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Lisa Damour on Teen Mental Health

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Lisa Damour is an expert on the psychology and development of adolescents. She is making the rounds lately in support of her insightful and timely new book, The Emotional Lives of Teenagers.

I have posted before about the current state of adolescent mental health and wellbeing. There are a number of societal factors influencing kids today, and the pandemic created exacerbating effects for all teenagers-- every student I talk to has been impacted in some way.

In my work supporting young people, it is clear that the college process has become a source of additional anxiety and stress that hits so many sensitive buttons for our teens. It is essential that we help them frame this search, with compassion, in a way that is celebratory and empowering. That conversation needs to be rooted in realism about what actually matters in the college experience, it needs to question the meaning of "prestige," and it needs to remain open-minded toward the wealth of options that will support a student in their continued growth and success-- versus the goal of a "bumper sticker" prize of a highly selective place that denies far more students than it admits, based on factors and priorities beyond our control.

Dr. Damour was interviewed on Ezra Klein's New York Times podcast, and the interview is essential listening for all parents. You can either listen or read at the link in the image below. I pulled out a few key quotes-- I hope they compel you to read more, and find Lisa's book. You can also listen to a longer conversation with her on this topic on the Rich Roll podcast.

I mean, an 11-year-old next to an 18-year-old — they’re hardly from the same species anymore.
If you pack that much change into a short period of time, it’s an inherently stressful thing. So I think that’s the baseline of all baselines, just that they’re changing so much and so fast that they experience it as stressful, and everyone around them is impacted by those changes and the stress on the teenager, and it’s stressful for the people around the teenager.
So, I mean, the jobs of being a teenager are so many, the change that is compressed into a very short period of time is tremendous. It’s not easy.
And then we ask far more of teenagers than we used to, that not just for affluent kids, there’s tremendous achievement pressures for kids in many socioeconomic areas. I look at what we ask kids who are applying to college to deliver today versus what I was asked when I was going through that process. So I think a lot about the combined effect of so much input and the expectation of so much output. There’s no way that’s not going to be stressful for kids.

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