Many parents complain that their teen is too emotional without considering that all humans have emotions. Generally, this complaint is triggered by their teen’s intense expression of emotions, which they find exhausting. Teens are learning how to navigate emotions they have not felt before.
Societally, we consider emotions such as anger, frustration, greed, and sadness to be negative because they feel unpleasant both to those experiencing them and people around them. On the other hand, emotions such as joy, care, loyalty, and love are considered positive because they are pleasant to experience. But, as mentioned in the previous chapter, every emotion exists for a purpose, and none are inherently positive or negative.
Fear exists to protect us from danger, anger helps us create justice, and frustration directs us to find faster and more efficient ways to get things done. A more useful way to consider any emotion is to ask whether we find it helpful or not helpful. Seeing emotions this way opens the possibility to select emotions based on whether they are serving or not serving us in the situation we face. For example, fear may protect your teen when they walk alone in a crowded city as it keeps them aware of possible danger. On the other hand, fear may not serve them well when preparing for an examination or an interview. Similarly, your teen’s loyalty to your family serves them well, but loyalty to a gang will probably get them into trouble.
Adolescence is much more than a transition from childhood to adulthood. It is a roller coaster of emotions for both adolescents and parents. The conventional wisdom is to avoid or deny negative emotions and strive to remain positive. Maintaining positivity may sound logical, but there is a problem with it. By trying to get rid of emotions we perceive to be negative, we may miss the valuable information which they are offering us. For example, without experiencing sadness, how would we know which people or things we care about most? Without resentment, how would we gauge fairness?
You may be wondering how you could see value in your teen’s apathy because I stated that all emotions have value and purpose. I would say your teen’s emotions are not the problem but how they behave based on those emotions is what to watch for. Simply reacting to situations may not be the best option. Instead, there is a possibility to respond wisely, and this is something we all can learn. We can’t control or get rid of our emotions, just like we can’t stop our hearts from beating. However, we can teach our teens to listen to their emotions, interpret the messages underlying them, and determine if those emotions serve them in the situation. If not, it is possible to shift to an emotion that will be more helpful. This emotional agility is one of the foundational skills of emotional intelligence and requires practice. As parents, you can coach your teens to develop this capability.