This week, we had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Lisa Damour, an internationally renowned psychologist and best-selling author whose work explores the emotional lives of teens. She spoke to our parents in an evening session; to students in an all-school meeting; and to our faculty and staff during a professional learning session. One of the things I appreciate most about Dr. Damour is her deeply practical approach, filling her talks with actionable advice, with just enough of the science and research to provide context and confidence. I think that’s why so many folks were scribbling notes while she was talking!
Some of the most compelling insights for me have to do with how to talk to teens. Dr. Damour suggests avoiding the instinct to problem solve – not easy for teachers or parents. Instead, she advises leading with curiosity and listening to understand (rather than respond), particularly with a young person working through some kind of socio-emotional challenge: “Tell me more.” The next step is empathy, which can be as simple as, “That stinks.” For most teens who are experiencing healthy anxiety or stress, having an adult listen with curiosity and empathy is often enough and just what they need. And it never hurts to have something else to focus on while you’re having that conversation – maybe taking a drive, tossing a football, playing cards, folding laundry, or baking together.