Optimism in Teens May Protect Against Depression

There appears to be a relationship between optimism and psychological wellness. For a long time, researchers of psychology knew this optimism played a role in adult health; however, the connection has been found to be true for teens as well. In other words, when teens are optimistic, they are less likely to experience mental illness, such as depression and anxiety. This article will discuss steps that parents can take to help boost optimism in their teens.


Optimism and Positive Psychology


Optimism has its roots in a new field known as positive psychology. Instead of looking at what is wrong with people, which psychology has done for the last 100 years, positive psychology explores the gifts, passion, and genius of people. This new branch of psychology, founded by Martin Seligman, studies the positive aspects of the mind and heart, including optimism.


What is optimism? It is the hopefulness and confidence one can have about the future. An optimistic person tends to think about the successful outcome and have expectations that all will turn out well. Optimism is considered to be a mindset. In other words, in many ways, you can choose how optimistic you are. For instance, let’s take a look at these two examples:


  • When John was asked about his day, he explained, “I ran into an old friend on the way to school, which made me late for first period. I almost failed the science quiz and then my dad texted me saying that I needed to be home before dinner tonight.”


  • When Jerry was asked about his day, he said, “I ran into someone I haven’t seen in awhile. It was great to see him! I passed the science quiz with a bit of luck, and then my dad texted me saying he made my favorite meal for dinner tonight. I don’t want to miss that!”


Can you see the difference? You might say John is a pessimist, and Jerry is an optimist. But how does one person see the world with a rainbow full of colors while others don’t see so colorfully? Research indicates that the level of optimism one has is influenced by a few different factors.


Factors that Contribute to Optimism


There are both biological and psychological influences to the level of optimism a teen has. In other words, optimism is influenced by both nature and nurture.


  • Biological: Just as there is a genetic quality to mental illness, some research points to the fact that optimism is inherited. If a teen’s parents and grandparents tend to be optimistic, there’s a good chance that teen will lean toward optimism as well.


  • Psychological: Teens learn from a very early age how to view the world. Both environment as well as the people in a one’s life will have an influence on how a teen interprets the world – either as a happy, easy going place or as a place that is stressful and frightening. Depending upon how a person sees the world will have a direct impact on how optimistic they are. For instance, a depressed parent can influence a child to see the world in less than optimistic ways.


Benefits of Optimism


As you might imagine, there are some great benefits to optimism, including the following:

  • reduces the level of stress teens experience
  • promotes self respect
  • research shows it protects against depression
  • research shows it increases longevity
  • it allows teens to face failure more constructively
  • it helps teens to be proactive
  • it creates excitement about the future
  • it sets the mood for the day
  • it reduces anxiety and worry
  • it increases mental flexibility.

If you want to help your teen experience some of the benefits above, you can. In fact, parents and caregivers can have a great influence on cultivating optimism in their teens.

How to Help Your Teen Be More Optimistic


There are many ways that parents can help their teens be more optimistic! Here are a few suggestions for doing so:


1. Notice just how optimistic or pessimistic your teen is. You might already have an idea, or you wouldn’t be reading this article. However, you can take some time to observe whether your teen sees the glass half full or half empty. Like the example provided above, does your teen say they almost failed their exam or did they barely pass? When you watch out for pessimism or optimism, look for patterns such as powerlessness and taking things personally. To best help your teen, notice the specific patterns of their perspective on life.


2. Teach optimism by helping teens shift the way they see problems. For instance, when a teen experiences a setback, you can make highlight the following about most problems:

  • Problems are temporary. They are not fixed in stone.
  • Problems don’t point to anything else. In other words, setbacks don’t point to how good or bad a teen’s life is.
  • Problems are not personal. They don’t say anything about who a teen is. They may point to a choice or behavior of a teen (such as not studying for an exam), but rarely about a teen’s character.
  • Problems can be fixed. Solutions can be found. In other words, your teen is not powerless to the situation. They can take action and do something about it.

When parents point these out to teens it can help a teen stay positive in their life despite the problems or struggles they face.


3. Model optimism. One of the most powerful ways teens can see and experience the power of optimism is by seeing it in their parents’ lives.


4. Add optimism to your teen’s education. In other words, encourage your teen to take the free The Science of Happiness online course. This course explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Teens learn how to be happy and are encouraged to choose happiness. The course is divided into eight weeks with time in the middle to take a mid-term test as well as a time at the end for a final test.


If you find that your teen is regularly feeling victimized by the circumstances in their life or if you find that your teen tends to be pessimistic, the above suggestions can help.