Ep 25: Mental Strength for Teens

Amy Morin, bestselling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, and a leading expert on how to instill grit and emotional strength in children, discusses lessons she learned from her years as a foster parent to dozens of children and as a psychologist who helps families through difficult transitions.

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Full show notes

At some point your child may have to deal with the sudden loss of a job, or a friend, or even you or your spouse. If your kid isn’t prepared to deal with fear and other hard emotions in life, these big events can be devastating. Being unable to deal with hardship can lead to addictive and self-destructive behaviors. How do you prepare your kids for the hardest moments in life?

Some hardships in life you just can’t predict, but there are still steps you can take to prepare. Your teen doesn’t know when a grandparent is going to be diagnosed with an illness, but you can teach your teen about resilience through a mental toughness activity. More often than not, teaching your kid mental toughness is knowing when to role model, and when to step back and let them learn on their own. It’s a fine line!

To help understand what actions parents can take to help their child with mental toughness, I spoke with Amy Morin. Amy is one of the world’s leading experts on mental strength, and she is all about practical advice. Her TED Talk has over 13 million views and is one of the 30 most popular talks of all time. It sheds light on what a true mental toughness activity looks like. She is a foster parent with incredible stories about resilience, and the author of the international bestseller, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.

On this episode I got to talk to her about her new book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do. (Yes, Parents, specifically.)

At this point, some of you might be asking, “Wait, I thought this was about mental strength for kids?”

Teenage Resistance to Behavior Modification

It’s true, Amy wrote this book because one of the top questions she got from the first was, “What’s a mental toughness activity for kids that actually works?”

Amy agrees that this is a valid question. Kids don’t go to kindergarten and first grade to learn a mental toughness activity, but they are immediately swamped with homework and the fear of messing up.

Kids need to learn cognitive social skills earlier. Studies show that kids in college feel academically prepared, but lack the social and emotional skills to deal with stress, loneliness, and other new life problems. If school isn’t teaching a mental toughness activity at all, parents are left responsible for teaching kids resilience. This is okay!

Amy points out that, as a parent, you probably know your kid’s tendencies better than anyone. This also means that your kid is aware of your tendencies as a parent. When children enter the teen years, they are sensitively tuned into the ways you might try to modify their behavior and often pull away. It’s going to be tricky to teach a mental toughness activity (or any life lesson) if they’re trying to differentiate from you.

Studies show the need for teenage autonomy peaks at 14. Having autonomy means grasping for your own authority. It can be threatening for parents when their household authority is questioned by teens in a power struggle. How do you keep control when your teenager is pushing back more and more?

Amy says it’s important for a parent to show they’re in charge, but that they value their kid’s opinion. Ultimately, teenage pushback is going to ruffle your feathers, but if you can keep your cool and your values, it can be an opportunity to role model mental toughness. Amy believes that modeling values is an effective, albeit subliminal, mental toughness activity.

Role Modeling Values

Why is mental toughness so hard to teach to a teenager?

Bad situations are opportunities to make a good choice as a parent. How you respond to negative situations communicates your values. You just have to clarify what life lesson you’re trying to impart. This isn’t always easy!

Amy gives an example of a dad who told his son to clean up his toys before the rain came or he would throw them out. The son disobeyed the dad, and the toys got rained on. Now the dad had to decide whether or not he would go forward on his word. He didn’t want to throw his son’s toys out, but he also didn’t want to have to apologize to his son for saying something he didn’t mean.

Amy firmly believes, though, that if you underscore the life lesson you want to teach, you will know what you have to do. Parents shouldn’t be afraid to apologize to their kids.

If parents can role model overcoming fear of apologizing to their children, it will be a lot easier to teach teens to overcome fear when they encounter it. If teens see you facing your fear, they’ll be a little bit more receptive when you try to engage them in a mental toughness activity.

Teaching Teens to Tolerate Fear

Teaching your kid a mental toughness activity to tolerate fear will help them grow in resilience, and be more prepared for stressful situations as an adult.

You might think that teens have no fear. They’re trying drugs and driving cars too fast, but they are still scared to do things like give a presentation or admit their mistakes.

You might think you’re doing them a favor by saying,

“It’s not a big deal.”

“That presentation will be over before you know it. Don’t even worry about it.”

But minimizing teens’ fears doesn’t help them learn about overcoming obstacles!

Amy says a conversation can help so much. Asking a teen about his or her worries shows that fear isn’t something to be minimized, but something that they need to go through. When you are validating your teen’s fears and giving them your attention, you will find the opportunity to teach him or her a mental toughness activity. Amy even offers some examples of healthy ways teens can cope with their discomfort.

Takeaways for Parents!

When the hardest days in life happen, facing your emotions can be terrifying. Amy has learned from painful life experiences that you should not let fear stop you.

There’s no one mental toughness activity that can fully prepare a person for grief and loss, but there are tools and strategies that you can give your kids for when that day comes. Sometimes, you might find a mental toughness activity that your teen eagerly adopts. Other times the best you can do is be a role model! Either way, every teen is different and needs their own mental toughness activity that works for them. Thankfully, Amy knows what she’s talking about and has a lot that she’s willing to share. Other topics we discuss in this interview include:
  • Why kids need to be bored sometimes
  • Letting your kid learn how to fail
  • “Speak Up or Shut Up” - the art of walking this fine line
  • Your kid with authorities
  • How to set good rules in the house
  • Shared journaling
  • Parents on learning tech savviness
  • The effects of social media on teens
  • Power struggles in the house
  • Competition to family values
Amy is so patient and caring. I can tell she really loves sharing her stories and helping people of all ages grow in mental strength. She’s a wealth of information on this topic, so I hope you get a chance to tune in!

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW
Psychotherapist & author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, Inc. Top 100 Speaker, TEDx speaker, host of Mentally Stronger podcast
Ep 25: Mental Strength for Teens
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