Teenager Emotions – Some Intriguing Research

The research summarized the data on emotions in three generations — children, adults and adolescents or teenagers.

Here’s the premise …

Children are able to tell you with confidence what singular emotion they are experiencing. The researchers hypothesize that children may only be able to experience a single emotion at once so this identification is relatively straight forward.

Adults are able to tell you with confidence the mixture of emotions they may be experiencing at once. Their life experiences have enabled them to not only identify their emotions, but also understand the effects on themselves because of them.

Teenager Emotions Can Be Confusing – For Everyone

And then there are the Adolescents or Teenagers

The researchers proposed that the adolescent brain is new to the experience of simultaneous multiple emotions, and due to their limited history with this complexity, adolescents become confused and exasperated at being able to understand them.

And that’s where we, as the adults in their lives, sometimes stare in sheer disbelief at what is unfolding before our eyes. The intensity of their emotions and the teenager’s inability to explain them can make for some pretty interesting dramatic theatre.

So, adolescents are confused about how they’re feeling — got it. Now, before I get a stream of emails arguing that some teenagers are very good at understanding their emotions, I agree. Some teens are going to be excellent at understanding their feelings and the effects on themselves — there will always be examples that disprove the general finding.

That doesn’t negate this research and its lens into the how some teenagers might be dealing with their emotional experiences.

Another interesting finding in the study was this:

The Regulated Teen is Better Able to Handle Life’s Stresses

Teens who are able to distinguish and understand their negative emotions are much better able to handle life’s stresses.

So, I’m thinking that perhaps ALL of us (not just teens) could benefit from a better understanding of our emotions. But for the teenager this may be particularly important developmentally as they traverse one of life’s most interesting times.

If we accept the results of the research, how can we as a school system use this knowledge to help students in our classrooms?

Students will benefit emotionally and cognitively from being able to identify, distinguish and understand their emotions — particularly those that are negative in their nature. The study postulates that if teens do NOT have those skills they will likely have a higher risk of stress and possibly depression.

In Saanich Schools, we continue our work on building shared understanding of concepts such as:

Self-Regulation: In it’s most basic sense, self-regulation refers to one’s ability to recognize and control one’s emotions and impulses in the pursuit of long-term goals (e.g. learning, social connectedness). A child with self-regulation skills is able to focus their attention, control their emotions and manage their thinking, behavior and feelings.

Mindfulness: Being mindful means being aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. When we are being mindful we are better able to respond to life’s challenges.

A 2018 research article found in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychology points to a particularly important conclusion — mindfulness based interventions can be extremely effective at improving the mental health and well-being of youth — including the issues of anxiety, stress and depression.

As we continue to deepen our understanding of mental health topics such as self-regulation and mindfulness, we end up being better able to support our children and youth. And for teens, we are better able to see through the emotional upheaval that sometimes defines the teenage experience.

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