By: Quique Autrey, MS, LPC Associate Does your teenage son often seem overly emotional? Male teens have a difficult time managing their emotions. Parents often report their son’s react in an extreme manner when they fail an important quiz or are ghosted on social media. Like a snowball, these negative reactions to experiences at school, […]
By: Quique Autrey, MS, LPC Associate
Does your teenage son often seem overly emotional? Male teens have a difficult time managing their emotions. Parents often report their son’s react in an extreme manner when they fail an important quiz or are ghosted on social media. Like a snowball, these negative reactions to experiences at school, the sports field or relationships grow until there’s a real struggle with anxiety or depression. To understand why teens have these extreme emotions one has to understand the relationship between our emotions and our thoughts.
In a nutshell, the cognitive theory of emotions states that our emotional reactions are in large part influenced by the negative thoughts we entertain. Teenage boys need help identifying and reframing the negative thoughts that result in exaggerated emotional reactions. With the proper education and support, teenage boys become aware of the automatic negative thoughts that fill their mind and can utilize tools to help them manage their extreme emotions.
Four Tools to Help Teen Boys Manage Extreme Emotions
Recognize that thoughts are not threats
The ancient philosopher Epictetus once wrote, “it is not events that upset us, but our opinions about them.” Teen boys are not usually aware that their thoughts often get fused with their perception of external events. In others words, it is very common for teen boys to believe that their thoughts represent the world as it actually is.
When a teen gets a low score on an assignment or misses an important play, it is common that he’ll have a negative thought about his intelligence or ability. Maybe the teen will think something like, “I’m such an idiot”, or “I suck at sports!” If the teen conflates these thoughts with external reality, then it is likely he will start to feel terrible about himself. If he can recognize that his brain produces negative thoughts that do not reflect the way things really are, he can choose a healthier response to a negative experience. For example, instead of beating himself up for a low test score, he can remind himself that everyone makes mistakes and that he can do better next time.
Record negative thoughts
It is easy for teen boys to get overwhelmed by their negative thoughts when these thoughts remain in their head. Writing down negative thoughts can be an effective strategy for two reasons.
First, writing down thoughts (or recording them on an iPhone) help teens identify patterns of negative thinking. After a few weeks of recording negative thoughts, a teen may realize that he keeps thinking that he’s unattractive, unintelligent or deficient in sports. Having a clear sense of the pattern of negative thoughts may help a teen understand why he’s been feeling so inferior to other guys around him. By correcting the negative thoughts, the teen has a greater chance of feeling better about himself.
Secondly, recording negative thoughts helps externalize the thoughts. Externalizing the thoughts gives the teen a better sense that while these thoughts are swirling around his mind, they are not necessarily true or reflective of reality.
Create distance from thoughts
Thoughts are like filters through which we view the world. Negative thoughts are like a cracked lens that distort how we view ourselves, other people and our environment. Teen boys need help recognizing that they are looking at the world through a distorted lens, not at the world as it really is. Therapists help teen boys create this distance from their thoughts by guiding them through various exercises. Here is a list of exercises that help teen boys create some distance from their thoughts:
- Referring to thoughts in the third person. A teenage boy may naturally have the thought, “I didn’t make the tackle during the last play. I’m such a terrible football player.” Encouraging him to restate the thought in third person would sound like, “John is having the thought that he missed the tackle. John is having the thought that he is not a good football player.” Replaying the thought in third person helps the teen slow down his thinking and helps him externalize the automatic negative reaction.
- Throwing thoughts away. Writing the thoughts on notecards helps objectify the thoughts and transition them out of the mind. Teenagers usually find it helpful to write negative thoughts down on notecards and then to throw the cards away. This symbolizes that they are not going to let the thoughts take control of their life.
- Imagining a best friend going through the same situation. Teens are often more critical of themselves than they are of their friends. For example, ask teens to imagine what they would say to their best friend going through the same situation as them. This helps them gain perspective and practice self-compassion
Describe situations in a matter-of-fact way
Teens are prone to jump to the worst possible conclusion, usually with very little evidence to despair. In the world of therapy, this is known as catastrophizing. A relatively small mistake or social blunder gets blown out of proportion and interpreted as a catastrophe.
A teen likely imagines his girlfriend has moved on or found a better guy, if he sends a text and doesn’t receive a response. He goes down the rabbit hole and imagines that he’ll never date again. He then starts thinking that there is something fundamentally wrong with him!
One of the most effective ways to stop catastrophizing is to describe the situation in a calm, matter-of-fact way. Instead of interpreting the situation in a way that suggests personal offense (e.g., How could she not respond to me!”), try stating the facts in an impartial manner (e.g., She has not responded to this text in 30 minutes). Stating the facts in an objective manner helps the mind not jump to conclusions or rush to negative emotional associations.
Counseling Can Give Your Teenage Son Tools to Create A Healthier Lifestyle
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help teenage boys manage their negative emotions. The main focus of using CBT is to help identify and address the distorted thoughts. These distorted thoughts often result in a negative self-image. Your therapist will help you set treatment goals. They will also teach you new ways to think about things that cause you to feel bad about yourself. Then they will teach you new behavioral skills to help you cope with these feelings in a more productive way. The therapists at the Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch are trained in working with teenage boys and the mental health issues that may arise for this population.
There is nothing wrong with your teenage son. He is not too emotional. He simply hasn’t learned how to identify and manage the negative thoughts that are contributing to his anxiety or depression. Many teen guys find relief and build coping skills that can last a lifetime when they seek out professional help. Please do not hesitate to reach out today and call for help!
Begin Teen Counseling in Katy,TX Today!
Contact us today to help your teen get started. The therapists at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch can help! We provide therapy for teenagers as well as other services for people of all ages. To begin counseling in Katy, TX follow these three steps:
- Contact our office to set up an appointment or to get more information on teen counseling.
- Meet with one of our skilled therapists
- Find ways to help your teen cope and thrive in life!
Other Therapy Services We Offer
Here at The Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch we offer counseling services for people of all ages including: women’s issues, men’s issues, treatment for anxiety, trauma counseling, counseling for kids, counseling for young adults, teen counseling, eating disorder treatment, depression treatment, couples counseling, family therapy, and group counseling. Our therapists strive to regularly post blogs with helpful information on a variety of mental health topics. To learn more about our therapists and our counseling services, please reach out to the Counseling Center today!