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Helping Teens Take Control of their Emotions

Most of us have soothed a struggling friend or family member by reminding him or her that most emotions are not inherently bad or good; it is what is done with the emotion that can be bad or good. This piece of advice can be helpful for people of all ages grappling with strong feelings. Teenagers tend to experience a lot of emotional highs and lows, due to both hormones and the mounting pressures and responsibilities of growing up. Giving young adults the tools to recognize emotions and chose how they respond to them can help alleviate lots of unwanted consequences from acting rashly or regrettably to emotions left unchecked.

Learning how to express emotions in acceptable ways is a separate skill (see our “Getting Along with Others” course for help with this) ; managing emotions is built on being able to understand emotions. Building emotional awareness can help inform the way we react. To become more aware of their emotions, teens can:

- Make a habit of recognizing how you feel throughout the day. Simply identifying (naming) emotions (excited, pleased, anxious, etc) helps you recognize that they are temporary.

- Gauge how strong the feeling is. After you identify the emotion, rate how strong it is on a scale from 1-10.

- Share your feelings with someone. This is a good way to practice putting emotions into words and helps strengthen relationships in the meantime.

Strategies for helping teens manage emotions include:

- Journaling. Putting feelings into words helps with emotional awareness and also helps inform the resulting action, if there is one. Since it’s always better to stop and think before you act, journaling, like talking to a friend, helps with the “thinking” step.

- Breathing/Mediating. Leaning to control the physical affects of emotions helps to reduce them escalating. Gong to a quiet place or focusing on slow breathing can provide the control and time to avoid a rash action.

- Exercise. The correlation between (pleasant) moods and exercise is supported by research and anecdotally. Exercise not only boosts positive feelings, it also may help train your body to be less anxious when put in challenging circumstances, as you learn to associate the physical responses of an increased heart rate and perspiration with safety instead of danger (read more here).

- Talking to someone. School counselors are there for a reason (more than just scheduling classes!). Friends and family members can also provide comfort and help processing, and like journaling, conversations can serve as a way to help put feelings into words.

Want to read more about teens and emotions? Visit these links:

- “Adolescence and Emotion” from Psychology Today explains why there is more emotional intensity to manage during adolescence.

- “Adolescent Angst: 5 Facts About the Teen Brain” via LiveScience explains the science behind teen brain development and its impact on emotional behaviors.

- has some material to help girls learn more about their feelings and what to do with them:

- Our Human Growth and Development programs teach teens about the emotional changes that occur during puberty.


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