Teaching teens that social and personality traits can change helps them to cope with social challenges such as bullying, which in turn can help mitigate stress and improve academic performance, according to a study by psychologists at UT Austin.
The transition from middle to high school comes at a difficult time for adolescents. Research has shown that psychologically, they are more focused on status and relationships; biologically, they are more reactive to stress than other age groups. This combination may lead teens to believe they don’t have the resources to cope with social difficulties in school, making them more vulnerable to experiencing depressive symptoms.
“Adolescents are very focused on peer social hierarchy and status, and when they transition into high school, they are put into a situation where they have to figure out where they stand,” says UT Austin assistant professor of psychology David Yeager, lead author of the study. “Often, teenagers think if it’s hard now, it’s going to be hard forever. That’s stressful for them.”
In his latest study appearing in Psychological Science, Yeager suggests teaching students that socially relevant traits are malleable, and not fixed, and can make them feel better equipped to face social challenges, rather than viewing them as threats and diagnosing them as lasting realities.
“Psychological interventions are not magic,” Yeager says. “The success of this study does not suggest we’ve discovered some sort of magic bullet to fix the problem, but rather we’ve taken a progressive step forward in the research process of addressing the wider public health issue of teenage stress.”