Parenting Highly Sensitive Teens


A Note From The L.A. Teen Therapist

Does your teen have a highly sensitive nervous system? – Sandra

Teens that tear up over TV commercials, brood for days over gentle teasing, and are highly attuned to what other’s are feeling may have nerve cells that are hyper-reactive.

For most Highly Sensitive Teenagers, their emotional experience is at such a constant intensity that it shapes their personality and their lives; self-image, school performance, social life, and family relationships. Brain imaging studies show that their reactivity reflects a distinctive biological feature: a hyper-responsive amygdala, the brain center that assesses threats and governs the fear response.

Those teens who can learn to dial down the relentless rise and fall of their emotions (that is an invariable accompaniment to their extreme sensitivity) are then able to transform their raw perception into a gift of keen perceptiveness. Of hundreds of student artists and musicians that have been studied, nearly all tested positive on this “thin-skinned” spectrum.

A 2003 study reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that the brains of creative people appear to be far more open to incoming stimuli than those of the noncreative. Their extreme responsiveness to all situations, however, also makes them prone to anxiety and depression in the face of stressful situations. When understood and harnessed, it makes life richer; with sights, sounds, flavors, images of beauty are more vivid, as if they are seeing the world in high-definition.

Tips for Sensitive Teens

* Designate a downtime. Since your brain works overtime processing input and soaking up others’ moods, it needs a chance to recover, so limit stimulation when you can.

* Practice self-soothing techniques. Sensitive people aren’t doomed to spend life reeling from rejection. It’s possible to rein in your response before it spirals down to depression.

* Set healthy boundaries. Kindly but firmly cut off energy drains. Lovingly but matter-of-factly say, “I see you’re going through something, and I’m here for you, but right now is not a good time for me to listen to you.”

Mentally prepare yourself. Visualize a protective shield around your body when entering into a situation that feels uncomfortable or overwhelming.

Rewrite history. Think back to the decisions you’ve regretted and the things you dislike about yourself and acknowledge that they have to do with your sensitivity.

Dealing with Sensitive Teens

Highly sensitive teens hear “You really shouldn’t let it get to you” as a put-down, indicating they’ve done something wrong. Something more reassuring—such as, whatever situation is causing them stress will improve shortly, would be experienced as more supportive.

Modify your point of view. In your relationship, consider the possibility you’ve been making wrong assumptions about your teen’s responses and behavior.

Give them space. A common mistake parents of sensitive teens make is hovering. They may need some private time to recover.

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