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Adolescents' Social Behavior Depends on Emotional Ability and Stress Response

Update Date: Aug 02, 2012 08:53 AM EDT

Teenage years can sometimes be the most difficult time to deal with, for children as well as for parents. It's when they are neither considered adults nor a child. This could be confusing and adolescents find it very difficult to cope with the situation. The physical, psychological and hormonal changes could make them fussy or irritated, and this certainly reflects in their interpersonal and social relationships. 

A study by researchers from University of Missouri describes how adolescents' developing personalities and coping habits affect their behaviors toward others. 

"We're each born with some personality tendencies; for example, we see that babies are fussy or calm," said Gustavo Carlo, the Millsap Professor of Diversity in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, in a news release. "Those characteristics can change over time as people experience certain events or as a result of their parents, peers or communities. At the same time, as we get older, our personalities become more stable." 

The researchers surveyed 1,557 students aged between 12 and15 years in Valencia, Spain, to study how the adolescents felt towards each other, their past pro-social and physically aggressive behaviors, their emotional stability, and how they manage stress, the news release stated. 

It was found that adolescents, who were empathetic, could cope with stress by eliminating it from its source by being more problem-focused. Also, these adolescents were found to more pro-social and could work towards the benefit of others by volunteering etc.

However, emotionally unstable adolescents showed signs of aggression and were found to be more likely to on emotion-focused coping tactics such as venting, avoidance or distraction. 

"Empathetic kids are generally very good at regulating their emotions and tend not to lose their tempers," Carlo said. "When you're good at regulating your emotions, you're less concerned about yourself and more considerate of other people. On the other hand, impulsive children are more self-focused and have difficulty engaging in problem-focused coping." 

According to Carlo, it will be helpful to teach adolescents different ways of coping with stress, so that they can learn to deal with different situations in different ways without getting stuck at one method of coping with it. 

"Sometimes we get stuck dealing with stress in one way because it was successful in the past; that coping style may not be effective with other stressors and in other situations," Carlo said. "There is more than one way to cope in situations, and people need to know when to apply which coping mechanisms.

The study was published in the Journal Personality and Individual Differences.

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