Mental Health

Regret, Lessons For Our Kids

Delaney Ruston, MD
April 12, 2022

A couple of months ago, I spoke with Ethan Kross, the head of University of Michigan's Emotion and Self Control Lab, about his research. During our call, I asked if he knew anyone researching regret because I had been looking for science in this area and had found so little. He said he did not know of anyone working on the topic.

Little did we know, but author Daniel Pink was just about to release a book called The Power of Regret. 

And that Ethan’s research was in the section of the book regarding strategies for dealing with regret.

Pink had become interested in writing the book because his kid was headed to college, which had started Pink thinking about things he regretted about college. Around this time, he started asking people about their regrets and found that people were drawn to the topic. 

Pink realized there was not one popular book out on the topic. So he called his editor and said he was bagging the book he was working on and delving into regret. 

Because there was so little research out there, Pink got help in creating a survey and amassed a very large sampling of American attitudes about regret. He also set up a place on his website where anyone in the world can write their regrets. 

Regret is a topic I have long felt is under-discussed. 

It is about thinking of something that happened in the past that we had at least some control over and now believe if we had done things differently, things would be better now — for ourselves or others we care about. 

Over the years, I have been asking friends and family about regrets. So often, people will immediately say they “have none.” But the more we delve into the subject, the more they come up with things they would have done differently had they known what they know now. 

In Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, Andrew, the college student who went to an internet addiction recovery center, says, 

“One of my regrets is the fact that I’ve been playing piano for 12 years, and I feel like I really never achieved my full potential with that. Instead, if I had dedicated all my computer time to mastering an instrument, or reading, or exploring things, I would be way above where I am now.” 

Many people I talk to who have regrets only have a mild form. They may have things they would have done differently, but the thoughts in their head don’t come up several times a day. 

I, however, join hands in solidarity with us less fortunate folks who have brains that excessively ruminate on regrets — be it months or years at a time. This reality is part of why I have been fascinated by the topic for so long. One of the key ways I cope with my excessive challenging feelings, i.e., feelings that don’t fit the facts, is to research the topic. I interview people, read studies, and so forth, and then I use that information to help others. 

Here are a few talking points about regret to share with kids: 

Join
440
others who have made the pledge!
Thank you for making the pledge!
Please try again
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More

We live in a culture that promotes the idea that an ideal life is one without regrets. 

That is hogwash. Regrets, in moderation, serve a wonderful and necessary purpose. 

Our brains experience feelings of regret for a reason.

Reflecting on how things went and how we would have perhaps done things differently is one of the brain’s superpowers. It lets us learn from our past actions so that we can move forward with new wisdom and make different moves. 

Our brains can go overboard and ruminate on feelings of regret.

Our brains are not perfect, and helpful reflection turns into painful rumination for some of us. We can get pulled into a vortex of prolonged negative regret thoughts. It causes some level of suffering, over and over. A ping here  

Sometimes a person realizes their brain is doing that, and sometimes it is not so obvious. If negative self-talk around regrets is somewhere in the concerning zone, it can be helpful to talk about it. People to go to include a thought/ emotion coach like a counselor or therapist or even a wise person in our circles like a cool aunt or an older cousin. 

Many skills can be learned and practiced to navigate unruly regret. 

One of these gets back to Ethan Kross’s work on “self-distancing,” which can help us better regulate hard emotions, including regret. One example is getting distance through space — known as the “fly-on-the-wall” approach.

Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More

So if a person’s regret has been, for example, “I messed up by staying on the group chat even though I hated how Jay kept acting.” The skill would be to adopt the stance as a helpful outsider and talk from that perspective by saying something like, “Someone watched a person stay in a group chat even though a person was being cruel on it. Staying on such a chat is really common, yet it is not too late to get off the chat and reach out to Jay to show your support.”

Another example of self-distancing is using “time travel.”  Pink writes in his book, “...one study showed that prompting people to consider how they might feel about a negative situation in ten years reduced their stress and enhanced their problem-solving capabilities compared to contemplating what the situation would be like in a week.” 

One last KEY THING.

What we disclose to our kids about regret is a delicate subject, and this post is not about encouraging people to divulge their regrets to their kids!

Ideas to get the conversation started.

  1. What conversations have we ever had about the theme of regret? About the science of regret?
  2. Try this self-distancing skill as a family. Have someone pick a small regret they have had. Now have the person share what happened and why and then do it again, pretending to be a helpful observer.
  3. Do the same as above and try the time travel technique. How do we think we would feel ten years from now?
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Order Here
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Find A screening Button

Find a Screening - Find a screening of our movies in your local community

Learn More
Screenagers Podcast

Screenagers Podcast - Join Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD for the latest Podcast

Learn More
Book page button

Available now - Parenting in the Screen Age, from Screenagers filmmaker Delaney Ruston MD

Learn More
Host a Screening Button

Community Screenings - Learn more about hosting your own Screenagers community screening event!

Learn More
Parenting In The Screen Age Book Cover

Free Book Preview - Download a free preview of "Parenting In The Screen Age" by Delaney Ruston, MD

Learn More
Mental Health

Regret, Lessons For Our Kids

Delaney Ruston, MD
April 12, 2022

A couple of months ago, I spoke with Ethan Kross, the head of University of Michigan's Emotion and Self Control Lab, about his research. During our call, I asked if he knew anyone researching regret because I had been looking for science in this area and had found so little. He said he did not know of anyone working on the topic.

Little did we know, but author Daniel Pink was just about to release a book called The Power of Regret. 

And that Ethan’s research was in the section of the book regarding strategies for dealing with regret.

Pink had become interested in writing the book because his kid was headed to college, which had started Pink thinking about things he regretted about college. Around this time, he started asking people about their regrets and found that people were drawn to the topic. 

Pink realized there was not one popular book out on the topic. So he called his editor and said he was bagging the book he was working on and delving into regret. 

Because there was so little research out there, Pink got help in creating a survey and amassed a very large sampling of American attitudes about regret. He also set up a place on his website where anyone in the world can write their regrets. 

Regret is a topic I have long felt is under-discussed. 

It is about thinking of something that happened in the past that we had at least some control over and now believe if we had done things differently, things would be better now — for ourselves or others we care about. 

Over the years, I have been asking friends and family about regrets. So often, people will immediately say they “have none.” But the more we delve into the subject, the more they come up with things they would have done differently had they known what they know now. 

In Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, Andrew, the college student who went to an internet addiction recovery center, says, 

“One of my regrets is the fact that I’ve been playing piano for 12 years, and I feel like I really never achieved my full potential with that. Instead, if I had dedicated all my computer time to mastering an instrument, or reading, or exploring things, I would be way above where I am now.” 

Many people I talk to who have regrets only have a mild form. They may have things they would have done differently, but the thoughts in their head don’t come up several times a day. 

I, however, join hands in solidarity with us less fortunate folks who have brains that excessively ruminate on regrets — be it months or years at a time. This reality is part of why I have been fascinated by the topic for so long. One of the key ways I cope with my excessive challenging feelings, i.e., feelings that don’t fit the facts, is to research the topic. I interview people, read studies, and so forth, and then I use that information to help others. 

Here are a few talking points about regret to share with kids: 

More Like This

3 Step Road Map for Mental Health Hack When Tragedy Hits
May 17, 2022
Mental Health

3 Step Road Map for Mental Health Hack When Tragedy Hits

In keeping with this month of Mental Health Awareness, I want to talk about one of the most effective resilience skills we can help impart to our kids: the act of taking pain and turning it into positive action. It is well established that doing actions to address tragedies or injustices can lift our feelings of wellbeing, hope, self-efficacy, and purpose.

READ MORE >
In a World of Happy Posts — Why Expressing True Emotions is So Important
May 10, 2022
Mental Health

In a World of Happy Posts — Why Expressing True Emotions is So Important

In the spirit of Mental Health Month, it is paramount that all kids know that mental health issues affect us all. Our emotional lives are so complicated. The pressure youth feel to exude certain feelings can be intense. A significant portion of my book Parenting in the Screen Age is devoted to mental health issues and today I want to share one small section of the book.

READ MORE >
I Made Sure My Kids Knew These 3 Things About The Brain
May 3, 2022
Mental Health

I Made Sure My Kids Knew These 3 Things About The Brain

Today I share three important brain health messages to get to our kids. Also, to share language you can use with them ongoing — whether it’s about their own mental health, others in the family, or peers and beyond.

READ MORE >

parenting in the screen age

for more like this, DR. DELANEY RUSTON'S NEW BOOK, PARENTING IN THE SCREEN AGE, IS THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE FOR TODAY’S PARENTS. WITH INSIGHTS ON SCREEN TIME FROM RESEARCHERS, INPUT FROM KIDS & TEENS, THIS BOOK IS PACKED WITH SOLUTIONS FOR HOW TO START AND SUSTAIN PRODUCTIVE FAMILY TALKS ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AND IT’S IMPACT ON OUR MENTAL WELLBEING.  

ORDER HERE
Parenting in the Screen Age book cover