Navigating the ups and downs of the teenage years has never been easy, as young adults manage a lot of changes that are hormonal, physical, social and emotional. Teens could use help during this period; according to a recent study, the prevalence of depression in adolescents has increased in the last decade. One way teens can manage these experiences, according to psychologist Susan David, is by equipping teens with the emotional skills to “help them develop the flexibility and resilience they need to flourish, even during hard times.”
“Emotions are absolutely fundamental to our long-term success – our grit, our ability to self-regulate, to negotiate conflict and to solve problems. They influence our relationships and our ability to be effective in our jobs,” said David, author of the book “Emotional Agility” and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “Children who grow up into adults who are not able to navigate emotions effectively will be at a major disadvantage.”
In her book, David defines emotional agility as “being aware and accepting of all your emotions, even learning from the most difficult ones,” and being able to “live in the moment with a clear reading of present circumstances, respond appropriately, and then act in alignment with your deepest values.” She says emotions are data, not directions. Understanding that distinction can equip teenagers to make healthy decisions that are in alignment with their values.
David said that she would explain the concept to a teenager this way: “Emotional agility is the ability to not be scared of emotions, but rather to be able to learn from them and use emotions for all the things you want to do and be in the world.” In order to respond with agility to challenging or novel situations, teenagers need to strengthen their emotional literacy. David recommends helping them understand these key concepts about emotions.
Emotions are not good or bad -- they just are.
Everyone experiences difficult emotions -- including sadness, anger and frustration. Teens need to know that “there is nothing wrong with you when you feel sad or angry inside,” said David. “Teens so often live in a world in which what peers are doing becomes the litmus of what is normal.” They engage in social comparison, often via social media platforms. “If your friends seem to be happy all the time, that can be very isolating for a teen.” When adults reassure teens that all emotions are normal and healthy, it can help ease their minds when they have a strong emotional response.