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By Emily Stone
As we grow, we develop in a variety of ways. We develop physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally. One way growth happens is by navigating challenging situations. Struggle prompts growth. We see children go through this process in school every day. New information or a new skill is introduced. Next, there is concentrated effort and struggle until the new information is integrated into their data base of knowledge or until the new skill is mastered.
This journey never really ends. You and I still engage this process daily. Equilibrium interrupted by new information leads to a period of disequilibrium and discomfort, which is followed by effort, struggle, and mastery/development. Again, without the struggle, there is no growth.
We develop emotionally in much the same way. Our emotional equilibrium is interrupted by new information or a new experience leading to discomfort, disequilibrium, effort, struggle, and growth. We have the potential to develop emotionally throughout our lifetime, but adolescence is the crash course in emotional growth (with the word “crash” sometimes being the key word in that statement). Teenagers feel things big. For parents, riding these emotional roller coasters with their teens can be exhausting. It is tempting to jump in and try to rescue their child from the discomfort. It is normal for it to be challenging for a parent to witness the emotions and just be present with an angry or sad teenager…to be a listening ear, observing the roller coaster without also riding it or judging it. It is challenging because we care…and because we are overwhelmed, too!
It is important to recognize that when a child or teenager is feeling, expressing and traveling through emotions they are building important muscles. Essentially, they are lifting emotional weights. This emotional work, like weight lifting, is heavy and hard. And? Without the emotional weight lifting emotional muscles will not be built. Again, without the struggle there is no growth.
The teen years are also when some kids start to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Kids get a lot of information on how drugs and alcohol affect their brains and bodies. What is discussed less is that substance use affects their emotional growth, too. Every time an adolescent uses drugs or alcohol instead of doing the emotional weight lifting of a situation, they are robbing themselves of the opportunity to build emotional muscles. When working with adults struggling with addiction a common struggle for these individuals is emotional regulation. I like to ask how old a client was when they started using drugs or alcohol. I am curious about this answer because there is a very good chance that there is a part of them that is still that age emotionally. When they started using substances their emotional development did not progress. Drugs and alcohol use stunted the work required to grow. Drugs and alcohol numbed the struggle required for growth.
There are times when an adolescent needs professional help to navigate the adjustments and struggles of the teen years. Parents can use the support, too. A good therapist can help teens and their parents grow in their ability to make room for difficult emotions and maintain healthy relationships along the way.
If you are a parent who feels like their child needs some assistance in developing emotional resilience, Just Mind is here to help. Just Mind has expert child and teen therapists that can help in this process. You can read about child counseling, teen counseling, and parenting counseling. on our dedicated pages. Additionally, if you are ready, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment.