Parenting and Coaching the Hypersensitive Teen
Does your teen take everything too personally? Our parenting expert has advice for parents of a hypersensitive teen.
Parents write: What do you suggest we do about our fourteen-year-old daughter who seems to take everything too personally?
Amidst the typical challenges of guiding children through adolescence lies one most troubling and confusing one for parents: hypersensitivity. Overreactions to perceived slights, misinterpretations of events, and emotional volatility make a parent feel that they must walk on eggshells. For the teenager coping with the shifts between a stable mood and one that plummets with the sting of an ego wound, life feels unpredictable and out of control. Often times, parents mistake the problem as selfishness or self-centeredness, tempers flare, and family relationships suffer. Angry accusations lead to mutual withdrawal at a time when kids need parents more, not less.
If this sad circumstance sounds familiar, consider the following coaching tips to turn your hypersensitive teen into a more enlightened and balanced one:
- Recognize and resist the pitfalls of egg-shell parenting. To preserve family peace, many parents fall into the trap of overlooking too much, censoring feedback, and expecting too little. In the short-term, this may prevent some overreactions but in the long-term only sets the stage for the teen to develop unrealistic expectations of others and insufficient coping with the inevitable bruises within relationships. If your teen is to become resilient and resourceful when faced with criticism, exclusion, and other "raw materials" within relationships, they must make serious headway before adulthood. Parents owe it to their child to use the time left at home to ensure that earnest attempts at emotional growth are not squandered.
- Label the problem, not the adolescent. Much like a parent would educate their child about a health problem so that can manage it, hypersensitivity needs to be correspondingly discussed. If the parent shares similar tendencies, and many do, humbly reveal your own "hypersensitive hot-spots," although the teen probably knows them by now. Liken hypersensitivity to a light switch without a dimmer; feelings get evoked quickly and with full intensity. Over time, these persistent reaction patterns become bad habits. The person is often unaware of the problem because extreme feelings make it hard to think clearly about one's role in how things get so emotionally activated. Clearly express that they have this problem whether they want to admit to it or not.
- Stress the critical importance of taking positive action to heal the problem. Hypersensitivity self-perpetuates because teens are reluctant to let their guard down and discuss feelings. Proactive parents address this when it happens, stressing how vital it is for the teen to talk through their hurt without hurting back. Introduce the concept of a "wounded ego scale" that quantifies from 1-10 the extent to which they are hurting, allowing discussion to proceed with more objectivity. Pair this scale with questions that they should consider when they are hurting above five. "How else can I think about what is happening?" "Is this person trying to hurt me as much as I am hurting?" and "Am I letting something make this hurt more than it has to?" are helpful to consider.
- Clarify that although parents can help, the ultimate responsibility to overcome hypersensitivity rests with the adolescent. Journaling, reviewing past interactions, scripting ways to communicate feelings without emotional overload, and perceiving events without the restrictions of "ego eyes" are additional helpful measures to help outgrow the problem. Each of these steps entails employing objective interpretation of events to supplant the hypersensitive habit of taking things too personally - one of the hallmarks of emotional maturity.
Staff, H. (2010, April 26). Parenting and Coaching the Hypersensitive Teen, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 28 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/articles/coaching-the-hypersensitive-adolescent