The hallways of high school often feel like battlegrounds--with potential stressful situations lurking in every corner. When teens get ditched by their best friends or teased for their looks, the sharp pain of exclusion feels like it will last forever.
In a recent study, psychologists at the University of Texas and the University of Rochester set out to see if a small shift in mindset could reduce teenagers' social stress. And they found that with a simple, half-hour training, they could help teens cope better, keep their bodies calmer, and even do better in school.
In the initial experiment, half of the students learned to have a "growth mindset." Students were taught that getting excluded doesn't mean there is inherently something wrong with them--no one is doomed to shame and exclusion--nor are those who do the excluding inherently bad people. Instead, everyone is complicated and capable of change. Check out the video below to learn more about what it means to have a growth mindset:
After these students had gone through a "social stress test," which included reading in front of an unimpressed audience, and taking a math test. As predicted, students who learned a growth mindset for social situations were less likely to find the stressful task threatening. They also showed healthier physical stress responses and performed better on the speech and math tasks. A subtle shift in mindset seems to make a difference!
Even better news: it may be surprisingly easy to convince teenagers to think more flexibly. As parents, here are some things you can do starting today to promote a healthy social mindset:
Teach teenagers to see stressful situations as challenges to be met and overcome, rather than impossible problems that will last forever.
One way to do that is to try reminding teens to add the word "yet" to the end of sentences whenever they find themselves lamenting a stressful situation ("I don't have any friends at camp...yet").
Look for and acknowledge examples of people and situations changing when it seems they never would--direct evidence for the growth mindset.
Keep in mind that social stress may have a negative impact on academic performance. If your teen sits in class worrying all day, they may want to try some mindfulness exercises.
Wherever you start, helping the teenagers in your life see the bigger, more dynamic picture is well worth the time and effort. As the saying goes, even when it comes to adolescence, this too shall pass.