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Dr. Lisa Damour is our go-to expert regarding the emotional lives of teens.
She is a psychologist & author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents, and although her previous two books were a deep dive into the world of girls, she gets boys. Consider this sentence:
If a boy “doesn’t feel that he has permission to let people know he’s hurting, it’s a good bet that he will discharge his unwanted emotions by acting out.”
That one sentence – found on page 52 of the hardcover edition of her book – explains so much: Boys’ behavior at school. Door slamming, name calling and rule-breaking at home. Neighborhood fights that escalate into violence.
“Gender is such a huge force in how emotion is expressed, and perhaps even in how emotion is experienced,” Lisa says. And when it comes to emotions, boys in our culture “are absolutely cornered and given so little room to work,” she says. Girls enjoy a “wide emotional highway,” with a lot of latitude to feel and express an array of emotions, while “boys are given a two-lane highway.”
Parents, teachers, and others who want to expand boys’ emotional expression, however, need to understand and respect the barriers boys face in their lives. Boys (still) pay a social price when they don’t adhere to the cultural script. Crying may be a natural, human emotion, but in most places, a 5th grade boy who cries at school will face uncomfortable social pressure and may be ridiculed. However, understanding the pressures boys face in society doesn’t mean we have to allow or tolerate rude, hateful, or unkind language or behavior. We can (and should) set expectations.
Making Space for Boys’ Emotional Expression
One thing Lisa realized, while writing her book, is how strongly our cultural seems to prefer verbal expressions of emotion over physical expression. Many boys & men (and some girls, women, and nonbinary folks) use physical activity to express and process their emotions Shooting basketball hoops, running laps, or banging on an old filing cabinet are perfectly acceptable ways to discharging and expressing emotion.
“If it brings relief and does no harm, it’s a good coping strategy,” Lisa says, noting that many boys also use music to express and regulate emotions.
In this episode, Jen, Janet, & Lisa discuss:
- Why we must consider gender when talking about & teaching emotional regulation
- The role of men in helping boys express feelings
- How boys police each others’ emotional expression
- Establishing expectations and boundaries
- Why it “sucks to be a 6th grade boy”
- Supporting boys’ interests
- Constructive conflict
- Setting the stage for successful conversations w boys
- Expanding boys’ emotional toolkit
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:
drlisadamour.com – Lisa’s website
The Emotional Lives of Teenagers: Raising Connected, Capable, and Compassionate Adolescents — Lisa’s latest book (get the free parent discussion guide here)
Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – podcast hosted by Lisa Damour & Reena Ninan
Teen Boys’ Emotional Lives — ON BOYS episode
Managing Emotions — ON BOYS episode
Nonverbal Communication with Boys — ON BOYS episode
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