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Life Skills Lessons Can Ease Social Stress in Teens

Life Skills Lessons Can Ease Social Stress in Teens

Teaching teens that people can and often do change, can help an adolescent better deal with life stressors.

In a new study, University of Texas at Austin psychologists found that educating teens on the fact that social and personality traits can change helps a teen cope with social challenges such as bullying. Moreover, the improved resilience helps to mitigate stress and improve academic performance.

Experts agree that the transition from middle to high school comes at a difficult time for adolescents. Research has shown that psychologically, they are more focused on status and relationships; biologically, they are more reactive to stress than other age groups are.

This combination may lead teens to believe they do not have the resources to cope with social difficulties in school, making them more vulnerable to experiencing depressive symptoms.

“Adolescents are very focused on peer social hierarchy and status, and when they transition into high school, they are put into a situation where they have to figure out where they stand,” said assistant professor of psychology David Yeager, lead author of the study.

“Often, teenagers think if it’s hard now, it’s going to be hard forever. That’s stressful for them.”

In the study, Yeager suggests teaching students that socially relevant traits are malleable, and not fixed, can make them feel better equipped to face social challenges, rather than viewing them as threats and diagnosing them as lasting realities.

Through two double-blind studies, Yeager and his colleagues monitored teens’ physiological responses to stress to evaluate how these lessons could improve cognitive, physiological and behavioral responses to stress, as well as academic performance.

First, researchers monitored cardiovascular responses as 60 teens, ages 14 to 17, prepared and delivered a short speech on what makes people popular and then completed a series of mental math equations.

Prior to the task, half of the teens were exposed to the idea that people, and their socially relevant traits, could change. These teens reported feeling less threatened by the task, exhibited higher cardiac efficiency and lower levels of cortisol, and performed better on speeches and mental math problems.

“When teens feel threatened, their biological stress reaction is to prepare for social defeat, reducing cardiac efficiency and increasing production of cortisol,” Yeager said.

“But those who feel more confident — those who understand that this task won’t make or break them — are biologically prepared for meeting the challenge.”

The second study tracked 205 ninth-graders throughout the school year, half of whom received lessons on the idea that people can change. Students completed daily diary entries, in which they reported on stressful things that happened to them. They also said how much they could deal with those stressors and provided saliva that indicated levels of stress hormones.

The teens who were exposed to the idea that people can change coped better on days when they reported more stressors. They also exhibited higher GPAs seven months later compared with their peers.

“Psychological interventions are not magic,” Yeager said.

“The success of this study does not suggest we’ve discovered some sort of magic bullet to fix the problem, but rather we’ve taken a progressive step forward in the research process of addressing the wider public health issue of teenage stress.”

The research builds on findings from a previous study, which showed teens who believed social and personality traits could change reported lower rates of depressive symptoms at the end of the school year. Future research will test the efficacy of these psychological interventions when implemented as a part of high school orientations, Yeager said.

The current study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Source: University of Texas/EurekAlert

Life Skills Lessons Can Ease Social Stress in Teens

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Life Skills Lessons Can Ease Social Stress in Teens. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 21 Jun 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.