What should a teenager know about emotions before entering adulthood?

There are many important lessons a teenager should learn before entering into adulthood including issues related to being responsible and accountable,  time and money management, how to interact with adults in different situations including job interviews, and so forth.  

My comments below are only directed to knowing about emotions, are not comprehensive, and are only intended to be a general overview.

The lesson: Know what your emotions are and how to use them as tools.

  • Emotions are tools, just like your cell phone, that you can learn to effectively use to your advantage. They may hurt like hell when you experience them but they are just tools.
  • Just like a computer game in which you must find a “secret” doorway to the next level, the “secret” to each emotion is the message it tells you about how you are interpreting the situation in which you find yourself. When you understand the message, you can move to the next level and master the emotion by choosing how you want to respond to the situation.
  • Know that you create all of your feelings by the thoughts you have about the situation you are in.
  • Others do not make you mad, anxious, guilty, shy, etc.
  • You are responsible for what you feel and, equally as important, for the actions you take  based on your emotions.
  • There are no negative emotions.  Some emotions hurt when you experience them but all emotions can be useful in helping you interact better with your environment.

 The message of the two most common emotions that you might have difficulty with and how to use them as tools are as follows:

Anger: The secret message of your anger is that you perceive a threat that you believe you can eliminate if I throw enough power at it. Anger prepares you for battle.

Remind yourself that just because you perceive a threat, it doesn’t mean there is a threat.  You have to think about what is going on and “analyze” the nature of the threat.

Take a deep breath and DECIDE if the threat is sufficiently important (to life, values, critical goals)  for you to take EFFECTIVE (Doing something that resolves the issue without hurting yourself or someone else.) action to eliminate the threat.

If action is needed, CHOOSE an appropriate response.

The meaning of “appropriate” is that you should choose an action that will resolve the “threat” you face without doing unnecessary harm to you or the other person.   In other words, starting a conversation, and expressing your concerns, taking assertive action or walking away are different from starting a fight. You can always defend yourself physically if you have no other choice.

Beating up your girlfriend or cussing out your boss, parent or teacher is not acceptable.

Understand that, if you are male, anger may be substituted for other feelings because anger is energizing and empowering.  If you are female, you may be criticized for expressing anger. You may choose a different way to express but do not eliminate or suppress the feeling.

Anxiety: Anxiety is a future based emotion.  The secret message of anxiety is that you believe a threat MAY exist and that it MAY do you harm.

Evaluate the threat and the possible risk.

If your anxiety is telling you that you need to take action (If I don’t study, I will fail the exam.),  use the energy of the anxiety to motivate you to take effective action.

If you decide that you can survive the threat (I may not get the job if I interview but I will be okay.)  or  (Susie may reject me if I ask her out and it will really hurt but I will be okay.), take the action in spite of the feeling, deal with the outcome, and learn a lesson about how you can improve next time.

If you decide that there is no real threat and that you have misunderstood what is going on, remind yourself to “let it go” and move on.

Always remember that you are not alone and seek an adult you feel you can trust to ask for some help.

Learning how to master your emotions is the same as learning anything else like riding a bike, playing a sport, or getting to the highest level in your computer game.  It may be hard at first but it gets easier the more you do it.

I welcome your comments.

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