Good Parenting without Overmonitoring – Yes, It’s Possible!

Have you ever been tempted to read your teen’s diary or check their Facebook messages? Have you ever made a social media profile so you could spy on their online activities? Do you make very strict rules for your teen without allowing them to question them and invite you to a debate?

If the answer to some or all of these is YES – then this is just the article for you, because we’ll explain how you can navigate the continuum of monitoring your teen in a healthy way that maintains communication, trust, and your overall relationship.

We Know You Are Worried!

You hear of all these terrible things on the news, or even in your own neighborhood – underage drinking, drugs, accidents… So it’s perfectly normal to be worried that, with the right combination of circumstances, your teen might become susceptible to some of these high-risk behaviors. With that in mind, knowing where your child is and who their friends are – that is to say, a little bit of monitoring – is not a bad thing. [1] The thing that damages parent-teen relationships is extreme monitoring. [3] It’s when parents, in an attempt to calm themselves down and protect their child, resort to what teens would call “extreme measures” or strict parenting: being home by a certain time and not one minute later, always volunteering to chaperone or attend their social events so you can see who they are with and what they’re doing, asking (or trying) to see their instant messages so you can be certain there is no mention of unwanted activities in there.

So after you’ve done this, you feel calmer and believe you now know everything there is to know about your teen. Meanwhile, a young person with the need for psychological and physical autonomy is ignoring you, answering all your questions with one-syllable words, and spending more and more time outside the house, or in their own room. You will have inevitably hurt your relationship with your child in an attempt to keep them safe.

But what if we told you that over-monitoring is exactly what might cause them to engage in some of those unwanted things you were trying to prevent? Moreover, what if we showed you that creating a warm but firm relationship that still allows them some freedom will lead to them being much more open to you and you knowing much more about them and the way they spend their time?

Why Extreme Monitoring Does not Work

Just because you have established some hard rules and checked their messages does not necessarily mean you now have full control over their comings and goings. Much of the conflict between parents and teens could be avoided with some honest talk. In fact, much of the rebelling and rule-breaking happens as a response of teens who feel like they have no control over their own lives. [2] So in an attempt to both gain some control and get back at their parents, they may intentionally act in the very way you were trying to prevent.

For example, you have a rule that you always drop them off when they go to a friend’s house, so you know who they’ll be with and where. But as soon as your car turns the corner, they might leave with that friend, meet with some different people and go to a different place. And whether you come to know about it or not, they’ll be happy. If you don’t find out, that means they’re getting away with it. If you do, they’ll feel like they’re getting back at you for the lack of autonomy.

Similarly, if you ask to read their texts, they might find their way around that as well. They could buy another phone you don’t know about, or have a profile on some social network hidden from you. What we want to say is this: prying and asking to have complete control over someone, even if they are your child and still live under your roof will only succeed in making you feel better temporarily. In the long run, it might lead to the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish, and it will definitely affect your relationship with them. Your alleged selfless act of overprotecting through extreme monitoring is actually quite self-regarding in that it only relieves your worry in the short-term while increasing the odds of your teen feeling resentment towards you.

Full Disclosure is the Only True Knowledge

Research shows that when parents know about their child’s real whereabouts, it comes from the child themselves, and their decision to be honest, rather than through extreme monitoring. [3] In order to create a positive atmosphere that will allow them to open themselves to you, no matter how scared or embarrassed they feel, you might want to give authoritative parenting a chance. [2] A parent who nurtures this style is warm but firm, and they give their child the freedom to choose their own beliefs and make their own choices. A lot of research has shown that this way of parenting leads to the healthiest, happiest, and academically most successful children. [2]

So how would an authoritative parent handle potential conflicts?

For one, they would still be interested in their child’s life, but in a warm, healthy way. They wouldn’t ask questions like “How many people will there be? What will you be doing?” or mandate a curfew time. Instead, they would simply ask – “So what is this party about?”, and allow their child to tell them everything they want to disclose. If they want to warn them, they won’t do it through harsh words and placing blame, automatically not trusting their teen to make a wise choice. Instead, they would say “I hope you understand that I’m a little bit worried that there will be alcohol there, but I will trust you not to drink.” This way, the child won’t feel threatened. They’ll just feel guilty at the thought of disappointing you, and that has proven to be a much better prevention technique.

However, an authoritative parent still needs to set some rules – but they’ll do so with the help of the child. If you’re deciding on a curfew and believe 11 pm is late enough, consult with your teen and listen to their opinions. If they tell you that everyone else can return by midnight, that they’ll have friends to accompany them on their way home instead of going alone, and that they’ll be responsible, maybe think about giving them the benefit of the doubt – especially if they’ve never given you a reason to doubt them before. Making parenting decisions based on trust will help them make choices to keep that trust.

If the trust is weakened through a broken rule, the consequences need to be just as clear and reasonable for the type of rule that was broken.

Tell them, for example, that they can be home by midnight, but if they are even a minute late, they won’t be getting that late a curfew any time soon. As much as an authoritative parent wants to give their child freedom, they still need a firm set of rules that they decide on together with their child. Setting rules is a positive thing, and it leads to much better decisions than monitoring and blocking someone’s psychological development. It will also teach them responsibility and independence much better than you going everywhere with them and checking their every move.

Some Final Words of Wisdom

Imagine a line with “no monitoring” on one side and “extreme monitoring” on the other side. People are most comfortable in their working environments and in relationships in the middle of that line. At work, you probably don’t like being micromanaged and having to account for each and every move you make, but you thrive when your work is being noticed and your superiors care about the circumstances of your work and the outcomes of your efforts. Teens are similar – they want their parents to care about them and have clear expectations and limits, but are also seeking autonomy in order to build their identities. Parents may feel a sense of security through extreme monitoring; however, it may cause more damage than the effort intends.

You’ve heard that adolescence is often accompanied by a great deal of conflict, but the thing is, it only happens if parents’ and teens’ views on autonomy are completely different. Everyone wants to feel like they have control over their own life, while parents find it hard to watch their child separate themselves and spend less and less time with their family. The best way to get through this is to start treating them more like an adult and less like a child, as long as they keep proving they can be responsible for themselves. This kind of atmosphere will allow them to tell you everything, as they won’t fear your judgment. The possibility to negotiate future rules and consequences that impact their choices, all while building their understanding that you want to keep them both happy and safe, will lead to them being much happier and more open. You’ll have peace of mind and your teen will have the comfort of a healthy, trusting, and supportive relationship with their parents.

References:

  1. Dishon, T. (1998). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol.1, No. 1, pp. 61-73.
  2. Steinberg, L. (2001). Parental Monitoring and the Prevention of Child and Adolescent Problem Behavior: A Conceptual and Empirical Formulation. Journal of Research on Adolescence, Vol.11, No.1, pp. 1-19.
  3. Stattin, H. (2000). What Parents Know, How They Know It, and Several Forms of Adolescent Adjustment: Further Support for a Reinterpretation of Monitoring. Developmental Psychology, Vol.36, No. 3, pp. 366-380.

 

Supporting Children’s Transition to Adulthood

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity. It dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path. – Agatha Christie

Before heading to preschool or grade school, children spend most of their time with their parents, from whom they learn and with whom they laugh, cry, and share everything in between. And so, when the time comes for parents to let their children grow up, it’s completely understandable why it can be so hard and challenging to do so.

As children grow older, parents are faced with the fact that their children won’t be spending as much time with them as before. Some parents may be looking forward to this stage, and others may be dreading it, but regardless, obstacles may arise. Kids are going to make new friends and relationships which will differ from the one they have with their parents. They are sometimes going to prefer hanging out with their friends from school, which can come at the expense of family time. Nevertheless, this is crucial for building social independence with their peers. When children reach adolescence, parents need to loosen their restrictions and trust their children to take some risks and explore (e.g. going out with friends alone, entering dating relationships, etc.). Finally, and probably the hardest to bear, parents have to let their children leave home and start their own independent life.

The path of parenting can take many different turns. There are some parenting practices that can slow down children’s transition from childhood to adulthood. For example, parents may feel as though they’re abandoning their children if they don’t provide them with enough care and supervision – which could lead to overparenting, or becoming a helicopter parent. Doing everything for your children may result in you controlling them, and denying them the power to make their own choices and to express themselves. All of this sends a clear message to them – that you don’t believe that they can do something on their own.

The quality and nature of relationships between parents and children differ. Even within the same family, roles and relationships change over time as parents start down the path of raising their children. From an early age, children learn to internalize their experiences with parents and translate them to other relationships in their childhood and adulthood [2]. For example, if parents continually undermine their autonomy and risk-taking, children may become overly dependent on them, as well as experiencing increased anxiety when making decisions or dealing with life choices. This can result in them not being prepared for the adult world.

Parent-Child Relationship in Adolescence

Adolescence is one of the most turbulent periods of childhood. In this phase of development, adolescents tend to vacillate between childhood and adulthood, so a parent can’t always react today exactly like they did yesterday. Research shows that a positive relationship in adolescence functions in exactly the same way as it does in early childhood. In this kind of relationship, it’s likely that a parent will retain a substantial role through the school-age years. Or, as one child puts it [1]:

I can go to [my mom] with my problems, I can rely on her to be there for me, I know that she won’t get mad at me for you know, for like a mistake or something like that. If I have problems, whatever, she, I don’t know, she’s always there for me.

Studies show that having a good relationship with your child is associated with them being less engaged in high-risk behaviors, having fewer mental-health problems, and better social skills and strategies to cope with distress [2]. Also, they’re less likely to engage in excessive drinking, drug use, and risky sexual behavior [2]. Children who have this kind of positive relationship with their parents also “manage the transition to high school more successfully, enjoy more positive relationships, and experience less conflict with family and peers” [2].

So, building strong and positive relationships between parents and children leads to desirable outcomes in early childhood, as well as in adolescence. In this type of relationship, parents encourage their children to explore and take some minor risks, while at the same time providing them with a safe and reliable harbor to come to in times of trouble. We’ll now look at some parental practices that can be beneficial in helping a child’s transition from childhood to adulthood.

How to build and maintain a positive relationship with a child who is coming of age

– Although the parent’s availability and sensitivity in times of distress are essential for maintaining a secure attachment with adolescent children, adolescents don’t need the same amount of proximity and physical availability as do young children. Knowing that they’ve got the support of their parents is more important to them [2]. Keep in touch, stay close, but not too close, and don’t ask too many questions. Give them the space they need to try their own wings. Parents are the safety net, rather than the cage.

– Make sure your children have an opportunity to do some tasks all by themselves, without standing over their shoulder every second, even if that means they’ll occasionally make mistakes. Try to give them some commitments and obligations that are more grown-up, such as paying the bills through the mail, taking care of their younger sister/brother, taking up some new chores and more responsibility around the house, etc.

Don’t demand, suggest! Clearly and thoroughly explain your reasoning behind a proposal about, for example, something they should do differently. Your relationship should be less about dependency and authority, and more about mutual respect.

– Instead of monitoring their every move by playing 20 questions, start a conversation by telling them about something interesting that happened to you on that particular day, and then ask them about how their day went. If you haven’t already done it, try establishing a routine where you talk and learn about each other’s day and experiences in a conversational way, rather than pressuring answers with question after question. Remember, it’s fine if they don’t have anything to report – some days can just be slow and uninteresting.

– It’s important to understand that your children now have other important people in their lives. You should be proud and happy because they have different people they can rely on in times of need. In the end, you have to acknowledge that you’ve done your best as a parent and appreciate the life choices your children make. Otherwise, caring too much and controlling your teenagers may be overwhelming for everyone.

We at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring know there are many variables that can take you off your intended parenting path to the point where your relationship with your adolescent could be in distress. Connect with us to hear how we assist students and their parents through Coaching and Tutoring!

References:

  1. Freeman, H., & Brown, B. B. (2001). Primary attachment to parents and peers during adolescence: Differences by attachment style. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 30(6), 653-674.
  2. Moretti, M. M., & Peled, M. (2004). Adolescent-parent attachment: Bonds that support healthy development. Paediatrics & child health, 9(8), 551-555.

School Stress: High Achievers

Children, especially adolescents, frequently deal with significant stress during their school years. They usually cite academic requirements, school transitions, peer relationships, and over-commitment as their most challenging issues. So it is notable that so-called high-achieving students, almost without exception, are able to excel despite such challenges [2].

Low achievers versus high achievers

There are high and low achievers in every school and the academic disparity between them can often be linked to differences in motivation.

Less accomplished individuals are often more motivated to avoid failure [1]. They try to protect themselves from failing important tasks and the feelings of embarrassment and incompetence which result. When it seems that something is unlikely to be a success, they quickly give up. If they can’t avoid it, they procrastinate or don`t give their best effort. For example, the night before an exam they might decide to clean their room or go to a party. To them, this serves as an excuse for less success or outright failure.

On the other hand, high-achieving students perform much better academically because they have strong motivation to achieve something that’s important and valuable to them, so they’re willing to put in significant, extended effort [1].

High achievers and high levels of stress

Sometimes the stress high-achieving students experience is underestimated. High achievers are often admired and people aren’t always aware of their inner struggles. They’re faced with demands and expectations from themselves, school, their parents, peers, etc. They are trying to be perfect in every area of their lives and cannot permit themselves to make mistakes.

Sometimes parents’ reaction to “not an A+” increases the feeling of stress. Too many parents think that the road to college starts in elementary school and that every grade counts. They ask themselves, How hard should I push my child to get better grades? This is precisely the wrong question. Pushing a child makes the situation even worse. By focusing only on grades, parents lose sight of the importance of social interaction in academic performance.What matters most are not grades, but the habits of mind that children form in elementary school: self-control, goal orientation, responsibility, persistence, and resilience [3].

Students may simply not communicate their distress to the adults who are invested in their achievement or non-achievement [2]. Be aware that the consequences of stress differ. Pay attention if their grades drop rapidly or if they have a high frequency of absences. Personal stress in gifted students can also manifest itself in other ways. They can still excel academically and in extra-curricular performance, but might quietly experience significant stress from heavy commitments in or outside of school. One way to maintain the same level of high performance is to cheat, so it shouldn’t be surprising that high achievers are more likely to cheat.

If you are the parent of a high-achieving child, we have some suggestions for you that will make it easier for you to recognize these “quiet” indicators and help your child handle the pressure through communication and coping strategies.

Ways to deal with the situation

Talk casually and often.

It’s a good idea to talk casually to your child about their feelings and how they’re managing high-stress times in the academic or extracurricular year. Don`t push it! Your efforts could boomerang and the student might withdraw even more. You also need to be aware that you are a role model for your child. So try openly discussing minor stresses you yourself encounter every day and show them that communicating your frustration can help – not only to relieve the stress but also to help find solutions.

Highlight your student’s strengths.

Gently comment when you see them “down” and offer credible comments about personal strengths and resilience. It could be crucial support at a time of vulnerability and reinforces your confidence in their ability to cope. You trust them.

Help a student find “me time”.

Don’t let them over-commit themselves. They need some unstructured, free time with their peers or alone. Model the behavior of taking care of yourself as a parent as well. They need to realize it’s okay to take “me time”. If they’re already over-committed, help them rethink their choices about extra-curricular activities and set priorities. Some activity has to take a back seat to a higher priority one, which will allow them to be even better at the one (or more) they’ve chosen.

Mistakes can be a path to success.

Help them understand that it’s okay to make mistakes and that sometimes mistakes are a learning opportunity. They can teach us to see the positive, and encourage initiative and growth. Expect to make mistakes. Try to persuade them not to judge themselves against others and help them recognize their own progress.

Sharing feelings is good.

Show them that admitting their worries and mistakes is a way to get them out of their head and get advice. Help them realize they aren’t the only ones feeling that way.

 

If you are having difficulty helping your high-achieving student cope with school stress, we have coaches who are trained to help students and their parents manage the demands of being a top performer in school.

 

References:

[1] Beuke, C. (2011, October 19). How Do High Achievers Really Think? Retrieved February 13, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/youre-hired/201110/how-do-high-achievers-really-think

[2] Peterson, J., Duncan, N., & Canady, K. (2009). A longitudinal study of negative life events, stress, and school experiences of gifted youth. Gifted Child Quarterly, 53(1), 34-49.

[3] Tough, P. (2013). How children succeed: grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character. Boston: Mariner Books.

Benefits and Risks of Social Media

Children nowadays have a way of connecting and interacting continuously with friends. They use various electronic gadgets, play games with people from other countries, have live face-to-face conversations via Skype, etc. It’s hard to even imagine a childhood without the internet and social media.

In a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, 89% of teenagers reported using at least one social media site such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. At that time, the most popular was Facebook, with 71% of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 reported using it [1]. In a more recent study conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in December of 2016, Instagram and Snapchat led, with about 75% of teens reported using them, while Facebook usage declined slightly to 66%. However, the use of social media in general was on the rise, as 94% of teens age 13-17 reported using them [2].

 

Benefits of Social Media

1. Making Social Connections

Social media provide a convenient way for children to connect with their peers and keep in touch with friends they already spend time within the offline world. This mutual, constant availability can lead to the strengthening of these relationships – they have someone they can share their problems with and ask for advice, or just chat with if they’re feeling bored. Furthermore, they use social media to explore their interests and connect with their community, which helps them further develop existing relationships with like-minded peers. Researchers from the Netherlands found that children between the ages of 11 and 14 who use social media report a higher level of friendship quality. Even though this study focused on their version of Facebook, authors believe their findings can be generalized to users of other social media beyond the Netherlands [3].

Social media also makes it easier for children to make new friends, as they don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from meeting new people face-to-face. For example, they don’t have to worry about being faced with an awkward silence when they feel pressure to speak but aren’t quite sure what they should say next. Texting doesn’t always require an immediate response, so children with less confidence in their social skills can take the time to come up with an adequate answer and reply with less pressure than in a face-to-face situation. In a longitudinal study, researchers concluded that instant messaging increases the quality of existing friendships because adolescents feel less inhibited and disclose their inner thoughts and feelings to one another earlier on, which enhances the relationship [4].

One of the undisputable benefits of social media is the ability to overcome geographical barriers. Using social media to keep in touch with friends who live in a different city, state, or country is a great way of ensuring a relationship doesn’t suffer because of distance. Two kids from Argentina and Iceland can communicate online just as easily as two kids who live in the same neighborhood. And, social media can help bring together diverse groups of children. Having contact and communicating with children of a diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious background can be the key to developing tolerance and respect for different groups of people.

2. A Helpful Tool for Dealing with Problems

There are many ways in which children can communicate online while staying anonymous, i.e. joining Reddit. Shy children, who often feel socially awkward, might use this controlled environment to express themselves and speak their mind without the fear of negative offline consequences or of being stigmatized. This gradually leads to the development of higher self-esteem. On social media, it’s easier to find someone who’s got the same problems and with whom one can talk and be listened to. Reading about the experiences of children who are dealing with the same issues as you are is an invaluable basis for evaluating your own problems.

The internet in general is a place where children can easily access online information about their health concerns, or, for example, a proper diet. Health resources are increasingly available to youth online, but social media can provide even more health information, as users share medical information online with each other [5, 6]. Also, children with chronic illnesses can join supportive networks of people with similar conditions. People with diabetes, for example, often create online communities, which allows them to connect to one another and to members of the healthcare community [7].

3. A Useful Resource in Education

Students often use social media to share information about school assignments, as well as to organize their time in accordance with their homework. Facebook groups, for example, present a common mode of communication and for the exchange of ideas. There are even schools that embrace social media as a teaching tool and find that it’s a necessary resource in education. However, there are some disadvantages when it comes to using technology and social media in the context of education. If you want to learn more about that as well as how children can best use the internet for their educational benefit, you should take a look at our article on this topic.

 

Potential Risks of Social Media

1. Social Media Addiction

All those likes, comments, pictures, texts, etc. can be overwhelming for children. As previously noted, children can reap many benefits from social media, especially in the area of socialization. On the other hand, constantly being online and on-call for friends can inevitably lead to sleep deprivation, which can cause further problems. It’s important not to become dependent on quick replies and a blizzard of instant messaging. If children are spending all that time on social media they’re probably neglecting other commitments at home and school. This also leaves them with less time for those necessary and irreplaceable face-to-face interactions with others.

2. The Burden of Comparisons with  Idealized Depictions of Others

Despite the upside of having a large amount of information available online regarding health and other issues, there’s clearly a downside. Much of what children might see on social media is a calculated and idealized picture someone is trying to present. Most people don’t post photos of themselves on Instagram when they’re sad or angry. You usually only see happy moments, such as them enjoying a party, or going to the movies with lots of friends, which seems to suggest they have a perfect, worry-free life. When children see the idealized life someone they follow on social media appears to be leading, they might ask, “What am I doing wrong?” and “Why is my life not like that?”, and feel like failures.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that it’s not hard to stumble upon complete disinformation online regarding an issue that’s important to children. Sometimes it’s challenging for even the most experienced users to tell if a source is accurate or if there’s a hidden agenda behind the information.

3. The Dangers of Disinhibition and Cyberbullying

Improper use of social media and a lack of restraint in online interactions can lead to the development of behavior patterns that aren’t commonly a part of life in the offline world. Anonymity is a two-edged sword. On one hand, it can help children overcome shyness and social anxiety, but it can also stimulate unwanted reactions, such as hostile or aggressive online behavior, potentially lead to cyberbullying. Bullying and cyberbullying have some elements in common, such as aggression, power imbalance, and the repetition of this type of behavior [8]. Researchers believe we should look at these two as distinct phenomena. Someone who is cyberbullying doesn’t have to be physically stronger than the victim, and usually doesn’t get to see the effect his or her behavior had on the victim. Another difference is in accessibility of the victim. Whereas bullying mostly happens at school, cyberbullying can be engaged in at any time and reach a much wider audience, which makes it potentially even more dangerous [8].

4. Invasion of Privacy

From the moment children start using social media and spending time on the internet, they start making a digital footprint. This can have ramifications for their future personal or professional life. One part of the problem is sharing too much information, which can be used by advertisers or third parties. About 90% of boys and girls share their real names and photos of themselves on social media. Most of them also share their birthdate, interests, city where they live, school name, etc. [9] We’re also witnessing people revealing personal information on Facebook posts, sharing their personal photos on Instagram daily, or indicating their political views on Twitter.

Besides the negative consequences of posting too much information about themselves online, potential threats for children also include security attacks such as hacking, malware, or even identity theft. A recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that internet users are able to answer fewer than half of the questions when asked about their knowledge of cybersecurity [10]. Although this research was conducted on adults, we have no reason to believe children would be any more informed. This makes children vulnerable to scams and invasions of privacy, especially if they didn’t get adequate education on these topics.

 

What Can Parents Do?

Let’s face it – most children nowadays can’t imagine life without the internet. As we’ve seen, social media is a helpful tool in many aspects of children’s lives, when used properly. On the other hand, if used recklessly, they can cause more harm than good. With this in mind, we’ll now go over a couple of practices that can help parents ensure their children use social media to their advantage.

– If your children are spending too much time on Facebook or another social media app, you should help them find some other activity to fill in their time. Try talking to them and seeing if they’re interested in taking up a hobby, or a sport.

– Try to set an example for your children and don’t use your cell phone too often. As a matter of fact, don’t use it at all in front of them, especially not for endlessly scrolling through social media, reading the news, etc. Use the free time you have together to connect and bond. Make a rule for everyone in your household – for example, that no one should use their phone during a meal or while having family time in the living room [11]. This will help them realize that the outside world is more important than the online one, and hopefully, they’ll understand that they aren’t going to miss anything important if they don’t reply to a text message right away.

Don’t invade their privacy! One study suggests it may not be the best strategy to intervene in your children’s use of social media [12]. A better approach for children’s online safety implies not necessarily intervening, but mediating their online behavior. For example, you should occasionally monitor the information they post online and talk to them about it, but you shouldn’t read their private conversations or use parental monitoring software to block content that contains online risks. If you merely reduce their exposure to online risks, they won’t be able to learn how to effectively cope with them. The suggested approach is to provide children with more autonomy to take risks, as well as for parents to take corrective action to mitigate those risks [12].

– Make sure you help your children learn not to evaluate themselves in comparison with an idealized image someone presented on social media. Let them know that they should be what they feel and think they should be, and not be driven by their perception of unrealistic depictions of others.

– You should suggest your children make their profiles private on social media such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, so that their posts are only visible to their friends. Educate your children to cautiously and more securely access the online world. Think about enrolling them in one of the many interesting upcoming projects here at Nobel, such as the one concerned with teaching children about networking, firewalls, ports & internet security, etc.

 

References:

1. Lenhart, A., Duggan, M., Perrin, A., Stepler, R., Rainie, H., & Parker, K. (2015). Teens, social media & technology overview 2015 (pp. 04-09). Pew Research Center [Internet & American Life Project].

2. http://www.apnorc.org/projects/Pages/Instagram-and-Snapchat-are-Most-Popular-Social-Networks-for-Teens.aspx

3. Antheunis, M. L., Schouten, A. P., & Krahmer, E. (2016). The role of social networking sites in early adolescents’ social lives. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(3), 348-371.

4. Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). The effects of instant messaging on the quality of adolescents’ existing friendships: A longitudinal study. Journal of Communication, 59(1), 79-97.

5. O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804.

6. Moorhead, S. A., Hazlett, D. E., Harrison, L., Carroll, J. K., Irwin, A., & Hoving, C. (2013). A new dimension of health care: systematic review of the uses, benefits, and limitations of social media for health communication. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4).

7. Cotter, A. P., Durant, N., Agne, A. A., & Cherrington, A. L. (2014). Internet interventions to support lifestyle modification for diabetes management: a systematic review of the evidence. Journal of Diabetes and its Complications, 28(2), 243-251.

8. Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth.

9. http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/05/21/what-teens-share-on-social-media/

10. http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/03/22/what-the-public-knows-about-cybersecurity/

11. https://childmind.org/article/how-using-social-media-affects-teenagers/

12. Wisniewski, P., Jia, H., Xu, H., Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2015, February). Preventative vs. reactive: How parental mediation influences teens’ social media privacy behaviors. In Proceedings of the 18th ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 302-316). ACM.

How To Tame Your Fear Of Public Speaking

Have you ever experienced dry mouth, trembling, difficulty breathing, or your voice starting to shake during public speaking?

Racing heart, sweating, your face turning red?

Have you ever frozen in front of an audience?

These are some of the major symptoms of the Fear Of Public Speaking [1]. The body reacts to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival by releasing the hormone, adrenaline, which causes these symptoms. And in order to be able to overcome this fear it’s first necessary to understand it.

What is the fear of public speaking?

The fear of public speaking involves an overriding fear of being scrutinized or evaluated by others [2]. It may happen in the classroom, where a student hopes the teacher won’t call on him/her to answer a question. College students may avoid certain courses where speaking in front of the group is required or decide against certain careers for the same reason. Some students may even avoid social events they would like to attend.

The fear of public speaking is often linked with shyness, unwillingness to communicate, low self-esteem, and communication apprehension [3, 4] and these also frequently lead to avoidance of any situation that is perceived as a threat.

This all might sound scary, but there are many ways in which, with help, you can overcome your fear.

How to tame your fear

It’s okay to be a little nervous

Public speaking is a situation where most people feel anxiety. It’s a normal and common reaction, so remember – you’re not alone! Some people even believe that a little anxiety makes you a better speaker! Learn to accept it and use these tips to reduce the fear to a manageable level.

Prepare yourself

It’s important to be well prepared, so that you feel confident regarding the topic you’re going to be talking about in front of the audience.

Practice, practice, practice

The more you practice, the better you’re going to be! You can start by practicing in front of a mirror. Then, practice in front of friends or family, or someone you trust. You can even videotape or audiotape yourself, so you can have better insight in what to improve.

Use positive thinking

Visualizing speaking and the wanted outcome can reduce negative thoughts and some of the anxiety you feel about performing in front of an audience.

Slow down

Talking too fast can interfere with your breathing and lead to the sensation of running out of air, which could increase the fear. Choose a pace of speech that makes you comfortable and allows your audience to follow you.

Take deep breaths

To prevent the onset of any of the symptoms of public-speaking anxiety, take slow, deep, abdominal breaths before you stand up. This will calm you down and help even if you start feeling anxious during your speech.

Give yourself some credit

Perfect presentation doesn’t really exist, so concentrate on what you did well and remind yourself that a single unsuccessful speech does not automatically mean future speeches will be unsuccessful. Instead of worrying about your weaknesses, concentrate on your strengths.

Fear Of Public Speaking versus Public-Speaking Anxiety

Many people fear speaking in public or performing at events. However, some people suffer from public-speaking anxiety. If you’re afraid of speaking or performing in front of an audience, it doesn’t mean that you have a phobia. There’s a big difference between a fear and a phobia. A phobia is a fear that is excessive, persistent, and interfering. Public-speaking anxiety is a subset of social phobia, the fear of social situations. People who suffer from this have the symptoms we’ve described earlier, but they’re not able to manage and control their fear, so it causes problems in school and in social or professional settings. They tend to freeze in front of even a couple of people and suffer intense anxiety prior to, or even at the thought of, having to orally communicate with any group.

If your fear of public speaking is overwhelming, we recommend seeking the outside help of a coach or counselor, who can help you work through the fear and make your journey from fear to confidence a happy and successful one.

by Jelena Nedeljković

  1.  http://www.glossophobia.com
  2. Westwood, James D., ed. Medicine Meets Virtual Reality 02/10: Digital Upgrades, Applying Moore’s Law to Health. Vol. 85. IOS Press, 2002.
  3. Jovanovic, A. (2017, July 27) Retrieved from  https://nobelcoaching.com/shyness-in-child-development/
  4. Vevea, Nadene N., et al. “The only thing to fear is… public speaking?: Exploring predictors of communication in the public speaking classroom”. Journal of the Communication, Speech & Theatre Association of North Dakota 22 (2009), 1-8.

“New Year, New You” – the Nobel Way!

Don’t give up on your resolutions – Nobel can help you modify them to actually work!

New Year’s resolutions often start with the grand idea of perfecting something or making yourself perfect. We all know, though, that perfection isn’t a realistic, achievable goal, which is why many resolutions tend to be unsuccessful. Nobel Coaching & Tutoring truly knows how to help clients set goals, utilize strengths, and work to achieve success, so we’re offering some quick tips and insights on how you can get started.

  • Prioritize: Be mindful of what you actually want or need to achieve and prioritize two or three realistic and measurable goals.
  • Set short-term targets for long-term goals: Define what can be tracked in manageable, short-term periods that could help you reach a long-term goal.
  • Accountability: Use your resources to help you work on your trackable short-term goals (calendars, reminders, loved ones, personal trainers, Nobel Coaches, etc.).

So, let’s see where you should start!

Setting S.M.A.R.T. goals

Have you ever created a long list of New Year’s resolutions, adding one wish after another, full of motivation and confidence, only to give it all up as your motivation starts declining and your goals start to seem unattainable?

To prevent that from happening, each and every goal you decide on should be created based on the above catchy abbreviation, that stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. [2] We’ll now go through the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2018, see what they’re missing, and turn them into more easily achievable goals!

The three most common resolutions for this year are:

  • Eat healthier
  • Get more exercise
  • Save (more) money. [1]

But since Nobel Coaching is dedicated to students’ academic success, here we’ll add another, very common one:

Let’s start with the first thing from the S.MA.R.T. template and try to make these goals more specific.

Specifying your goal

Although “eat healthier” is a very positive goal to strive for, this definition allows for a lot of cheating! You need to define what eating healthier means for you and be as specific as possible. [2] Does it mean eating at least one vegetable a day? Does it mean no chips and soda? If you don’t define it, you could make yourself believe one vegetable and two sodas a day constitute a good diet, and once you don’t see any results, it would be easy for you to give up. But if your goal is clearly defined, you’ll be much more motivated to go on.

So, instead of making “eat healthier” your goal, let’s say “cut out chips and soda”, or “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert”, or “no eating after 8:00 p.m.”, or – why not all three of these combined?

Instead of  “get more exercise” (you could convince yourself that walking for just a few minutes constitutes that!), you should set a clear goal, such as “exercise three times a week at the gym” or “jog for half an hour three mornings a week”. Notice that it’s important to specify even the place or time; the more specific your goal, the easier it will be for you to make it a habit.

“Save more money” could turn into a specific monthly sum that you want to save, depending on your salary. Even if it seems like only a small amount for you, be sure to specify it! You’ll still save more money that way than if you give up after a month or two!

Finally, “do better in school” also lacks precision. So instead, you could put “go from a C to a B student”, or even better – “Go from C’s to B’s in these three courses”. Then you can choose two or three courses you’re currently having trouble with, and decide to focus on those first.

Measurable goals

You can see that most of our goals have numbers in them, which allows for them to be measurable. [2] If you only say “get more exercise”, there’s nothing to stop you from exercising only once every ten days. But if you say you’ll exercise three times a week, it will be harder for you to skip a day! In order to set goals that are even more measurable, you can separate them into short-term and long-term goals, but be patient: while you could achieve short-term goals fairly quickly, getting to the long-term goal will take more time. Make sure not to give up and not to change the long-term goal in the middle of the time-frame you’ve created!

For example, both “instead of sweets, eat fruit for dessert” and “no chips and soda” could amount to the goal of  “eating two portions of fruit and vegetables every day”, while “save more money each month” can be a stepping stone towards a specific sum you want to save altogether. When it comes to grades, your long-term goal could be a fixed GPA; getting to your B’s and A’s could be just a start towards this goal!

Attainable goals

Reading this, you might start thinking: “Jogging only three times a week? I can do much better than that!” And although one day you will be able to surpass these temporary goals, starting too big too soon more often than not results in disappointment. This will cause you to drop all your motivation and stop trying altogether, and we don’t want that! Once you’ve achieved your current goals, there’s nothing stopping you – you can set more goals and make them bigger!

But for the very beginning, they should be more easily achievable, to make sure you don’t lose your motivation and the will to achieve them. This is why we said “jog only three times a week“ instead of “jog daily”; similarly, make sure to take your financial situation into account when making plans concerning your savings. Regarding your grades, although going from C’s to A’s sounds wonderful, don’t push yourself too hard. Going up a whole grade is something to be proud of, so start with B’s first. Once you’re there, feel free to find new goals for yourself. [2]

Relevant goals

Although we want you to succeed, we don’t want you to put as little effort into your goals as possible. Your goals should be your actual goals, and not just something made up to keep your spirits high while you’re actually not accomplishing much. For example, if you rarely eat sweets and are eating a healthy diet, putting “no more sweets” on your list means you’re crowding out other, more important goals. If you’re a student, these important, relevant goals could be “go from C to B in five of my classes” or “pass all of my tests this year with at least 80%”.

The relevance of the goals also means that your list of resolutions shouldn’t be a mile long – decide on two or three most important long-term goals and once you’ve achieved those, you can add others to the list! [2]

Time-bound goals

Now, what do we mean exactly when we talk about short-term and long-term goals? Short-term goals are simply your stepping stones towards long-term goals. Long-term goals tend to be more specific and measurable. “Going from C’s to B’s in these three courses” would be a short-term goal, while “reach a 4.5 GPA” would be a long-term one. Make sure to give your short-term goals a time limit; this makes it easier to achieve your long-term goal (which should also have a time limit!) more easily and quickly. For example, your short-term goal could be to save “this much” the first month, “this much” the next –  and so on until you reach your long-term financial goal. [2]

To make sure these goals are met, you should use all the resources available to you that could help you track and achieve your short-term goals. This applies to all the groups and individuals who could be helpful: for example, you can join a gym and find a personal trainer, team up with your friends when it comes to jogging or studying, or contact us at Nobel Coaching & Tutoring and decide on a plan together!

But as you embark on this journey, remember one more thing… Don’t tell everyone about your big resolutions! You can share them with your family and one or two close friends, but that should be it. If you go around telling everyone you plan to start jogging or studying two times a day, you’re tricking your brain into thinking you’re actually doing it. This is because the reward centers in our brains are activated by both words and actions, so your brain will essentially be rewarding you just for talking about your big decisions!

So, make S.M.A.R.T. resolutions, use all the resources at your disposal, and your motivation will be sure to stay with you all the way through!

by Jelena Jegdić

References:

  1. https://www.statista.com/chart/12386/the-most-common-new-years-resolutions-for-2018/
  2. https://www.smartsheet.com/blog/essential-guide-writing-smart-goals

Cultivating a Sense of Gratitude

Gratitude is the emotion we experience when we notice and appreciate gifts that have been given to us in our lives. These gifts are frequently thoughtful things others do for us, but they can really be anything that makes us stop and say, “I am so grateful for this!” You can appreciate the gifts of nature, be grateful for feeling good today, or just for being alive!

But gratitude is often overlooked in the fast-paced world of today. It’s easy to get lost in the hassles of our everyday lives and never pause to look at the big picture and realize there’s a lot to be grateful for. And although gratitude is an emotion, it can, through time, grow into a positive personal ethic. If we feel gratitude as an emotion, we feel it only briefly and not necessarily often. But if we integrate it into our value system, it becomes part of us and we feel it more often and more deeply.

However, that requires persistence and hard work, but we’re here to help! Today, you’ll learn about all the positive outcomes of gratitude, as well as how you can practice it to become a happier and healthier person.

Psychological benefits

Gratitude can be beneficial for our mental health in many different ways. First and foremost, it’s a good stepping stone for combatting – and preventing – depression and anxiety. [4] People who suffer from mild depression have said that when they feel as though they’re sinking, being grateful helps them feel they can survive and swim instead.

But besides that, gratitude can simply make us feel happier, more enthusiastic, and more optimistic about our present and our future as well. [3] People who tend to focus on all the gifts they’ve been given also tend to experience negative emotions like envy, sadness, or bitterness, less than those who focus on their problems. [3] This isn’t to say all our problems should be completely overlooked and expected to solve themselves; rather, we should start by being grateful for what we still have, before proceeding to work on the issues we’re facing.

Finally, gratitude is a very adaptive feeling when it comes to facing stressful situations. People who often feel grateful say they feel calmer and less stressed when it comes to difficult situations, compared to those who don’t practice gratefulness that often.

Interpersonal benefits

As we mentioned before, gratitude is often related to other people in our lives. Although we may feel grateful for life itself, we tend to appreciate the people we have in our lives and everything they are giving us wholeheartedly – all their help, love, and care. When we feel grateful about that, we start feeling loved and cared for, which further leads to us trusting other people and wanting to preserve our existing relationships, or even build new ones. [2]

Some say that gratefulness is the core of altruism. [2] If we feel other people have been kind to us and if we appreciate it, we’re more likely to help them out when needed, even if it can sometimes come at the short-term expense of ourselves. Through gratitude, we learn to let go of our fears of being hurt or used, and we start feeling good if we help others, just as we feel good when they help us.

Physical benefits

You may have now realized that gratitude can have mental benefits, but can you believe it also helps you be physically healthier? And it’s not just self-reports, either.  If you start feeling grateful often, people close to you are bound to start noticing both mental and physical differences in you. There are cyclical physical benefits to the immune system: gratefulness helps lower stress, which lowers blood pressure, too; having more balance in your body means your immune system will be stronger and thus you’ll be getting sick less often; being sick less often decreases your psychological anxiety, which lets you sleep better. Finally, all of this helps you look better and have more energy, which is very helpful if you’re having trouble convincing yourself to exercise. Of course, exercising helps the body, too. And it all starts with gratitude! [4] [3]

We can be very focused on what we don’t have – so much so that we forget about the things we do have. But after hearing of all the benefits gratefulness can give us, the question remains – how do we cultivate a sense of gratitude? How do we internalize it, instead of it being an emotion we tend to feel only once a year during Thanksgiving?

One thing you can do is keep a journal. [4] Writing in it every day might be a bit too much – you could get so used to writing gifts down that you start feeling indifferent towards them. Instead, write in it once or twice a week, or as often as you feel like – everybody is different when it comes to that.

What you should do is create a list of things you’re grateful for – family, friends, a wonderful day, that great new song you heard – anything that makes you happy. Simply think of all the things you have that are not really a default in life, as well as things you didn’t even have until recently.

Another useful thing you can do is help your community. You can volunteer or donate to the less fortunate.  Getting a sense of other people’s misfortunes and feeling you are helping someone makes you feel more grateful for the things you have in your own life. [4]

Finally, a simple meditation practice can help open your mind and make more room for gratitude. [4] Each person has their own preferences, and gratitude works best if they choose the practice that fits them best. So choose yours and ask yourself – What am I grateful for?

by Jelena Jegdić

 

References:

  1. Bartlett, M., & DeSteno, D. (2004). Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior. Psychological Science 17(4):319-25.
  2. Emmons, R., & Stern, R. (2013). Gratitude as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 69(8):846-55
  3. Emmons, R., & McCullough, M. (2003). Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, No. 2, 377–389
  4. Sheldon, K. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2006). How to Increase and Sustain Positive Emotion: The Effects of Expressing Gratitude and Visualizing Best Possible Selves. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(2): 73–82

The Growth Mindset – The Power Of Yet

One of the more talked-about topics in psychology and especially in educational psychology is Carol Dweck’s idea of the “growth mindset”, a concept she discusses in her book Mindset: The new psychology of success. Growth mindset isn’t something that Dweck invented and is now teaching us all how to attain. It is a distinctive trait she observed in people who are happier and more successful, which led her to seek ways to help develop and nurture it in people who do not share this predisposition.

So what actually is growth mindset?

While working as a young researcher, Dweck noticed that some children face challenges in a much more “positive” way than others. They would say things like “Oh, I love a challenge” or “I expected this to be informative”, instead of having tragic and catastrophic thoughts when faced with difficulties. Dweck coined the term “fixed mindset” for children who shrink before obstacles, and “growth mindset” for those who seek challenges and become even more engaged when faced with obstacles. Of course, these two mindsets apply to us all, and it is important to note that whereas we can’t have a growth mindset in every area of our lives, we sure can try to develop it.

To show what growth mindset really is, let’s try to contrast it further with the fixed mindset. People with a fixed mindset think that their characteristics are carved in stone and can never be changed. They firmly believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and can hardly be something we develop. People with a growth mindset believe we can cultivate these characteristics through effort and that the process of cultivating them is more important than the actual outcome. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, wants results right away and doesn’t care as much about the process as it does about the outcome. Of course, Dweck doesn’t deny that people differ from the get-go, but she claims that we can all “change and grow through application and experience” (Dweck, 2006).

Another thing that differentiates these two mindsets is how they perceive and react to failure. People with a fixed mindset are more likely to believe they can fail and that by doing so their abilities will be questioned. Just the act of hitting obstacles would prove to them that they aren’t capable of overcoming them. People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, don’t really see failure as on option – obstacles are just perceived as opportunities to improve and learn, and by being faced with them and, generally something new, we get smarter.

Dweck illustrates this difference further with an interesting remark about language and how we use it to rate success. She mentions how saying “not yet” to students instead of saying they failed a class is a much better way to show them that even if they have difficulties overcoming something now, the time will come when they will succeed if they continue tackling the obstacle from different angles. The use of “yet” shows that there is a learning curve, and points to the process, not the outcome. This also tells children that they aren’t being taught to learn simply for grades, but for their future and it encourages them to dream big and think about what they want to do with their lives, instead of on focusing only on what they are currently achieving in school.

This entire idea of the power of yet and growth mindset isn’t just something Dweck came up with and wrote overnight. She (and many others) actually did research and showed time and time again that if a growth mindset is encouraged, children earn better grades and achieve better results than they did before – even better than some of their peers from much more affluent schools, which shows that growth mindset is a great path to achieving a more equal education system.
This research illustrates two important facts about growth mindset: it does work and it can be developed. It is not something we are born with.

What is a false growth mindset?

Before we dive into the exciting topic of how a growth mindset can be developed, we need to do some myth-busting. As with any other trending topic in education, it is hard nowadays to avoid the words “have to”, “need to”, and “all” when reading about growth mindset. It is often declared that we should all have to develop growth mindsets because they are just so much better, which ignores the principle behind the concept. Firstly, a growth mindset isn’t something you can just achieve overnight. It takes a lot of work and develops over time. Secondly, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card you can use whenever you’re faced with difficulty. Dweck points out that we are a mixture of both growth mindset and fixed mindset, and at different times and in different areas of our lives either one can predominate.

Another point she makes is that people often claim they have a growth mindset when they actually don’t or use the concept of a fixed mindset to excuse why someone is failing when the only failure is actually not providing the context in which a growth mindset can be achieved. It is also easy to think that simply by encouraging children and praising their effort, we are developing their growth mindsets. It’s a bit more complicated than that – it is not just about praising, it is about praising the right way.

So how is a growth mindset developed?

Developing a growth mindset is a complex process, but it is not unattainable and can actually serve as a great first obstacle on which to practice our mindsets.

The main point that Dweck makes is that a growth mindset is developed through praise, but not the usual after-the-fact praise which focuses on outcomes, but the praise that focuses on the process of learning. This isn’t about blanketing children in praise for any of their efforts, but about praising the strategies they used and the entire process that leads to outcomes. A simple example of this would be saying “I love how you tried all these different strategies while solving this problem until you got it” instead of saying “Great job. I knew you’d get it, you are smart!”

That example showcases another point that Dweck makes; we should praise the process, not the abilities. Praising abilities encourages the fixed mindset that these things are set in stone, which definitely doesn’t promote change or development. Rather, it makes children think that what they can do is what they can do and the same applies for what they can’t do.

Another reason why Dweck insists “it is not the outcome, it is the effort that counts” is ineffective is because it lets students believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. In effect, it can bring them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. On the other hand, insisting on the process or the use of multiple strategies until the obstacle is overcome, and praising that effort, teaches them that they need to change their strategies in order solve the problem. It also shows them they can use all the resources available and ask for help when they need it.

And finally, Dweck points out that even failure should be addressed as something that enhances learning. We can ask children “What is this teaching us? What should we do next?” instead of either praising the effort or protecting them by saying things like “Don’t worry, not everyone can be good in everything. You are not the only one that failed.” In both cases, we are developing a fixed mindset and letting children know that we believe they can’t do better, while a switch in mindsets would help them achieve so much more and help them in their future lives.

If you are already thinking of implementing these ideas while raising your child, there is more encouraging news. The growth mindset isn’t something we can start developing only in early childhood, Dweck says it is never too late for change, so why not try it on yourself, too, and see how it goes.

 

If you need any kind of advice related to the Growth Mindset of your kids or teens, you’ve come to the right place!

Schedule a FREE CONSULTATION with one of our Coaches:

 

KEEP READING:

Resources:

  1. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
  2. Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.
  3. Dweck, C. S. (2014). Developing a Growth Mindset.
  4. Dweck, C. S. (2016). What Having a “Growth Mindset” Actually Means.
  5. Gross-Loh, C. (2016). How Praise Became a Consolation Prize.
  6. Romero, C. (2015). What We Know About Growth Mindset from Scientific Research.

COME TO THE DARK SIDE, WE HAVE EMOTIONS

By Anja Anđelković & Dunja Stojkovic

“Stay positive” and “cheer up” are among the most common phrases of our time, as if it’s now socially unacceptable and “wrong” to feel any other emotions but joy, happiness, and gratitude for what we already have. Showing up for work a bit cranky these days for whatever reason can instantly give you the reputation for being a grumpy, demotivating person, and being in a bad mood for a couple of days can have even more serious effects. The pressure isn’t only to hide certain emotions, but not to feel them at all. We have planners, posters, and even pillowcases with messages such “smile and the world will smile back at you” or “think positive!”, and as if this weren’t enough, there are people reminding us that some feelings are just not worth paying attention to or, for that matter, not feeling at all. This attitude isn’t only annoying to those of us tired of hearing such things, but it can be frustrating and dangerous. Bottling up emotions isn’t necessarily the greatest thing to do for our mental health.

ALL EMOTIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL

To find out why we even have these feelings that are now deemed inappropriate, let’s look into why we have them and how they have survived over time.

It is thought that there is only a limited number of basic, universally recognized human emotions and scholars still argue about the exact number, but the most common classification identifies six: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise [1]. If you examine these closely, you will notice that only one of them, happiness, is exclusively pleasant, while surprise can go both ways. So when we try to ignore unpleasant feelings, we’re basically trying to ignore a whole bunch of our basic emotions and we deprive ourselves of a common human experience. These emotions don’t exist just to aggravate us; they were essential to our evolutionary development and helped ensure our survival as a species. They have purpose and meaning. Emotions help us adapt to problems instinctively, and they serve as instant motivators for our behavior. For example, without the emotion of disgust, we would constantly drink spoiled milk or eat rotten food. Other than that, they color our memories and make them easier to access and serve as a driving force for our future behavior: we try to maintain pleasant emotions and avoid unpleasant ones. This doesn’t mean bottling them up and pretending they don’t exist, but rather trying not to get into too many situations that might give rise to them: we felt disgusted while tasting spoiled milk, so we try very hard to avoid feeling that emotion ever again [5]. Of course, it is impossible to avoid all unpleasant emotions as life is full of loss, problems, downfalls, and missed opportunities, so the key is to understand the reason why we’re feeling a certain way and learn how to deal with those feelings.

Other than their function in aiding our survival as species and helping us adapt to new situations, emotions play a huge role in our communication with others. As we interact with other people, emotions serve as signals for how we are feeling, what our intentions are, the relationship we have with the person we’re talking to, and so on. By being this signal, they evoke reactions from others which, in turn, serve as triggers for behavior [5].

Culture, of course, has always played a huge part in how these functions of emotions are manifested [5]. We still hear people saying how boys shouldn’t cry or how girls should never show anger. These tired old sayings are perfect examples of stereotyping but they also show us how our culture influences our emotional expression and decides which emotions are ideal to have and which aren’t. It might sound as if we are slaves to our cultural background and that isn’t far from the truth but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We couldn’t live in groups without any norms and expectations; the problem is when those expectations become extreme and harmful. For instance, it wouldn’t be possible to live in harmony in a world where everyone expressed their anger in destructive ways, going around vandalizing their neighborhoods but expecting people never to express or even feel anger at all is also harmful and has serious consequences for each one of us.

NEGATIVE CAN BE POSITIVE

When learning mathematics, children find the “two negatives make a positive” concept useful. With emotions, you don’t even need two negatives to make something useful. Just as negative numbers are also real numbers, “negative” emotions are real emotions and it is not only acceptable but natural, to feel them [2]. Therefore, we need to learn how to embrace these unpleasant emotions as a natural and vital part of human experience. In fact, the classification of emotions as positive and negative is completely unnecessary and misleading. Emotions can be useful or not, but there is no reason to divide them into those “good to have” and those we should avoid at all cost.

How exactly are unpleasant emotions natural and useful when they not only make us feel bad but also make others look at us in a different light? Firstly, if we stripped our lives of any unpleasant emotion, we would be basically canceling out a big part of our emotional spectrum. If you think: “Oh well, I don’t mind canceling something out as long as it makes me feel good”, think again. It is practically impossible to live without any distress, so when we think we’re canceling emotions out we are more likely just suppressing them, and it has been proven that when we conceal distress we feel emotionally worse in the long run and end up being less effective and productive [4]. Conversely, accepting and acknowledging the intricacy and complexity of our emotions can prove to be a path to good mental health [7].

So far we’ve established that unpleasant emotions are a natural part of human experience and had an important evolutionary function, but you may still be wondering how useful they are now. It is important to understand that unpleasant emotions coexist with pleasant ones, and both serve as signals of where we are in life and where we should be headed [7]. They are also the principal motivators for change. If we work hard enough to suppress these emotions, we’ll never do anything to rectify the very situation that is causing our dissatisfaction, because we rationalize “why to mess with a winning formula?” or we are actually too scared to change the status quo [2]. This doesn’t only apply to individuals – emotions can be incentives for much bigger changes. Just think of all the people protesting around the world because of various injustices and how they probably felt before they decided to take action.

There are also more specific ways in which unpleasant emotions can be useful. For instance, anxiety can make us problem-solve more quickly in situations where there is a risk of danger and guilt can make us more responsible and help build our moral values [4]. Of course, the key is not to get too carried away with these emotions, since that is when they can become unhealthy. The same goes for sadness: it is natural to feel sad about all sorts of things or to grieve after a loss, but it is when sadness becomes a permanent state of mind without any apparent cause, that it can become harmful.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE FEELINGS

Instead of always bottling up and trying to ignore unpleasant feelings, it would be smart to first try to acknowledge how you feel without trying to rectify things instantly and stay positive. This isn’t only a useful way to evaluate where you are emotionally, but it will prevent those unpleasant emotions from intensifying. Trying to suppress emotions forcefully can exacerbate and complicate them in the long run [6]. While working on this step, keep in mind that these feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

While being aware of unpleasant emotions is a great start and it is sometimes enough to acknowledge it and let it pass, it is also important not to fall into the trap of dwelling on these feelings and drowning in those thoughts without trying to solve the cause of the problem [3]. In order to detangle your emotions, it can be helpful to start journaling. It’s a great way to self-reflect and gain some insight into your problem from a different perspective, as things often seem different when they are put down on paper [7]. Another way to shift your perspective is by confiding in someone else, whether it be your partner or a close friend.

If you still feel down and aren’t sure how to deal with your emotions or the circumstances that are causing them, keep in mind that there is no shame in asking for professional help and that by doing so you are actually helping yourself and making a huge step in the right direction. Talking with someone we trust can help us learn how to acknowledge and express all of our emotions without feeling like the world around us is crumbling and it can be a great way to learn how to cope with all our emotions, as we’ve learned it is impossible to avoid them altogether.

References:

  1. Burton, N. (January 7, 2016). What Are Basic Emotions.
  2. Costa, D. (September 28, 2017). The Benefits of Negative Emotions: 3 Keys to Wellbeing.
  3. David, S. (September 6, 2016). Why You Should Embrace Your Darker Emotions.
  4. Gregoire, C. (November 11, 2014). The Importance of Negative Emotions.
  5. Hwang, H. & Matsumoto, D. (2017). Functions of Emotions. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:nobaproject.com
  6. Newcomer, L. (March 27, 2015). Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Always Work.
  7. Rodriguez, T. (May 1, 2013). Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.