7 Ways to Teach Teens Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is not often discussed among families or classrooms. It’s the kind of conversation you might have with a therapist or health instructor. Despite the fact that it’s not often discussed, it’s an important subject – for adults and teens alike.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is one’s ability to be intelligent with their emotions. More specifically it is the ability to do the following:

  • recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions
  • understand how others might feel and why (being empathetic)
  • manage your emotional reactions
  • choose a different mood or feeling

A person with emotional intelligence has a good handle on their emotions. In fact, they are so good with managing emotions that they are okay with the strong feelings of others as well. Emotional Intelligence leads a person to develop a variety of skills.

The term emotional intelligence was created by two researchers – Peter Salavoy and John Mayer. In 1996, a book by Dan Goleman with the same name helped to popularize the idea of not only being intellectually intelligent but also emotionally intelligent.

Why Teens Might Lack Emotional Intelligence

Part of being emotionally intelligent is the ability to be conscious or present with your emotions, and this requires a certain degree of awareness. Typically, teens are still developing parts of the brain that might inhibit their ability to be aware. The pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain which governs reason and logic) is still developing. For the most part, because teens lack a fully developed pre-frontal cortex, they can be emotional and impulsive, and lack some degree of emotional intelligence.

Reasons to Become More Emotionally Intelligent

Despite their need for further brain development, teens can in fact become more emotionally intelligent! In fact, when teens are emotionally aware, there is much to be gained. The following are some benefits to growing more emotionally intelligent:

  • better relationships
  • healthier responses to life (versus strong reactions)
  • feelings of confidence
  • being resilient
  • ability to be self aware
  • being empathetic
  • ability to regulate emotions
  • having improved social skills
  • better decision making (ability to identify that emotions are driving decisions)
  • less impulsivity
  • being assertive
  • ability to be happier more often
  • ability to problem solve

These skills can make a significant difference in the lives of teens. This is especially true if a teen is having a challenging time with their peers or with family relationships. Supporting them in becoming more emotionally intelligent can bring about many benefits they can carry into adulthood.

How to Teach Teens Emotional Intelligence

Often, teens need guidance with what to do with their emotions. For some teens, emotions come on strongly and they may not have the tools to manage those emotions. In worse case scenarios, a teen might turn to drugs or alcohol as a means to help them manage their feelings. In other cases, a teen might distance themselves from feeling and perhaps even become depressed. The following are 7 ways you might support your teen in becoming more emotionally intelligent:

1. Talk about Emotional Intelligence. Perhaps the best way to start is to let your teen know about Emotional Intelligence and to discuss what it means. You might also read parts or all of Dan Goleman’s book titled Emotional Intelligence. Or you might read other books on the topic.

2. Practice Emotional Intelligence at home. Becoming emotionally intelligent takes practice. It means remembering to be aware. Awareness doesn’t come because you want it to come. It requires a choice, a conscious decision to be aware of one’s feelings. Parents can help their teens with this by asking teens:

  • How do you feel about that?
  • What was your first reaction?
  • What fears or anxieties are getting in your way?
  • What are you excited by?
  • How did that make you feel?

In other words, you can allow the discussion of feelings into your conversations.

3. Model Emotional Intelligence. Your teen can learn to bring emotional intelligence into their own life when they see it first in yours. When they see that you are okay with emotions and that you have the ability to be with them calmly, that can help them grow their own ability to do the same.

4. Attend workshops or trainings together. Emotional Intelligence is becoming a popular topic. There is a good chance that you and your teen will be able to find an event to attend that focuses on how to become more emotionally intelligent.

5. Let your teen’s therapist or school counselor know that you’re working on emotional intelligence. If your teen is working with a mental health provider, it can be useful for that professional to know that you and your teen are practicing emotional intelligence. A therapist or school counselor can further support your teen’s ability to be more emotionally aware.

6. Take an online quiz and find out just how emotionally intelligent you are. You and your teen may want to do this together. Take an online quiz to assess your skills and abilities.

7. Have your teen attend a support group focused on Emotional Intelligence. There are many support groups available to assist teens in a variety of mental health topics. Developing emotional awareness could be one of them. This may be particularly beneficial if there are other teens with whom your adolescent can practice.

Emotional Intelligence Doesn’t Happen Overnight

It’s important to remember that emotional intelligence is a skill that grows over time. It’s like working out at the gym – those muscles will take time to build. Similarly, those emotional muscles will take a few months (sometimes years) to grow stronger. Although your teen may be taking classes and practicing at home, they may need time to talk about feelings, explore feelings, and become more accustomed to experiencing feelings. More importantly, they will need to find a way to be with feelings in a mature way. Parents might remember to give their teens the time they need to develop this skill, necessary for a healthy adulthood.

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