Susan Borison and Stephanie Silverman, best friends and co-founders of Your Teen Media, are bringing their magazine to life. From interviews with the experts and authors to discussions of trending topics and personal stories, Your Teen with Sue and Steph is an essential guide to raising teens today.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa is an award-winning journalist and internationally-recognized speaker whose work explores the intersection of neuroscience, immunology, and human emotion. Her mission is to translate emerging science in ways that help those with chronic conditions find healing.
Her latest book, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media (Random House/Harmony, 2022) is available for order wherever books are sold. In this book, Donna explores today’s growing adolescent female mental health crisis. Anyone on the front lines of caring for girls today—parents, educators, counselors—knows that girls are more prone to depression and anxiety than ever before. Now we have the science to understand why. During the critical neurodevelopmental window of adolescence a confluence of modern toxic stressors are altering the female stress-immune response in ways that can derail female thriving. Drawing on insights from both the latest science and interviews with girls, Donna guides readers through 15 “antidote” strategies to help teenage girls flourish even in the face of stress, creating a new playbook for how we—parents, families, and the human tribe—can ensure a healthy emotional inner life for all of our girls.
Donna is the author of six previous books, including The Angel and The Assassin: The Tiny Brain Cell That Changed the Course of Medicine (Random House/Ballantine, 2020), named one of the best books of 2020 by WIRED magazine. It illuminates recent groundbreaking discoveries that elucidate the biological link between our physical and mental health. Hailed as “riveting,” “stunning,” and “visionary,” The Angel and the Assassin offers us a radically reconceived picture of human health.
Her writing has been published in Wired, The Boston Globe, Stat, The Washington Post, Health Affairs, Aeon, More, Parenting, AARP Magazine, Glamour, and elsewhere. For her reporting on health-science, Donna received the AESKU lifetime achievement award and the National Health Information Award. She has appeared on The Today Show, National Public Radio, NBC News, and ABC News.
In addition to her work as a science journalist, Donna has been a speaker at numerous universities, conferences and medical centers, including the Harvard Division of Science Library Series, the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, the University of Arizona, Rutgers University Behavioral Health, the Peace & Justice Institute, Learning and the Brain, the Royal Society of Medicine SIRPA Conference on Chronic Pain and Emotion, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, and the International Congress on Autoimmunity.
Donna is also the creator and founder of the narrative writing-to-heal program, Your Healing Narrative, which uses the process of Neural Re-Narrating™ to help participants recognize and override the brain’s old thought patterns and internalized stories, and create a new, more powerful, inner healing narrative that calms body, brain, and nervous system. She has taught this trauma-healing course to thousands of individuals, parents, health care workers, physicians, and educators.
Donna has been the recipient of writing-in-residence fellowships at the Corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and is a graduate of the Radcliffe Publishing Procedures Program.
Susan Borison: Hey everybody, welcome to Your Teen with Sue and Steph. I'm Sue.
Stephanie Silverman: And I'm Steph. We are the co-founders and owners of Your Teen Media, the resource for parenting tweens and teens.
Susan Borison: And today, we're talking to Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media.
We actually have some copies to give away, so if you're interested, email email@example.com to be entered in a raffle.
But before we talk to Donna, we're going to talk a little bit about our takeaways and what it's like for us raising daughters and helping our daughters thrive in this world.
So, I found the book really interesting. I mean, there were some big takeaways. One of the things comes up a lot now, we've been doing Your Teen for 15 years. And in 15 years, the trends shift. I mean the advice is always good, but like right now, the power of listening is really big.
I mean, every time we talk to somebody, they really advise learning how to listen to your kids in a way that they feel heard. And that means often, being quiet, which for some of us is really hard to do. And I was thinking how I've benefited in my relationship with my kids when I sit back and do more listening.
So, one of the things that I've found — my kids are older now, but it's really solid advice in any relationship. And I would say almost, especially, as our kids get older, training ourselves with the ability to just be silent and listen and do that like compassionate, like nodding or whatever, I don't know, I think it's a good skill anywhere and I think especially with teenagers.
If we can get our kids to come home from school and talk to us, and we can stop and listen, even if we're not turning around and facing them in their eyes or saying, “Wait, let me sit down so we can make this really serious.”
Like do you remember the time Suzanne Schneps told us to keep ourselves busy in the kitchen? Literally, trimming plants around the house while our kids are doing their homework or sitting in the kitchen having a snack, and just being present without talking to them, it's amazing. It's really amazing.
Stephanie Silverman: I agree. I think the busier I can look, like making myself look busy or just staring at a computer and kind of like, yeah, I'm listening.
But one of the things I kept thinking about as you were telling your story was, it is to me, like a muscle. I do get better and better at it, and I remember how to just sit and listen and nod, and sitting in the muck with them. And I always think about that.
Like I always picture us like kind of in a tough mutter but without doing all the tough muttering piece, like sitting in all the yucky mud, and literally, just sitting next to them.
Susan Borison: Yeah. So, I loved that piece of advice from her. You'll hear so many more nuggets.
The other one that really resonated with me was when you hear about people who rise above their circumstances, like I always have this feeling like how did that one get out?
Having the opportunity to interview people and hear their stories, the theme I saw, which she talked about, is that you need one relationship with a loving adult.
So, if you're not getting it from your parents or if as the parent, you're not able to bond with your kid in that way, if they have someone else in their life, and my kids have always had my in-laws down the street from us.
So, there were times where they were fed up with home and busyness and too many kids and chaos, and they would just literally walk down the street and say, “Could I have dinner here?”
And like the gift they got of having those two grandparents who love them unconditionally, like you can see the value in that.
Stephanie Silverman: Yeah, for sure. Because it's so hard. It's hard from every standpoint. It's obviously especially hard being a teen, and it's hard being the parent of a teen.
I always say it's interesting, I've thought of this often when I've had friends who have had issues with in-laws, the kids' grandparents, and I always say, you know what? The more people that love your kids, the better.
And let the teen go out with that grandparent. Like you don't have to be a part of that story. But that grandparent really loves that teen or that aunt, and you don't have to be in that story or in that moment. But that kid, having that person, the more people that love them, the better for everybody.
We're so used to having to react to everything mainly because little kids are busy and they're dangerous, so you're always on the go. And I actually in some ways, almost feel like it's a luxury to be able to sit still with them.
As much as I think there is this narrative about teens getting harder and being more difficult — and yes, there's some truth in that but there's also this other piece that is really comforting. I may be overstating it because I now no longer have teens.
Something comforting about being part of their story or them letting us in on their story, I was thinking I don't take that for granted. It's kind of like flipping the narrative.
Sue, you and I were talking to somebody the other day (oh I think it was on Friday) — conversation, we're talking about somebody they had younger kids and like kind of that preparation for that. And if you can kind of get ahead of it and know what's coming, and get into that head space, it tends to “go better.”
And I would say it's that same thing where like if you're lucky enough to be led into their story, it really is a great opportunity to get to know them and just sit with them literally and figuratively.
Susan Borison: Yeah, there's just so much that she offers and one of the places she starts, which I think it's like a lifelong journey, is for parents to understand their history, because we bring our history into the reaction of what's going on with our kids. And if we can understand where that reaction is coming from, we may be able to do more of the listening and less of the reacting.
Anyway, her book is great. We are so glad to have a few to give away. So, again, if you want to be considered email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Up next is a treat, our conversation with Donna Jackson Nakazawa.
Stephanie Silverman: We can't wait for you to join us.
Susan Borison (interview): Our guest today is Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media.
In her book, Donna provides strategies for raising emotionally healthy girls based on new signs that explains the modern pressures that make it so difficult for adolescent girls to thrive.
Donna, thanks so much for being here.
The title of your book, Girls on the Brink is astounding of an alarm. How prevalent is depression and anxiety actually in girls?
Donna Nakazawa: Well, the answer is a little complicated, but in simple terms, before the pandemic, we were starting to see that one in three girls in 2019 was reporting a period of major depression.
And we're not talking about depression diagnoses, we're talking about researchers talking to families, going into homes, and girls reporting feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, not wanting to go to school. One out of three 17-year-olds reported a period of six weeks or more of feeling that way.
So, we also know that girls are suffering from anxiety at nearly three times the rate of boys, and the pandemic poured gasoline on an already existing fire. In 2021, the CDC reported that the rate of suicide attempts among girls had risen 51%.
So, this has been a longstanding problem. What's new is this precipitous rise in rates of depression and anxiety in girls in the past 15 years, coupled with the gap between how girls are doing, and boys are doing is widening. And so, at the same time, a lot of new research has started to surface as to the why.
Stephanie Silverman: Okay, perfect segue: why? What can you tell us? Why is it worse for girls than for boys?
Donna Nakazawa: Well, one of the things that really startled me as a science reporter (and of course, I've written a few books) is that when I started to pick up the phone and reach out to leading neuroscientists around the country, I was surprised as you might be to learn that all the reporting that I had done over the past several books about this intersection of how stress and adversity affect the brain and the immune system across development had been based on a male research model.
It's kind of crazy. I recently had heart surgery and I've had quite a few, and it was very recently that we started to look at the female heart differently than the male heart.
But all of the research on how chronic stress and adversity shift the brain connectivity and the function of the immune system was based on male research models.
And when I reached out to several of the most kick-butt leading female neuroscientists on the planet, these women are leading the charge to look at the female brain and how it might respond differently across puberty to unrelenting toxic stressors.
And get this; it was only in 2016 that the NIH asked, requested that female brains be included in preclinical and lab research in neuroscience. Now, you guys know, you interview a lot of people, it takes a few years for those papers to get written and the research to come out.
And so, I spent two years following girls, following the female neuroscientists who are leading this charge. And the story that they told me between the lived experience of girls today, and what we know about the new neuroscience of safety across puberty for girls and mental health, is pretty staggering.
What has come to the forefront is that … and just for those women who are listening, the reason researchers kept women out of these studies, the female brain, is because they didn't want those pesky hormones to get in the way.
So, it turns out when you look at those pesky hormones coming in at puberty for girls, it shifts a lot of things in that intersection that we talked about; chronic stress affecting the brain and the immune system at puberty and adolescence.
And here is why it matters — because estrogen is this super groovy hormone, it's so fantastic. It's the reason whether you know it or not, that if you're a woman and you're listening, you can do everything in the day that a man can do — women often do a lot more, they're up later taking care of kids and working after they put them to bed.
And we know that women handle an awful lot more of the home responsibilities on top of all the work in the world that we do. But the reason we can do everything in typically smaller bodies, even though we have much smaller organs, like our hearts are smaller, our organs are smaller, and still make room for uterus and carry a baby for nine months — that power, that amped up ability to do everything that we do, you can thank estrogen.
Estrogen amps up a lot of things in the body, and we think of it … it's really gotten a bum rap or been narrowed in terms of the way that we look at it through this narrow lens as if it's just that thrum of excitement, sexual excitement for teenagers or mood shifts.
But estrogen is a master regulator in the body and the brain. It is responsible during puberty and adolescence for helping to wire and fire up really important networks in the brain. It helps neurons to talk to each other and synapses to form. And it adds to growth factors in the brain that in healthy circumstances, lead to the adolescent female brain being an absolute superpower.
Now, it also is a regulator in the body, and in the signals the brain sends to the body and to every single organ. On its plus side, we talked about that. Estrogen is also the reason why women have a more vociferous response to vaccinations. You can see in the lab, we create a higher antibody response.
On the flip side, in the face of overwhelming environmental insults or stressors, it flips from an evolutionary advantage to a disadvantage for a couple of reasons, which we'll get into.
What that looks like in women, it's the reason why women are 3, 4, 5 times more likely depending on which disease we're talking about, to have autoimmune disease. Which I also suffer from a neurological autoimmune disease and many women know autoimmune disease.
It's also the reason why today more women are suffering from long COVID than men.
Susan Borison: Can I move a little bit into something else? I'd like to talk to you a little bit about social media.
Stephanie Silverman: Sure.
Susan Borison: We hear about the impact of social media on girls, and just media in general. The negative impact it has on today's girls, is there anything parents can do in this arena? It feels unwieldy to rein it back in.
Donna Nakazawa: I interviewed a lot of pediatricians and girls themselves about this. From the girl perspective, they don't want to be on social media so much.
You know, as one of the girls that I followed for two years told me, “Look, you're 9 or 10 and you already know that if you want to be popular at school, you need to be popular on Instagram. And if you want to be popular on Instagram or TikTok, you have to be willing to pretend you're super sexualized, that you're willing to sexualize yourself, your body, your face as if you're a grown woman even though you know you're a kid.”
So, they don't want to be spending all this time trying to figure out how they fit into the tribe on social media. And there are lots of studies which show how over time, the more time girls spend on social media, the more likely they are to have depression.
We can see it begins over time when there's a lot of engagement on social media on high health risk behaviors, like things we don't want our kids doing at early ages. Kids are more likely, their brains, the “be careful” filters are more likely to turn off.
And we also know that social media creates a reward circuitry in the brain that you might think of. Like when you as an adult think about winning the lottery or having some empty calories. So, it's not providing the connection that we want our kids to have, and kids start to feel this over time.
So, the reason I just went into a little bit of the science is because I think that the place to start is okay, social media has kind of slipped into our lives, certainly slipped into our lives as adults; our phones, our screen time.
Pediatricians told me that most parents never even have a conversation about it. That's how prevalent this slip of social media into our lives is in family life. Often, pediatricians have told me that they are the ones who have to sit down with kids or with families and talk about social media use.
So, two things here just to start this conversation. One, the science matters. Know the science because science is apparent, at least for me. Of course, I'm a science journalist, a researcher, and teacher, so hey, I'm biased. But the science can ground us.
It's not just, “Oh, I think this is alright because everybody is doing it.” It's no, we have to have some careful conversations about this because science on how this is affecting girls' mental health and wellbeing is there, it's being done. We know that it matters, especially across puberty.
So, number two is don't shame yourself. We're doing the best we can as parents, it's just a crazy world. And we're trying really hard to do everything right for our kids. When we bring in this conversation of social media, we're trying to do some really, really important things. We're trying to help our kids develop what we call social media literacy.
So, we want to start to have conversations about how much are we using social media, when are we using it, what are the rules that we think are appropriate for us as a family? Set it up as you as a family can be doing things differently than other families. Like that's okay.
Like my kids, we just have a Friday night haiku writing because my husband is Japanese. Eventually, other families thought that was cool. We still have boxes of haikus that were being wrote on Friday nights.
Stephanie Silverman: You talk about 15 anecdotes to the current crisis. We're going to ask you about a few, but can you start with your favorite?
Donna Nakazawa: Well, it's funny; my favorite versus the ones that parents tell me are their favorites … I would say that parents have a lot of favorites. I've been doing a huge number of parent groups across the country and national family action network groups and so on, and national book clubs. And what parents tell me are two things.
One is that all of the antidotes are peppered with real life scripts. Based on the fact that we know parenting is hard, there are very tough parenting moments. And when we're in those tough moments where we really want to say the right thing, but our stuff is getting cooked up, we're feeling reactive because parenting is difficult — having those scripts when our brain goes offline is really, really, really, really important.
And in those moments, it is very helpful for parents to remember a couple of the antidotes right off the top. When your child turns to you with hard things, make sure it's a good experience for her. What does that look like? What are the scripts? How do you do it? What's the work involved, before that moment happens.
Because research shows that a girl's chance of flourishing across puberty and adolescences is 12 times higher when a family can answer yes to one question. 12 times higher if a family can answer yes to this question — how well can this child come to you to talk about anything?
So, having done that work on yourself to create that parent-child attunement is where most parents start. And I've had parents tell me they're sticking scripts on index cards and the insides of the cabinet where they get their coffee mug, or under the visor in the car, or screenshotting them to their phones so that they have them when their brain is like, “Goodbye.” And the other thing that surprised me is how-
Susan Borison: That was the family resilience and connection index, right? That you're talking about, those questions?
Donna Nakazawa: One of them is in there. Yes.
Susan Borison: You said there were six questions in the book from that family resilience and connection index. So, like if someone wanted to get more information on that, where would they go?
Donna Nakazawa: It's all in the citations of the book. If you go to the end of the book, you will see if you go to the page number that that's on.
So, it's all work that came out of Christina Bethell's research center at Hopkins and she's Director of the Child and Adolescent Health Index which is created under the auspices of the CDC.
Susan Borison: That's fantastic because the thing that we want to hear as parents is, here's the one thing you can do that will make the biggest impact.
And then in your book, I mean you also talk about the family resilience and connection index, but then, you also talk about how a relationship with one loving and attuned parent or caregiver is the single most protective factor for any child.
When we can get those, like the most and the best, it's like it takes a lot of the burden of like trying to say do we need all six of those protective factors, like knowing that there's a few that really rise to the top.
I mean, I'm sure you know this being a mother also; it is overwhelming the number of things we're told to do to be doing this job well. So, if we can pluck out what you just said and then this other one under your antidotes, tell us about this one loving and attuned parent or caregiver.
Donna Nakazawa: Having one reliable, safe, stable, nurturing caregiver to whom you can turn to about anything is more protective than any other factor that we have ever been able to find.
And the reason for that is that that requires the adult having worked through their own stuff and being self-regulated enough in difficult moments that they're all able to offer up something that researchers call not just parent-child attunement, but bio synchrony.
And what is bio synchrony? It's when your child comes to you, things are difficult or hard to talk about, and every cell in you has done the work that you need to do to offer up a sense of safety, listening, caring, loving, and that your child matters to them. And that requires a lot of things.
Putting down your screens, number one. Number two, building in that time no matter what's going on around you when your child comes to you with difficult things, or when they come to you, and they just don't know how to express what's going on for them.
We have dozens of scripts for how to build in the kind of responses so that you're allowing for that bio synchrony to happen. And that's really what we mean about that.
Now, you said something else, there's so much going on that's put on us as moms. It doesn't mean we have to go it alone. Moms that I talk to are so often so hard on themselves ruminating about their kids, how this turned out, how that turned out.
We are not one-woman bands. We came across evolutionary history from tribe, community, cooperation, collaboration. And we also have good evidence that in another antidote of the book, that another super important factor of thriving is having two non-parental adults to whom you believe you matter, who see the good in you, who give you a sense of belonging.
And we have to be able to work to build that into our children's lives as well and know that hey, when we think our kid is not okay, when they aren't able to talk to us, maybe through no fault of our own — there is a lot going on for kids today.
And when you see how hot and fast the world is coming in with social media, school shootings, climate change, everything else, and kids are going through puberty six years earlier than they did in 1800, five years earlier than they did in 1900.
Puberty is coming in and the brain is getting rewired before the brain is fired and wired up to have these difficult conversations, to know how to talk about the things that distress them. And this is part of why we're seeing this rise in anxiety and depression in girls.
The brain is rewiring and refiring at a very crucial developmental window in a world full of toxic stress, and the brain has not wired and fired up yet to handle all this. This means that when our kids turn to us or when we think they're not okay, that we are bearing in mind this is not the world we grew up in.
They may not have the words or skills to come to us and articulate, and we have to build in the time and the space and a shift inside ourselves to be there for them as they process and express to us very difficult feelings and responses to the world that they're living in.
Stephanie Silverman: In an interview with our friend Michelle Icard, you talked about the power of listening and curiosity. Can you give us an example of each of those?
Donna Nakazawa: When kids are little, it's our job to jump in as the fixer, the detective. Like your kid falls down, they scrape their knee, you're going to jump in, “Are you okay? Let's get that pebble out of there. Here's the tin, here are the band-aids” and that's our job or “Where were you when this happened?” So on and so forth.
But as kids get older, especially with everything that I've just discussed, everything coming in harder, faster, brain’s rewiring, puberty happening much earlier — the brain rewiring and firing before it's had time to develop.
Adolescences used to happen before puberty, now, it's the opposite. And that's a problem because adolescence was a time where you had time to figure out how do I respond when my friends are mad at me? What's safe, what's not safe? What's an emergency, what's not? What's life or death here, and what's not?
So, remembering all the science, because I think it is grounding (again, I'm biased); having this ability within yourself to call forth specific ways of responding to your child to build in that bio synchrony — like your kid comes to you and says, “So, this is what happened, what do I do? What do I do?”
“Hey, I'm going to tell you what I think. I promise you I'm going to tell you what I think. But right now, I really want to hear what you think because what you think right now, is so much more important than what I think.”
Or before you jump in as the fixer of the detective, and “I'm here, I'm listening, I know you're a good person, I know you made the best choices you could. I want to hear what this was like for you.”
Or before you jump in, “Hey, is it okay if I offer some observations? And if you screw it up because you will …” Because when our kids go through tough things, we worry and when we worry, we get fear-based. And with the fear-based brain is one that is much more likely to flip its lid.
So, “Hey, I said that but I really want to pull back here. That is not what I intended to say and that might have made you feel really bad, and that's not what I want here. And I'm sorry, I don't have all the skills all the time to do this perfectly. This is a really important conversation and I want to build in space for you to be able to come to me with these kinds of things.”
In the book I talk about lots of ways to set this up for success and dozens and dozens of ways to respond. But some families like create coupons for their kids or text them and say, “Hey, anytime you want to come to me with anything, I will give you 15 minutes of silence and just listening.”
Because kids know when we're wired and fired up to jump on them, versus when every cell of us is ready to step back and provide that sense of safety for them so they can spill.
And here's another thing; we often think as parents we’ll know what our kids are going through, we’ll know when they're not okay. But we often do not. 90% of parents say, “Well, I know if there was a problem with my kids.”
But we often can't distinguish between what they're going through if it's really serious and normal mood swings. Half of parents don't know when their kids are having suicidal ideation.
I don't say that to scare anybody, I say it to underscore that building in this buffer zone between your child's needs and your responses is work that we have to do.
Susan Borison: So, one of the things in your book that I really appreciated was addressing the fact that not all kids are going to talk to their mother.
And so much of our advice is about the most protective thing is for your kid to know that they could come to you and yet, your kid doesn't want to come to you, and it feels awful and it's normal.
But it doesn't feel that way because it's the solution to the problems of the world, is to make sure that we're curious and we're silent, and we're listening well, but our kid isn't coming to us at all. So, you offer this idea of expressive writing. Are kids willing to do that?
Donna Nakazawa: That has turned out to be a parent favorite, bar none, is having this tool because as you said, and I'm so glad you said that; a lot of kids stop talking to us and that's okay. Like I said, we're not here to do it alone and we have lots of strategies for bringing in the wider community when kids stop talking to us.
But this has been an absolute parent favorite. So, to give you a little history, for years, many, many years, I have taught narrative writing to medical schools, therapy conferences, so many different groups, I can't count.
And that expressive writing program is for grownups. And it's tons of parents, students and it's all available online. But over time, people started asking me, “Well, how do we work with younger people with narrative writing?”
And so, this is a skill that therapists use with their younger patients, parents use with their children. And it's wildly popular for great reason. A lot of times, the non-talkers are better at expressing themselves in other ways, including writing.
And this is a simple exercise you can do at any time. It's an invitation to your child, not an expectation. You're not demanding that they do this. You ask them to set a timer for 10 minutes: “Hey, it seems like you're feeling really upset about this and I understand that you don't want to talk about it right now. That is okay.”
“How about if you try setting a timer and you just write anything that comes to you, no matter how terrible it might seem to you, no matter how angry you might be at your friend or your family or your teacher, and no matter how …”
Susan Borison: Or your mother.
Donna Nakazawa: I was going to say that: “Even if it's about me, get it down. Don't lift your pencil from the paper, just keep going. This is expressive writing. Until that timer goes off in 10 minutes, get it all on paper.”
And kids will talk about how like they’re so mad the pencil goes right through the paper, they're like ripping the paper.
“And at 10 minutes stop. Here's the rule, there're two rules for part one of this exercise. One, you may not write negative things about yourself.” Because we know that girls are more likely because of the gendered society that we come of age in to turn their guilt or shame or other things people say about them inward.
When we're worked up and we know that we're not sure how to deal with this situation, we're ruminating — that tends to go inward for girls. We can see in the female developing brain, an area of the amygdala, the alert center of the brain, the left amygdala gets very perfused when girls are anxious.
And that is bad because that's rumination and it's highly, highly associated with depression. And we want to break that rumination and this skill allows girls to do that, but not if they're turning their pen on themselves. So, those are the rules.
The second rule is afterwards, they rip it to shreds in tiny little itty-bitty bits. They can scatter it in every different trash can, and you mom, are not allowed to go to try and put them back together. You are just not allowed to do that.
And you let your child know, “I will never read this, no one will ever read it. You can rip it into 9,000 pieces. We can put it in the fireplace, whatever you want to do.”
And then you set the timer again for 10 minutes, your child sets the timer again for 10 minutes: “Write about all the ways in which you've been able to get through things like this before when your friends didn't talk to you or when you were … things you were able to say or do.”
“Write about what you might want to say to this person that's constructive and helpful to you. How can you make meaning out of this story and who you are? Wow, it took a lot of courage not to drink vodka with your friends, even though they might have shamed you. You know, what are the characteristics in you that you can draw meaning from going forward?”
And this has turned out, as I said, to be a parent and young person favorite in a way that I really didn't anticipate, but I'm very happy about because I love narrative writing. I've seen the power of it to shift lives.
Physicians going into tough situations during COVID pandemic and it works for kids too.
Stephanie Silverman: Do these anecdotes work for teenage boys as well?
Donna Nakazawa: I love that you asked that. So, of course, I'm the mother of a daughter and I'm the mother of a son, and I care deeply about boys and girls, and they absolutely do.
There are a few that are absolutely geared for girls like where I talk about reverse engineering sexist comments in the world around you. I have a son, he responds when he hears sexist things. He has a little sister, he doesn't want to hear anybody say that crap.
But there are certain things that are geared toward girls because of the gendered and sexist and misogynist culture that we come of age in. At the same time, just so people know, the reason I focused on girls is because there are a lot of books out there that are based on the research on stress and development based on a male brain.
I wanted to do one now that we have the research based on the female brain. And absolutely, these encompass all boys, all girls, wherever anyone is on the gender continuum, non-binary. But we now, have the research about the female brain, and I think it's important to get it out there in this way.
And I also want to say boys suffer from toxic masculinity. Like I can remember my son coming home in middle school and saying, “I don't care if I have no friends, I will not talk about girls that way.” And boys go through periods where they're left out and shamed for not being part of that toxic masculinity.
So, it's not easy out there on anyone. And the focus on these antidotes through the female lens of experience, is because everything that we've ever done was based on research that was based on a male model. And so, I wanted to just correct that a tad.
Absolutely, so many parents tell me, “Well, I'm doing this with my son.” And yay you, because guess what, if we help boys, we're helping girls, right?
Stephanie Silverman: What is the biggest myth about raising teenage girls?
Donna Nakazawa: The biggest myth about raising teenage girls is that even as we see these rising rates of depression and anxiety, that this means that somehow, girls are more prone to depression and anxiety because of something inside girls. And that is not the case.
Girls are only more prone to these concerns when there is unrelenting stress in the environment. When we remove those stressors, when we're able to amp up the neuroprotective factors, which are what my 15 antidotes are about, and ratchet down the stressors coming at girls so that we bring down that stress machinery in the brain that's talking to the body — when we can do that, as I think I said at the top of the interview, the adolescent brain is a superpower. The adolescent female brain in particular.
And that's because across evolutionary time, the adolescent female brain had to be very protective in the face of meeting stressors in the world around us. And there are all kinds of things you can read in the book about that and why that is.
But that corpus callosum between the two sides of the brain is richer in girls. That spidey sense of like, “What's going on here and what do I need to be aware of” is so rich, it's such a time of promise. And that brain is so agile and flexible and tuned in.
So, what we want to do here is bring down those stressors, bring out the neuroprotective factors so that we can see that female adolescent brain shine long into adulthood.
Susan Borison: Donna Jackson Nakazawa, thank you for helping us give our kids back their childhood. Everyone should read the book. It is called Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media.
And so many of your tips are helping us kind of sit them down and calm them down, and let them just enjoy — enjoy what's right in front of them and not worry about this big bad world.
So, Donna, thank you so much for being here with us.
Donna Nakazawa: Such a pleasure. Thank you so much for inviting me.
Susan Borison: And don't forget, we have copies of Donna's book to give away, Girls on the Brink: Helping Our Daughters Thrive in an Era of Increased Anxiety, Depression, and Social Media. To be entered in the raffle, email email@example.com.
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