It’s not easy for adults to manage their emotions, so imagine how difficult it is for kids.
Her patients are at an emotionally vulnerable age. It’s not unusual for a young patient to burst into tears discussing sensitive matters such as sexual health or body image. Sometimes they can’t articulate their feelings.
“If you help identify it with a word, it will help them understand what they are feeling,” Dr. Cole said. “Teenagers tend to be very much in the moment. Teaching them to reflect on feelings when they are having them can make a difference.”
More attention is being given to the importance of emotional awareness, or emotional intelligence, to overall success and well-being. Programs such as the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence develop school curriculum aimed at developing these skills, and even some business schools have found it important enough to incorporate training in their curriculum.
Dr. Cole agrees that emotional and social learning can impact one’s life and career.
“If you understand your own emotions and where they are coming from, and you understand other people’s emotions as well, it helps you develop empathy. That helps with your interactions with others,” Dr. Cole said.
“I think a lot of kids are taught it’s not OK to feel sad, it’s not OK to feel angry, it’s not OK to show emotion. It’s important that kids understand it’s OK to have emotions and to express them within limits.”
The challenge is difficult as ever because sources of stress for young people are magnified in the digital world. “Bullying, sexual pressures and focus on body image have existed for a long time, but the game has been upped substantially by the internet,” Dr. Cole said. “You can’t escape to your bedroom anymore because you are bombarded with instant messages, texts and notifications. Teens are constantly exposed to things that cause them stress.”
Journaling is one way that can help teens express their feelings, Dr. Cole said. But first and foremost, parents have great influence on how their kids process and express emotions. Talking out feelings with a parent or mentor who can provide insight and guidance is invaluable.
Also, you can help your kids by working on your own emotional awareness, Dr. Cole said. Even if you don’t always handle your emotions well, talking with your kids about your feelings, why you acted a certain way and how you could have done it differently will make an impression on your teen.