Waters in a Cresting River
"How to Support Teenagers as they Head Back to School" by Lisa Damour
The New York Times, August 23, 2021
In her recent New York Times article, Untangled author Dr. Lisa Damour offers parents, caregivers, and teachers a useful way to think about how to support today's adolescents as they resume in-person education while still reeling from the disruptions of the last school year. According to Damour, teen emotions are "like the waters in a cresting river," and the job of adults is to keep that river "moving but not let it burst the banks." Today's teenagers, she says, are working hard to regulate their emotions and keep from feeling completely flooded or overwhelmed. Caregivers and teachers can help by listening to them and refraining from jumping in to respond to their emotional expressions. Adolescents are in a healthy process of adapting, of trying to manage their own surging tides, and the role of adults is to be like sandbags along the banks of rivers -- to be the calming, absorbing buffers to surging distress, and if necessary, to use distraction to redirect the metaphorical rivers of emotion that may be running in unproductive directions. The worst thing adults can do, Damour argues, is to quiet teen emotions or allow them to remain hidden; when teens disengage is exactly when adults need to pay the greatest attention and actively help them resume their momentum.