When a teenager is really upset, parents often feel the need to do something — gather information (“Who hurt you and what’s their phone number?”), launch into a profound lecture, or maybe try a problem-solving technique they heard about in a TED talk.
A better first response: Grab a glitter jar.
It’s an idea psychologist Lisa Damour writes about in her new book, Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls. When she sees a young person in meltdown mode, she’ll simply take a glass jar filled with water and glitter (basically, a DIY snow globe), shake it up and place it on the table. “Let’s settle your glitter,” she’ll say, and together, they’ll watch the tiny specks fall.
The benefits of the glitter jar are two-fold, Damour explains. First, it gives teens a concrete model of their emotional distress. In the New York Times, Damour describes the neurology of the overwrought adolescent — because brain regions that provide the ability to reason and maintain perspective may not reach full maturity until age 25, the whole system can easily crash (read: glitter storm). But once the emotions flow back to where they belong, everything resets. With the jar, teens can get an idea of what’s happening in real time.
But the jar is even more helpful for parents, Damour believes. As the glitter flurries inside the jar, here’s what it’s telling them: “Be patient and communicate your confidence that emotions almost always rise, swirl and settle all by themselves,” she writes.
Parents, that means you don’t need to jump in with solutions the moment you see your teen in distress. Sit with the child and see if they want your company. Big feelings aren’t a fire you need to extinguish. Damour writes: “Every time I stop myself from trying to figure out what made a teenager upset, and focus instead on her right to just be upset, I find that doing so either solves the problem or helps clear the path to dealing with it.”
It’s an important point to remember. To help do so, maybe it’s time to take a trip down the craft aisle.
How to Help Teens Weather Their Emotional Storms | New York Times