Teen Moves Into the World of Emo

Reader’s Question

Recently, a young teenager has confided to me her apparent move into the world of ‘Emo’. She has stated that she believes she is “full” Emo. Her speech is very dark, she speaks of cutting, deep emotional distress, etc. She exposes herself to Emo music, web related information, reading material, and so on. She has just entered her first year of high school. She believes herself to be lesbian. She speaks in dramatic terms of great emotional pain. She lives an affluent lifestyle at home, with parents who are at a loss as to what appears to be happening with their daughter. I am a family friend and the only adult she currently will be open with in conversation.

I am asking for any advice which may help me to help this young lady. Are there specific questions I should ask her? How do we redirect her emotionally? What should I be looking for in her conversation? Etc.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Psychologist’s Reply

The teen years is a very difficult time for many youth. They are in the process of establishing their identity and comparing that identity with their parents and their peers. Teens often seek support for their current identity in other peer groups, producing most of the groups we see in high schools such as gothic, jocks, skateboarders, etc. Emo is a group that emphasizes and amplifies the feelings of alienation and emotional misery experienced by many teens. It also supports confusion around sexual identity, relationships with adults/peers, and depression. A depressed and alienated teen often slips into an Emo or Gothic subculture, finding other teens who are also depressed, confused, alienated, and distressed. Sadly, the type of emotional support provided by these groups actually prolongs their emotional misery by encouraging further alienation.

There’s a good possibility that she is experiencing a depression. As a supporting adult, I would recommend focusing on her feelings of depression, her emotional pain, and other depressive symptoms. Focusing on Emo is probably a bad idea as that group emphasizes alienation rather than returning to a normal, healthy lifestyle. If an adult drinks too much because they’re depressed, focusing on their drinking misses the point.

Discuss with her how adults experience the same symptoms — escape fantasies, confusion, concentration problems, etc. Talk about what adults do during these times (seek advice from experts, try to avoid more problems, etc.). Mention that 15% of her freshman class probably won’t make it to graduation as they become side-tracked by emotional problems, drugs/alcohol, pregnancy, “fads”, etc. Encourage her to enlist the help of her parents to obtain mental health treatment and to address these issues. This is a very difficult passage for this teen and she will need adult and family guidance rather than Internet confusion.

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