Parents and Teenagers need to have a comphrensive understaning of each other. Having an understanding of how a teenager’s emotions develop can give parents useful strategies to better parent and avoid a situation from elevating. Using the scenario below, we can analyze how a teenager’s emotions develop and figure out a way to retell the story of their emotions:
Jill is a 16-year-old high school student. She has a learning disability and works hard at keeping up with her school work. Math is particularly hard for her and she has been having trouble completing her assignments for that class. She often stays up late working on assignments and is frustrated with her lack of progress. Her parents, who place a great deal of importance upon school work, are frustrated and angry when they learn that she has not been handing in all of her assignments. They try to talk to Jill while she is working, but she yells at them saying that they are the cause of all of her problems. She tells them that they do not understand and she refuses to talk to them for the rest of the day. Her parents remain angry at her. She is so distracted and upset by the situation that she does not complete her work.
Usually, emotions develop with the following factors: Underlying vulnerabilities, a prompting event, interpretation of this event, an emotional response, the behavior or expression of that emotional response, and the after-effects. If we look at Jill’s story we can see some of these elements at work:
1. Underlying vulnerabilities: Jill is feeling stressed about the amount of work she has to do, she is staying up late (perhaps she is tired) and learning is difficult for her.
2. Prompting Event: Her parents addressing their concerns while she is working.
3. The Interpretation of this Event: She believes that her parents don’t think she is trying and are not supportive.
4. The Emotional Response: She is angry and frustrated.
5. The Expression of this Emotion: She yells at them and stops working to spite them.
6. The Aftereffects: Jill feels guilty and may feel worse about herself because she did not complete another assignment.
By understanding this format, we can sometimes change the course of emotion. Looking at the underlying vulnerabilities, Jill’s parents could opt to wait to address their concerns until she completes her homework or after she has rested. It would also be helpful if Jill could interpret her parent’s actions as trying to be helpful as opposed to negatively judging her. Jill might also benefit from learning how to soothe her bodily responses to emotions such as anger so that she can act upon her feelings in productive as opposed to destructive ways.

Emotional regulation from the presepective of parents and teenagers is a topic incorporated in the DBT-Parenting Skills group provided at Specialized Therapy Associates. Should you have any interest in enrolling in the DBT-Parenting Skills group, please call the intake department at 201-488-6678 for details.