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Top 3 Tips to get into your Tween or Teen’s Head Using Disney Pixar’s Inside Out 

By: Lina Acosta Sandaal, MA


I felt a knot in my throat and tears welled in my eyes as I watched the preview to Inside Out.  My work and passion flashed before my eyes and as a mental health professional I was elated to know that Disney Pixar had taken on the world of emotions and the workings of the mind with the mesmerizing art and storytelling that only Disney Pixar can give us.  Ever since that day, I have been on the quest to see this magical movie.  I am happy to say it did not disappoint!

Los Tweens & Teens YouTube Channel Hosts Parents and teens + tweens for a talk at The Nest Wellness Center in Miami:

Director Pete Docter takes on the world of the mind and emotions and creates a visually beautiful film.  The movie engages you from the very start.  I watched in awe as everything I know about a tween’s social and emotional development was presented with entertaining banter and wit.  In the first ten minutes the film introduces each feeling, defines them and what they do for Riley, the 11 year old star of the film, at this point Inside Out had my heart.  At that moment I understood that a parent can use this film in any age group but in particular for a tween to speak and explain the world of choices, loss and emotions.  Here are my suggestions on how to use the movie to begin a conversation with your tween or teen about the world inside their minds:

TIP 1: Find out what are the main feelings that control their mind

As parents you can use the emotional characters as a means to have an open dialogue with your tween about how they experience emotions in their mind.  You can do it by using the information in the movie since Director Docter went to “the” source on all things emotions, Dr. Dacher Keltner, co-director of the Greater Good Science Center, who has studied emotions for the last 25 years.  However, I don’t imagine even Keltner could have personified the emotional world of an 11-year-old quite like Docter and his team.

InsideOut group

Cristy, Amanda and Lina join teens & tweens Sophia, Brandon and Mathew for an emotional talk about the InsideOut movie

Riley has fear, joy, anger, sadness, and disgust as the emotions that control her mind.  Using this from the movie, you can wonder with your Tweens what feelings tend to control the console of their minds.  Wonder with them what feeling they wish was not controlling them and give them your ideas, values, and directions on how to change and work with that feeling.

TIP 2: Address those feelings, memories or thoughts that may be guiding your tween or teen wrong

The pivotal plot twist in the movie is when joy and sadness get lost in long term memory, leaving fear, disgust and anger in charge.  This turn of events causes Riley to make many choices and lose many aspects of herself.  The audience at this point of the movie was both engaged and uncomfortable.  As a psychotherapist, I understand the audience’s discomfort.  Many of us tend to avoid feelings and certain memories, and this time in the movie causes the audience to witness and feel the results of losing joy and meaningful memories from our protagonist’s life.  As a parent you can use the symbolism of the movie and wonder with your tween what happens when fear, disgust, and anger take over their mind.  The truth is most of us make our worst decisions when fear and anger take the lead. Tweens tend to have a lot to fear since they are constantly maneuvering between being the kid that wants to play and be taken care of and the kid that wants to grow older and have more responsibility.

 TIP 3: Talk about growing up (this is hard!)

Like most of the great movies, this is a coming of age story, a story of transitions, and a story of the importance of family.  In an interview, Mindy Kaling, the actor who gives the voice to disgust was quoted as stating how she thought it was beautiful that this movie tells kids that it is hard to grow up and it is okay to be sad about it. Yes! This is another great topic the movie allows us parents to tackle, especially since our protagonist does not have an easy go at the changes and transitions that growing up brings for her.  But it is important to understand that ALL the emotions are necessary if we are to give our tweens the opportunity to grow and move into adolescence.  Protecting them from harm or emotional pain will only burden and stifle their ability to launch.  As parents, we need to remember that growing up is allowing your tween to experience the hard stuff and understanding that without the hard stuff we lose our relationships and certainty in the world.  The movie does a beautiful job of showing us many aspects of this growing up process.

I highly recommend this movie.  I will be using it moving forward at my center, The Nest,and with all the families and kids that come to speak to me about their world and their challenges growing up.  I thank Docter and his team for bringing the world of feelings and the mind to life!

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