Can teens learn to shrug off social stress?

Dr. David S. Yeager, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, believes the answer is yes … teenagers can be taught to cope with social stressors.

His research addresses mindsets that promote resilience, which he considers an important skill for success in school and life … in general.

Dr. Yeager defines resilience as “good outcomes in spite of serious threats to adaptation or development.” Resilient approaches to stresses include such things as seeking new strategies, putting forth greater effort, or solving conflicts peacefully. On the other hand, negative or non-beneficial approaches include helplessness, giving up, cheating, or aggressive retaliation.

Although his research sample sizes have been small, Dr. Yeager is planning to release intervention material in the next year if his results continue to support his theory.

What is Dr. Yeager’s intervention used in his studies?

Actually, it’s pretty simple.

The New York Times reports it as follow: High school students are asked to read a short, engaging article about brain science. It describes how personality can change. Then, they read anecdotes, written by seniors, about high school conflicts, reflecting how they were eventually able to shrug things off and move on. And lastly, the students are asked to write encouraging advice to younger students.

Dr. Yeager believes that if teenagers are offered a longer term view (that personalities evolve), that they can find ways to tolerate short-term behavior. So, when they hear accounts of how other teenagers have dealt with stresses (i.e. it made be cry, but it didn’t last forever), they are able to internalize this approach for themselves.

What caps it off for me, is the idea that they tell relate this to younger students in the form of advice.

Dr. Yeager … I hope that your research continues to prove your theory. Teaching young people appropriate coping behavior is so important to their happiness, growth and development.


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