Transitions are a part of life at every age, but they’re especially intense for tweens and teens. Nonstop neurological, psychological, physical and social changes are woven into the fabric of adolescence, making tweens and teens more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and depression. Researchers say that connection to others – including social support, meaningful relationships, and a sense of belonging – protects adolescents’ mental health in the midst of change and gives them tools to navigate transitions. Here are five ways connection helps tweens and teens stay strong:
1. Connection creates self-love.
The ups and downs of adolescence are part of the developmental process of individuation. Tweens and teens are figuring out who they are as unique individuals, and caregivers need to know that a strong sense of self is rooted in relationships. A recent study found that positive relationships, social support and acceptance help shape the development of self-esteem, and that a lack of those qualities harmed the development of self-esteem. The bottom line? Adolescents learn to value themselves when they feel valued by others.
2. Connection builds emotional literacy and empathy.
Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize, name, express, and regulate one’s own feelings. Empathy is sensitivity to the feelings of others. The tween and teen years are prime time for developing these critical emotional intelligence skills through relationships with others. Connection teaches tweens and teens that their emotions and well-being matter and gives them a blueprint for building mutual, caring relationships. When adolescents can honor and self-regulate their own emotions and understand the emotions of others, it makes them more confident processing the big feelings that come up in times of transition.
3. Connection develops social skills.
Adolescent transitions often involve social changes. Tweens and teens are becoming more independent and self-responsible, experiencing more complex relationships with peers, and shifting between roles within their families and friend groups. Connection helps them learn and practice social skills to master real-world relationship dynamics, like listening, communicating, working together, resolving conflict, and tending to relationships. Without these skills, transitions can be anxiety-provoking. When these skills are solid, tweens and teens get more out of the unique opportunities adolescence provides for social exploration and growth.
4. Connection gives stability and support.
No tween or teen should have to navigate difficult transitions alone. Connection gives them a support system when times get tough. One recent study, for example, found that during the isolation and school closures of the COVID-19 pandemic, supportive friendships helped teens avoid internalizing stress. Trusted family members, friends and mentors can give encouragement and advice, be a shoulder to cry on, and help solve problems. Perhaps most importantly, connection provides perspective so tweens and teens know they can do hard things, and they always have a crew to call on when they need a hand.
5. Connection provides a road map for making wise decisions. Tweens and teens benefit greatly from role models and mentors who inspire, motivate and guide them. These relationships might include a teacher who nurtures their talents, a family friend with the career your teen dreams about, or an older cousin who’s a go-getter when it comes to goals. Search Institute researchers say that expanding possibilities is one of the cornerstones of developmental relationships that help youth succeed. According to the Search framework, these relationships inspire tweens and teens to see possibilities for their future, broaden horizons by exposing them to new ideas, experiences, and places, and connect by introducing them to people who can help them grow.
Speaking of connection… Have you checked out Lucero’s Crew feature? It’s where tweens and teens always have access to radical support from 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 helps tweens and teens navigate transitions by keeping meaningful connection always at their fingertips.