Hey Teens — Research Shows, It Really Does Get Better

In her fourth article in this series, Hampton Tutors coach and UW Master of Social Work candidate Gina Nepa discusses how psychoeducation—learning about one's own mental health—helps teenagers understand that their social difficulties aren't necessarily permanent.

 
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Due to their unique crux of psychological and biological development, teenagers tend to be “more reactive to stress” than individuals in other life phases (Yeager et al., 2016). Adolescence also occupies a time in which relationship-building is key, and those who struggle to attain relationships of “status” may subsequently internalize negative feelings about self. In a social context in which 11 percent of individuals over the age of 12 are prescribed antidepressants (Pratt et al., 2011), we need to evaluate protective factors (including personality!) that can hinder the longevity of self-sabotaging feelings.

Adolescents are evolutionarily trained to be highly-responsive to environmental cues, in order to help facilitate learning (Knox, 2010). Although this stimulus response can aid in acquiring academic content, it also ties into the “more robust habit-forming ability that adolescents have, compared to adults” (Knox, 2010). Teenagers are bombarded with messaging that their social difficulties may plague them forever, when science in fact demonstrates that “socially relevant traits are malleable” (Yeager et al., 2016). Social adaptation, or seeming lack thereof, is a fluid process that is certainly not solidified during adolescence (which I think most of us are grateful for).

Yeager et al. (2016) tracked 205 ninth-graders over the course of a year; half of the teens were informed of the malleability of socially relevant traits, whereas the other half were provided with no psychoeducation. The results were stark. “The teens who were exposed to the idea that people can change coped better on days when they reported more stressors … exhibited higher GPAs 7 months later compared with their peers … [and] reported lower rates of depressive symptoms at the end of the school year” (Yeager et al., 2016).

This research indubitably demonstrates that psychoeducation, and evidence-based psychological interventions, among adolescents is impactful on a far-reaching scale. As educators, we have an obligation to provide teens with the information that physiologically, their internalized social defeat is not static.

Knox, R. (Host). (2010, March 1). The Teen Brain: It’s Just Not Grown Up Yet [Radio broadcast episode]. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124119468

Pratt, L., Brody, Debra J, Gu, Qiuping, & National Center for Health Statistics. (2011). Antidepressant use in persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2005-2008 (NCHS data brief (Series); no. 76). Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.

Yeager, D., Lee, H., & Jamieson, J. (2016). How to Improve Adolescent Stress Responses. Psychological Science, 27(8), 1078-1091.

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