By Lucie Hemmen, PhD
Teens are usually unaware of how harsh their thoughts about themselves (and others) can be. Spark awareness by offering your honest feedback: “Wow, Emma. You can be really mean to yourself with your thinking, can’t you?” Emma will likely register mild surprise or curiosity about your reaction. You can deepen her understanding by asking, “If someone you loved was struggling with your situation, how would you treat them?” Teens immediately grasp the incongruence.
Now, introduce the concept of the inner critic. “You know, we have literally thousands of thoughts every day, and while many of them are interesting and creative and helpful, many of them are just troublemakers. The internal critic is the troublemaker that generates mean, critical thoughts. Emma, I think you might have a vicious one. What do you think?”
If Emma recognizes and endorses the identification of her inner critic, you can extend exploration with more questions:
How does that affect the way you feel about yourself?
How does it impact your confidence?
How long has that inner critic been with you?
When is it at its worst/meanest?
Is there an image to represent it?
Can we give it a name? (One teen chose the name Gremmy, short for Gremlin. Naming gave her the ability to externalize and more effectively work with the critical thoughts Gremmy tried to give her.)
Lucie Hemmen, PhD is a clinical psychologist with a private practice in Santa Cruz, California. For the past 20 years, she has worked with teens, their parents, and their communities in programs designed to maximize health and well-being. Dr. Hemmen provides consultation on many teen-related topics to parents, community schools and organizations and conducts seminars for parents, pre-adolescents and adolescents. She is the mother of two daughters, one teen and one pre-teen, who supply her with daily lessons about parenting. For more teen communication tips, visit her blog at www.luciephd.com.