like some things you’ll learn along the way that like no one disagrees with and you know, in the field and one of them is under distress. Girls tend to internalize and boys tend to externalize. So girls tend to collapse in on themselves. And in the extreme, it shows up as depression and anxiety disorders. And boys tend to act out to misbehave to be hard on others. And truly, there’s minimal biological coding for this. It really is the culture has said like, these are the this is what’s allowed, right? You know, girls, if you’re upset, you collapse boys, you act out. And there’s a lot of problems with this. I mean, this feels great. Not good, not good for anybody and partly because, you know, we have a lot of boys who are suffering a whole lot, but it’s going seen as you know, a disciplinary response as opposed to recognizing that there’s a lot of pain underneath.


Kate Bowler  40:48

Because like on the girls side that we worry about. Bulimia, anorexia, nervous kinds of makes me sound 19th century nervous disorders, stereo traveling rooms and things. Fold in yeah, like what is the language then if we were going to like sharpen our focus on the distressing?


Lisa Damour  41:08

Yeah, how do we know when to worry about a boy, right? I mean, I think so sure, this is hard because it ends up being anecdotal, right? And I don’t usually like to hang out in the anecdotal world like I come from the scientific side. I like like to be like, well, we have a study show this and study show that so I will say those things. The rumblings though, and I hear rumblings, right, the kinds of things around like, right, I worry. I worry about boys who are spending a lot of time in digital environments that are like, misogyny central. I mean, like virally, misogynistic, and violent video games are an interesting thing. The data don’t say what people want the data to say. But people want the data to say is that if your boy plays violent video games, or if your kid plays violent video games, they will suddenly become violent. We actually don’t have those data, but we do have tells us that they will move up on the violence scale. So if your kids pretty mellow, doesn’t do a lot, it may be a little more irritable or something, but it’s not going to cause him to become very dangerous. If a kid has a lot of trouble with aggression, they should not be playing violent video games, like we can say that with a lot of confidence. Everything in between is murkier. And it’s one of those places where I know what we can say as scientists is not actually as satisfying to parents as I think they wish it were. And actually, as I wish it worked, but I worry about that I worry about here’s the thing I worry about. You can tell this is unfocused. Like I’m still like, feeling my way.  I’m suppression of emotion as a default response. And the ease with which one can suppress emotion by spending a lot of time online and spending a lot of time gaming, you know.


Kate Bowler  42:52

Whatever the gaming is, is so soothing. It’s such a flattening way.


Lisa Damour  42:56

Yeah, so I think if you know, if somebody were like, tomorrow, you need to make a measure that gets at early indicators of distress and boys, I think it would move into that neighborhood of where are you spending the most time online. How many hours. Are you playing video games, you know, when you’re upset? How do you help yourself feel better, and having the talking about, you know, distraction and like giving lots of options? We got to pick it up in boys, and we are.


Kate Bowler  43:29

Yeah, I was in it sometimes I go to these like structured debates. And one of them was about, like, the kind of version of masculinity created by the first sort of come into adulthood generation raised on video games. And that the form of masculinity, which when I when I heard your description of like, under duress, like girls might discuss then then boys might distract. And then I thought, wow, generation very accustomed to a an immersive, but also not emotionally dynamic kind of like, hobby turned self just sounded like a self soothing strategy.


Lisa Damour  44:09

Yeah, I’ll just go be on this channel. Yeah, right. Like, I’ll just go to that channel. Yeah. And I will say, just another thing I learned in writing this book, I actually came to be more, I came around a bit on distraction. Like I came to value it more. Because, you know, it’s so easy to be like […] I don’t think it’s that bad […] I’ll tell you, I think a lot of it was the pandemic, you know, that like, how we got through it was like watching as much television as we could, I mean, just trying to wait the thing out with distractions, and then post pandemic, I don’t know, maybe you have this experience, too. And like, I just tracked all the time to regulate myself, right. It’s fantastic to engage and actually, yeah and I’ve come to see and distraction. I’m like, it’s not distraction it’s dosing. That’s the issue, and I had that thought after the book was done, but it’s really improved my do I say it essentially in the book? I don’t say it that way. And dosing is like, it’s got to be the right dose, like enough that you get the relief you need, but you don’t cause a whole bunch of new problems, you know, and so.


Kate Bowler  45:19

Through, set off all the dominoes.


Lisa Damour  45:21

Exactly like you haven’t done your homework, and now you’ve got a huge problem there. So I am I’m having better conversations with teenagers about distraction. When, I make it clear, like no, I’m totally like, I think distraction definitely plays a key role in how we maintain emotional equilibrium. You got to dose it, so you’re not causing trouble for yourself and that those are more successful conversations.


Kate Bowler  45:42

Yeah, if someone has a I’m just gonna say this in a way that feels realistic to me. What if your teenager just has like a horrible personality for a while, and you’re like, kind of I know, I love you in some deep and ontological way. But I feel horrible after I spend time with you, and you are intermittently cruel to me. And I’m not really enjoying our person are good, like, whatever. And I’m, and I’m sure there’s grief in that, like, you used to love me for the love of God, we used to get along to that parent. What do you say?


Lisa Damour  46:16

First of all, what I’ll say is you’re almost certainly describing a typically developing 13 year old girl or 14 year old boy, like so I mean, so like, your audience, your kid isn’t horrible. Know, your kid isn’t horrible and it’s actually incredibly right on time and predictable. And I have a section in the book called White, why your team hates how you chew. And it really is about this point in development where like, you can do nothing, right? Like, everything you do, is just so annoying to them and, I unpack in there, something that, you know, became clear to me actually my own parenting. I’m like, oh, it’s this separation individuation stuff. The theoretical description does not do justice to what it feels like in your house where your kid is like, oh, my God, you’re breathing and so I lay out in the book, why this happens, I think it does help to have and why it’s happening for a certain reason. They’re trying the way I describe it as they’re trying to build their own brand. And it’s kind of a corny way to use it, do it, but it actually works like okay, so you’re, you’ve got your kid, they’re 13 14, they’re like, I need my own brand. This is the separation […] I need your you. Okay, so what that means is, at that time, as your teen is trying to build their brand, anything that you do that is like the version of themselves, they see themselves becoming that is annoying to them. So like, if you have always liked Beyonce, and then suddenly your kid likes Beyonce, it will terrorize her that you also like Beyonce, because Beyonce is part of her emerging brand. But also anything that you do that is not like how they see themselves, like that dorky sweater you want to wear to eighth grade. You know, orientation is also horrible for them because it does not fit with their emerging brand. And because they’re 1314, we’re still pretty closely intertwined. So this is going to, you’re the worst. If it’s like how they see themselves becoming, it’s awful if it’s unlike how they see themselves becoming, it’s awful. Everything we do is awful. Now, it’s horrible, okay, so here’s the it’s get better speech. But then I’ll also tell you what to do in the meantime, because it’s really not fun as a parent. The it gets better as kids start to consolidate a sense of brand. Like they start to get a sense of like, what they’re good at what they’re into, and how it’s distinct from you. And they also have time to develop skills. So the reason this tends to settle down at 14 15 is they’re into high school, they’ve joined a Latin club, or they’re a pitcher on the baseball team, and you don’t do these things like this is their distinct universe. So you can wear that dorky sweater that has nothing to do with me, I’m over here, you know, onto your team, right? Like and that and so then they don’t mind so much. And so that is coming. While you’re in the thick of it. It feels personal, it is not as personal as it feels right. This is really separation individuation doing his job. But the advice I give is you can say to a kid doing this so the kid who you’re like, I love you, but I do not like you right now. You can say to them, you have three options for how you can interact with me. You can be pleasant, that’s my favorite. You can be polite or you can tell me you need space. Everything else is off the table. And that can help keep a little bit of civility, while they’re figuring out their brand. You may not berate me.


Kate Bowler  49:32

You may not humiliate me that you may not use me as a punching bag for Erica versus.


Kate Bowler  49:41

That is nice to feel that like even in the awful part. That it is modeling also just a form of conflict that we want for them in every other way. We would never want them to treat other people even in the worst moments. That sounds like it sets a really nice painful template, a horrible, painful template.


Lisa Damour  50:04

Well, and it’s interesting, that’s a good example of where there’s not home rules and world rules, right? So there may be home rules where you’re like, you can cry here, but I get it, you can’t cry at the fifth grade playground. But I really feel strongly as a parent, like, and I’m not the first person to say this, like, no one will think our kids are as cute as we think our kids are. So like, I really don’t believe like, you get to be a jerk at home. Because I’m like, no, you can’t treat us that way. You can’t treat anybody that way, you won’t fly here won’t fly there. You can’t do it and so I think on the darker stuff, it’s, it’s not fun to put one’s foot down but I think it’s really important.


Kate Bowler  50:38

Yes, this is not who we are to each other.


Lisa Damour  50:41

And actually, if a parent has never treated their child that way, which of course, I would always recommend. It’s very powerful to say, I have never spoken to you that way. You cannot speak to me that way. And so then if a parent’s like, well, actually, I have spoken to my kid that way. Well, now’s the time to revisit and say, You know what, I I’ve spoken to you that way in the past, I was wrong, when I hear coming from your mouth, I was wrong. I will never speak to you that way again. And we’re turning over a new leaf. And I’m gonna ask you to never speak to me that way again. But I think you can hold the standard if you’ve said.


Kate Bowler  51:14

Yes, that also sounds like a very emotional time for the parent, especially if they haven’t been parented in that way. I know all kinds of people who, the second, they’re there, they’re developing their own parenting philosophy has opened up a lot of like, oh, my gosh, like, I probably should have gotten some of this input. I probably should have gotten empathy, what’s commonly known as empathy, hypothetically a perspective in one’s own feelings. What would you say to a parent who’s like, I’m not right now I’m on really shaky ground, because I just didn’t, I didn’t get that.


Lisa Damour  51:52

Oh, man, I, you know, I talk, I tell a story in the book about someone whose daughter goes through something that was not unlike what they went through. The term I use in the book was that for her, it felt like a harrowing psychological Hall of Mirrors. And in what she described to me, and I’ve heard it more than once, is becoming apparent and, you know, which is just an experience, like, you can’t describe […] Yeah like, you have to live this thing that allows one to then revisit one’s own childhood experience, and be able to stand in both spots. Because you know, as a kid, you just didn’t the kids bought in, you’re like, I guess this is how families work. And then when you’re a parent, you’re like, no, it isn’t, I would never speak to my own child that way. And it like, really brings all of this stuff back with a new added dimension of like, whoa, like, my parents made choices that they didn’t have to make, or that a different choice could be made. And because I think as a kid, you know, one of the things I remember learning in my training is, kids work so hard to hold on to their good feelings about their parents. And I think that’s really true. And so then I think, when parents, you know, have a lot of limitations kids be like, but that’s the only option. I’m sure they did the best they could, and then I think for a lot of those people, when they become parents are like, no


Lisa Damour  52:19

Glorifying realism.


Lisa Damour  52:36

And it’s really painful, and it’s really, I think, kind of shocking. I think that’s the experience is that they’re like, oh, like, I see this with new eyes. And it’s a very painful thing. That’s the sad part. Here’s the other thing I’ve heard repeatedly that the act of doing differently for your own kid ends up having a therapeutic effect on oneself. And I just I don’t know, that I’ve ever heard that really talked about enough or written about enough. But you know, of course, I’m a huge fan of therapy. And like, that’s probably a great time as you’re like, there’s a lot more than I realized that I need to unpack, that’s a great time to go back but also like to turn around into for your kid what you wish had been done for you. Like, that’s a beautiful thing.


Kate Bowler  54:13

Yeah practice modeling by creating the template is a lot of work. But man, when you see the the cost of doing it, otherwise, it just feels like someone’s gotta pay it, sometimes it’s just got to be you. You’re intense compassion also, I’m pretty sure I’m in the age group now where movies are being shamelessly marketed toward me as the parent who then is like, actually that kid that’s, that’s an irresponsible choice in the movie. I’m like, a parent waiting up late, worrying that their kid is I don’t think I can watch Netflix teen shows anymore. I think I’m pretty sure this is where I’m landing with that. Lisa, your ability to be empathetic and realistic, and scientifically grounded, and kind of cool has made you an absolutely beautiful person to talk to you.


Lisa Damour  55:08

Thank you so much for doing this with me.


Kate Bowler  55:10

Thank you that was a really lovely thing to say.


Lisa Damour  55:12

I want to have a lot of problems in the future.


Kate Bowler  55:16

I’ll be right there.


Lisa Damour  55:17

This has been a total pleasure, the best.


Kate Bowler  55:35

I just love the way that Lisa makes it feel like we’re all going to be okay. Or teenagers are going to be okay, that big emotions are okay. She gives us such soft, gentle language for acknowledging that this is hard for us and for them. So before I go, here’s a blessing, a blessing for parents of teenagers for just those who love teenagers. I also feel like this should come with one of those slightly heretical votive candles with like a picture of Lisa on the side so that we can all pray to Saint Lisa Damour to give us strength as we navigate these hard seasons of parenting. But no, really, I think I think we all need some of those. Also, though, if blessings are your thing, just know that I do this every week on social media on Instagram and what was once Twitter and Facebook. But regular blessings, especially on Sundays for a variety of topics. So if this is one that you want to share, you can head on over to Kasey bowler and you’ll find it there. All right. Here is a blessing for parenting teenagers. Bless you who love a teenager, you whose worries about them, keep you up at night, wondering if you’re doing it right. If they’re going to be okay. If you overreacted or under reacted, if you’re going to make it through tomorrow without losing it. Or how you have to have that hard conversation without them shutting down or shutting you out. Bless you in this hard, beautiful work. In those moments of big feelings. May you remember to take a beat an offer a if I was in your shoes, I’d feel the same way. Even when you’re tempted to give them advice or to solve their problems for them, or to offer how they could have maybe avoided that problem in the first place. Bless you in your restraint, and may your constant love relieve their fears and yours. May laughter and joy fill your home. Fueling even the hardest of moments are most difficult of conversations. And bless all of you who wish you could have gotten this kind of parenting and bless you who wants to do it differently, even when it’s imperfect. Bless you, my dears.


Kate Bowler  58:04

This is my favorite part because I get to thank everyone who makes this work possible. Oh my word. Thank you to our generous partners. The people at the Lilly Endowment and the Duke Endowment have been such incredible supports from the very beginning. They love storytelling about faith and life and I am so grateful to them for it. Thank you also to my academic home Duke Divinity School and our new podcast network Lemonada where their slogan is when life gives you lemons, listen to Lemonada which just honestly makes me laugh every time. And of course a massive shout out to my incredible team who really does all the behind the scenes work. Jessica Ricci, Harriet Putman, Keith Leston Gwen Higginbotham, Brenda Thompson, hope Anderson, Kristen Bowser, Catherine Smith, and a special shout out to Jeb Burt for this episode, who endured canceled flights misconnections oversold rental cars, baggage claim issues and a flat tire for four hours with no cell phone service. Just to make it in time to take this conversation with Lisa. So yeah, that dude was boondoggles, Jeb, you really are the best. I heard you complain not once. We have some really fun things coming this fall and I don’t want you to miss anything. So if you go over to You can sign up for my free weekly email, which has tons of insider information. Video clips from this episode, you can see Lisa’s beautiful face, Discussion Questions must read books free printables all kinds of things. And I’ll be sure then to send you a link to Lisa’s podcast called ask Lisa where she asks those difficult parenting questions. Like, you know, what do I do about vaping? Or how much gaming is too much, you know, easy questions like that. Thank you, Lisa. And my lovely listener, if it is at all possible, could you do a very, very high up full thing and leave me a review on Apple podcasts or on Spotify. It makes a huge difference for people who are wondering, is this for me. And while you’re there, if you want them to subscribe to our feed, then you won’t miss any new episodes. That airs every Tuesday. We love hearing your voice. So leave us a voicemail. We might even use it on the air. Call us at 919-322-8731.

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