In a 2018 survey by the American Psychological Association, teens reported higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety and worse overall mental health than any other age group. The sources of that stress are complex, including everything from academic pressures and negative thoughts and feelings about themselves to fears about mass shootings, climate change and other issues. When teens are overwhelmed by so many factors, what’s the solution?
One research-backed strategy is to increase tweens’ and teens’ sense of connection to others. Multiple studies show that strong networks of family and social support provide a buffer against adolescent stress, anxiety and pressure, and protect mental health well into adulthood. Here’s how connection helps tweens and teens manage stress, deal with anxiety, and overcome pressure:
1. Connection supports tweens and teens when their brains are more vulnerable to stress.
One likely factor contributing to high levels of teen stress is that the adolescent brain is still developing. The prefrontal cortex– responsible for reasoning, planning and emotional regulation– isn’t fully developed until the mid-to-late 20s. This means teens process stress differently than adults and are more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses like anxiety and depression. Studies show that having close, trusting relationships with others increases resilience to stress. Connections with family, friends, teachers, and others help teens feel secure, process stressful situations and put things in perspective.
2. Connection creates stability and predictability when tweens and teens need it most.
According to developmental psychologist Diana Divecha, parents and caregivers can increase adolescents’ sense of connection through their parenting style and overall family climate. “Authoritative parenting balances warmth and love with clear expectations and the support to meet those expectations… Of all parenting styles, authoritative parenting is the most predictive of positive outcomes for children and teens.” Divecha says it’s also helpful to emphasize “a positive climate that creates a background sense of well-being, joyful ways of staying connected, and regular routines and rituals. In other words, a thriving family life is nourishing, provides a buffer, and supports resilience.”
3. Connections with peers help process everyday stress.
While the stability provided by parents and families is key to helping tweens and teens manage stress, relationships with peers are also critical. One recent study of youth between the ages of 13-16 found that they coped better after day-to-day stressful events, like failing a test, when they were with peers rather than adults. According to the researchers, “Being among peers during times of stress… offers adolescents an open, supportive and rewarding space which may help dampen the emotional turbulence that adolescence can bring.” In other words, tweens and teens need different kinds of relationships to provide different levels of support.
4. Connection builds emotional intelligence.
Diana Divecha says that when it comes to dealing with stress, “Every teen will benefit from a) the ability to be aware of their feelings and b) having strategies for regulation.” Emotional intelligence, or EQ, includes self- and other-awareness: the ability to understand, regulate and express one’s own emotions and to navigate relationships with empathy. To develop their EQ, tweens and teens need connections with others. Healthy relationships let them know their emotions and experiences matter to others, and teach them how to be considerate, compromise and resolve conflict. Not surprisingly, adolescents with a high EQ tend to be emotionally resilient. They’re “happier, more self-confident, and more respectful of others” and also do better in school.
Lucero was built to nurture connection. It’s a safe space for tweens and teens to be themselves, learn emotional regulation skills and connect with people who care about them. They can captain a Crew by inviting up to seven friends and family members to join them on their self-care journey. Crew members cheer each other on, support each other on the hard days and always apologize if their actions or words hurt someone’s feelings. Lucero sparks meaningful conversations, strengthens relationships and cultivates meaningful connection for tweens, teens and the adults who care about them.