Perhaps the only thing more stressful than being a teen—facing high stakes academics, social media pressures, peer competition, and more—is being the parent of one. Meltdowns can be common – even for the most well-meaning parents. (Tweet it!)
Writing in The New York Times, Lisa Damour, a clinical psychologist and author of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood, shared a technique she learned while chatting with the counseling team at a Dallas girls’ school.
A counselor showed Damour a clear jam jar. Its lid was glued on and it was filled with water plus a layer of sparkling purple glitter on the bottom. “When a girl falls apart in my office, I do this,” she said, while shaking the jar fiercely, like an airport snow globe…”After that I say to her, ‘Honey, this is your brain right now. So first … let’s settle your glitter.’”
Damour calls this “an elegant model of the neurology of the distressed teenager.” Early in adolescence, the brain begins upgrading itself to become more powerful and efficient. “The primitive regions, which are just above the back of the neck and house the emotion centers, are upgraded first — starting as early as age 10. The more sophisticated regions, located behind the forehead and giving us our ability to reason and maintain perspective, are redone last and may not reach full maturity until age 25.” During this process, young people, when upset, can be overcome, crashing the entire system until it has a chance to reboot.
Damour has enthusiastically recommended glitter jars to several parents and colleagues, knowing that some teenagers will instantly benefit from having a concrete model of emotional distress. Even more important, she says, she has “come to appreciate that a glitter jar’s main utility is in the instructions it provides to those who are caring for the overwrought: Be patient and communicate your confidence that emotions almost always rise, swirl, and settle all by themselves.”
Have you parented a teen, or known one well? If so, what do you think of the glitter jar approach? To join the conversation, click "comments" above.
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