As a parent or caregiver, you want your teen to have healthy tools to use for stress management, coping with challenges, and relating with others. But there’s a chance that you may not have those tools yourself or perhaps you know about them but are not sure just how important they are.
Tools for coping, stress management, and conflict resolution can help teens maintain healthy relationships, support their mental health, and give them the confidence to move through future challenges more easily. Typically, teens learn these essential life skills from our parents but mental health professionals can also provide teens with these tools.
In addition to the mental health tools mentioned above, it’s important to give teens essential life skills as well, such as financial management and other skills they can use throughout their life. Remember that teens are at the stage in life when they are transitioning to adulthood so it is an important time for them to learn these skills. This article discusses various essential life skills that teens should learn so that they can progress into adulthood equipped to succeed.
One of the essential life skills that teens should learn and practice is communication. Healthy communication is a vital skill in all relationships. It includes knowing how to listen, how to share your thoughts honestly, express your needs free from expectation, and refrain from criticizing or judging others. Communication might also include encouraging your teen to share their thoughts and feelings.
The following are some core communication skills to encourage your teen to use:
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of another person, to have a sense of their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes given a particular circumstance. One form of empathy, known as cognitive empathy (the mental ability to see the perspective of others) begins to develop steadily in girls at age 13. However, for boys, cognitive empathy doesn’t begin to develop until the age of 15. The ability to see the perspective of others facilitates problem solving and avoids conflict with others. At the same time, affective empathy (the ability to recognize and respond to the feelings of others) seems to drop off in boys between the ages of 13 and 16. Although there is a decreased ability in affective empathy, adolescent boys do recover this in their late teens. Affective empathy for girls remains relatively high and stable throughout adolescence. As mentioned above, empathy with others facilitates problem solving and healthy relationships. Empathy with oneself (having an understanding of your own thoughts and feelings) can also facilitate the ability to manage emotions and avoid angry outbursts and emotional acting out.
Honesty is the willingness to be open and forthcoming about feelings, thoughts, and perspectives, even if it might not be easy. Without honesty in communication, especially with those you care about, relationships can begin to include the following:
- Avoidance – I will talk about anything but my problems.
- Minimizing – My problems are not that bad.
- Rationalizing – My problems exist for this or that reason and because of that I don’t have to deal with them.
- Blaming – My problems are not my fault.
- Comparing – Others have worse problems than I do and so I don’t have to deal with problems of my own.
- Manipulating – I will admit to my problems if you solve them for me.
- Fear – Being afraid of my problems gives me a reason to avoid them.
- Hopelessness – Nothing works so I don’t have to try.
With honest communication, each person can take responsibility for their own feelings and experiences. Being honest in relationships isn’t an easy experience, especially if there are feelings you have that you believe the other person will be angry about or may judge you for. As a parent, you can be a model when it comes to honesty. You can show your teens that it’s okay to be honest even if it might feel uncomfortable. Honesty avoids going into denial, which is often at the root of addiction. By supporting your teen’s ability to be honest, you encourage their authenticity, emotional connection, and willingness to face difficulties in relationships with courage.
Listening is the ability to truly hear someone. It’s common in relationships to listen long enough to someone in order to say what you want to say. But truly hearing what a person has to say means taking in not only their words but also what’s being said underneath the words. Typically, people listen with just enough effort to continue the conversation. If you want to teach your teen to have healthy relationships, you might teach them how to listen deeply. To practice this communication skill, you might change the way you respond to someone. Instead of responding with a comment about your own life, perhaps respond with a gentle reflection of what the other person said. For instance, if your teen said “I’m having a hard time with someone in my math class. They are really getting under my skin.” You might say in response, “Sounds like one of your classmates is really irritating you.” In other words, you respond with a reflection of what your teen shared, not a solution or advice. Try to avoid offering solutions because it can undermine your teen’s ability to solve the problem on their own. Try to avoid feeding into any judgment or complaints. Simply listen and reflect back what you heard in your own words. Doing this can help build trust in your relationship with your teen, And, over time, your teen may feel safe coming to you to talk about a problem or concern. Learning this kind of trust and safety in relationships will help your teen create the same in their relationships as well.
Conflict Resolution Skills
Essential life skills also include conflict-resolution skills, which help prevent conflict in relationships. It can include tools like staying focused on the topic, knowing how to forgive or apologize, and knowing when to take a break when discussions get heated. However, the most effective conflict resolution skills are those that ask each person to take responsibility for their own feelings. This begins with emotional awareness:
Emotional awareness is the ability to be aware of your moment by moment experience, including your thoughts and feelings. The ability to be in touch with what you’re feeling when you’re feeling it, in turn gives you the ability to manage those feelings. Commonly, conflicts come out of blaming others, or believing others are trying to harm or hurt you. However, by taking responsibility for the emotions you are having, you can then begin the process of resolving a conflict you have with a loved one.
Relieving stress can also help facilitate conflict resolution. By relieving stress, through exercise or relaxation, you might become more aware of yourself and again be able to see the conflict more clearly. Stress relieving activities can also help with becoming more emotionally aware.
Collaboration is another skill that can help resolve conflict. Once you have relieved your stress and have taken responsibilities for your own feelings, you and the other person might learn to collaborate with one another. This is a conflict management style that views conflicts as something to be solved versus something to avoid or ignore. Together, you and the person you’re in conflict with can attempt to find a solution that is agreeable to everyone involved, one that values your goals and relationships. With collaboration, people tend to find win-win solutions.
These conflict resolution skills are important to share with your teen, especially as they approach adulthood where conflicts are sure to arise.
Emotional Regulation Skills
Learning how to manage your emotions is not an easy skill. In fact, managing your emotions is a little bit misleading. No one can control how or when emotions appear. But you can control how you express them. This is another essential skill to teach your teen.
The first step to managing emotions is getting in touch with them, and this is the skill mentioned above – emotional awareness. Emotional awareness involves the ability to:
- Recognize your moment-to-moment emotional experience
- Handle all of your emotions without becoming overwhelmed
Here’s why teaching your teen emotional awareness and emotional regulation is important:
Emotional awareness helps you with knowing who you are. Your emotional life makes up who you are. More importantly, disconnecting from your emotions also severs you from your ability to respond to them, what is meaningful to you, and your ability to know your needs and wants.
You lose the good feelings too. Your ability to feel includes both the pleasant emotions as well as those that are uncomfortable. When you avoid feelings you also cut yourself off from love, compassion, joy, and gratitude.
It’s exhausting to avoid feelings. It can be exhausting to continue to avoid emotions. Although it’s true that you can push them emotions, the truth is, you can’t avoid them entirely. Even when you are unaware of your feelings, the tendency to continue to move away from them can create more stress and leave you feeling drained.
It affects your relationships. Emotions are often the glue that brings you and others together. The more you distance yourself from your feelings, the more distance there is between you and others, as well as within yourself. A disconnect to feelings leads to poor relationships and an inability to communicate effectively.
When your teen becomes more and more emotionally aware, they can then develop emotional regulatory skills. Cultivating emotional awareness can support the ability to respond versus react. In other words, becoming more aware of your feelings can help put some distance between the stimulus and your response. As you can imagine, developing this skill takes time. As a parent, you may want to deepen your ability to do this as well, if you’re not already skilled at it.
One of the best ways to support emotional awareness and emotional regulation is to use stress management and relaxation tools on a regular basis.
Stress Management Skills
Essential life skills that teens should learn include stress management. Being able to stay calm when stressed emotionally is similar to knowing how to stay calm under other types of stress. The following are some practices that you and your teen can practice on a regular basis to promote emotional awareness and the ability to manage your feelings:
Breathe. If you’re standing in line or waiting for someone to arrive, take a moment to put your attention on your breath. You might have the urge to send a text or make a call. Instead, use those few minutes to stay present with your breathing and your body.
Listen to relaxing music. When you’re feeling stressed, create a relaxing environment. If you’re at home, feeling overwhelmed by the amount of school work you have, turn on music that will relax the mind and body. Even while you are at school, you can ask to leave class for a few minutes, plug in your earphones and play some soothing music. Music is a tool that can dramatically alter your inner experience.
Take a break from technology. Distancing yourself from the television, computer, phone, and Ipad can help with staying in touch with your present experience. It can also help with connecting with your senses and your inner experience. The amount of stimulation that technology provides keeps us from feeling.
The essential life skills discussed in this article are important for your teen to learn during adolescence so that they are well-equipped for a successful transition into adulthood. In order to help your teen succeed, encourage them to practice and continue to develop these essential life skills. You might find that the two of you can practice them together, or even as a family. As a result, perhaps you’ll find that you’re experiencing healthier relationships and greater life satisfaction.