Helping Young People Navigate Emotions


“Three things amaze me, no, four things I'll never understand— how an eagle flies so high in the sky, how a snake glides over a rock, how a ship navigates the ocean, why adolescents act the way they do.” -Proverbs 30:18 (MSG)

Earlier this month, Saint Luke had the opportunity to learn from Eastern University Psychology professor Tara M. Stoppa, Ph.D. on the often confusing topic of emotional intelligence of adolescents. Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions accurately and use emotions to facilitate thinking and reasoning. This is a difficult task for many, including young people. For those who are raising, working with or caring for adolescents, here are some tips for helping them navigate the often turbulent world of emotions.


Remember that adolescence is a process

The word “adolescence” literally means: “to grow into adulthood.” This growing does not happen overnight. It truly is a process. Preteen, teen, and even young adult brains are still developing. (Check out Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s TED talk on teen brains!) The portion of the brain that controls “executive function” including weighing long-term consequences and controlling impulses is the last part to come to maturity. As teenagers are maturing it is not uncommon for them to be egocentric, to feel like all eyes are on them, or to feel like what happens to others will not happen to them.


Older doesn’t always mean better choices.

Even though older teens have the potential for higher order reasoning, this does NOT mean that they always use these skills when making every day choices. Why? Research says that experience matters. Emotions matter. And concern with perception also matter.


They still need you, despite what they may say.

As young people enter adolescence, we often assume that they need less support and that they can handle situations independently. While that is true for some areas of life, teenagers still need loving support and wisdom from caring adults. Some ways you can support adolescents include:

  • Include adolescents in discussions about a variety of topics and use active-listening.

  • Assist adolescents in setting their own goals.

  • Stimulate adolescents to think about possibilities for the future.

  • Assist adolescents in re-evaluating poorly made decisions.

  • Assist adolescents in developing emotional intelligence skills.


Additional Resources:


How to Help Teens Weather Their Emotional Storms- A D.I.Y. snow globe full of glitter is an apt metaphor for the emotional chaos of the adolescent brain.

How to Wrap Advice as a Gift a Teenager Might Open- Perfect for when parents have something to say that they really want teenagers to hear, these approaches can help get the message across.


May the teenagers in our lives find peace in the emotional chaos of this world, grow in wisdom, trust your guidance, and know our love. Amen.