Psychology of the teenage mind

How do teenagers react to their emotions and what are the coping methods?

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Photo by Makenzie Hofert

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Story by Makenzie Hofert, staff writer

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The teenage brain undergoes many stressful situations throughout short periods of time, causing  most teens to hide their emotions and have difficulty openly talking about their problems. The teenage brain is very complex and has to work harder than adults in similar situations due to them not being as cognitively developed.

Teenagers can look identical to adults, but they’re completely different in numerous ways. For instance, most teenagers could be mature and responsible in handling their work at school one day, and then completely switch their attitude and work ethic the next, says Nature. Since the teenage brain is still developing, actions of teens can be unpredictable and unexpected. 

“There are definitely some individualized issues that teens face compared to young adults,” Randy Thomason, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and Chemical Dependency Counselor (CDC), said. “There are definitely some life transition issues that make them different populations.” 

Teenagers have the same chemical reactions in their brain as younger and older adults. The way children express their emotions such as rage may differ from adults due to the lack of reasoning behind most of that rage. Small things can contribute to a teenagers’ sense of anger or any other emotion that we tend to feel throughout our everyday lives. 

According to Nature, an experiment was conducted in which adults and teenagers had a light shone into the corner of their eye. The objective was to ignore the light and not look at it. It is a test of natural impulse, and even though it seems easy, the brain still struggles to follow its task. Within this experiment, the adults and teenagers both performed well, but the results of the experiment concluded that the teenage brain had to work harder than the adults. The younger brain ended up using the entire frontal lobe while the adults were able to simply ignore their peripheral vision. 

The scientific part of the teenage mind may be explainable, but what about the emotional vulnerability and insecurities? How does the teenage brain learn coping methods? Adolescence is a very emotionally charged phase of life. Teens go through childhood traumas, painful experiences, possible emotional/physical abuse, and so much more. 

“Nothing is 100%, but a lot of times teenagers, due to [their] lack of brain development and impulse control development may seek some sort of short term solution to relieve their stress,” Thomason said. “Whether it’s sex, drugs, or different behaviors such as cutting and self mutilating. I think those things are more dysfunctional, for lack of a better word.”

It is important for parents to help their teens manage their emotions rather than hiding them to keep them emotionally healthy. Teenagers are just adults in training getting ready for the real world, as stated by Psychology Today, and learning tools for emotional management could be passed on through new relationships between the teenagers and others. 

“Tennagers listen to teenagers way more often than they listen to adults in a lot of ways and I think that providing a safe, supportive environment for teens to be able to talk about their stuff with each other can be a very beneficial tactic,” Thomason said. “I think that most programs, right now, when it comes to working with teenagers and their issues…  incorporate some sort of peer support process, where it’s not just accounts for helping teenagers help each other.”

Many teens in this day and age claim they have clinical depression and in many cases, it is just dismissed. In 2013, 11% of the highschool population claimed they had gone through a depressive episode. By 2017, it rose to 31%, states HHS.

“I think a lot of times, they just get bogged down and they shut down,” Thomason said. “That’s a natural human response sometimes, but I think that [when] teenagers feel unsupported by their parents or their peer groups they’re more likely to shut down and do some sort of destructive behavior.”

There are methods to coping with emotional duress and grief. Some teens may have the same problems but have to cope differently; each individual has different reactions to the same situations depending on how you take in information verbally. 

“Some kids will talk to each other and work their problems out that way, and, depending on if they’ve got good friends, then they might get good feedback that helps them, but if they get some bad feedback, they may have bad friends that they may get negative responses that keep them stuck in that problem,” Thomason said. “I think that negative coping skills like self injurious behavior like cutting and [other forms of self harm],  there’s so many more negative ways of coping with stress that are starting to emerge and become more integrated into mainstream society.”

Busy students tend to be less focused on how they feel and more focused on what they’re doing. People don’t have the time to think about negative things since they’re involved in activities or with people. School seems to be a constant and relentless source of pressure, from the morning students wake up to go to school to when they get home after school to work on more school work. The stress never seems to leave their lives.

“[If] kids are involved in some sort of activity, whether it be track, music or journalism, any outlet like that, can help mitigate the effects of stress. I think we are stressing our teenagers out at a level that is completely inappropriate,” Thomason said. “We start hammering them about college at too young of an age and putting a lot of pressure on academic performance so adults have a part to play in that to help or hurt the teenager who’s struggling with a lot of stress.”