Tuesday, 24 February 2015

EDUC 2014 - Teachers and the adolescent student: Navigating the emotional minefield

Teachers and the Adolescent Student: Navigating the Emotional Minefield
Developmental and Educational Issues in Children and Adolescents EDUC 5P37

Theoretical: Literature Review

Parents and teachers of adolescent youth have a unique opportunity to hinder or enrich their emotional world and development of their emotional selves. The ability to hone ones self-concept of their emotional self is an important skill for youth on the cusp of the more independent adult world. Psychology Today’s article Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence: Adolescent apathy and what the loss of caring can mean focuses on the ways parents have a profound influence on the emotional well being and emotional development of an adolescent. The article comments on how parents can positively engage when their child produces statements like, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘you can’t make me’. Both expressions are meant to defy parental authority and are actually a psychological issue that parents should be aware of. The ability for parents to respond with apathy instead of anger or frustration models positive emotional self-control and awareness that adolescence should learn.
Another article within Psychology Today’s series Surviving Your Child’s Adolescence section The Emotional Minefield of Adolescence seeks to explain ‘why is my teenager so much more easily upset than as a child?’ using feeling factors to help articulate and define specific emotional needs. Author Carl Pickhardt (2014), provides an excellent explanation to this question; “I believe the answer is because negotiating the adolescent passage is like crossing an experiential minefield with hidden emotional explosives buried all along the way. The young person has to watch their step, often reacting with unexpected and intense expressions of feeling for causes that can be hard for parents to fathom and tolerate” (para. 2).
This paper seeks to make a connection between the psychological emotional needs of an adolescent and the influence a teacher could have on their discovery and development of emotional self-concept. The articles from Psychology Today address how parents have a profound impact on the emotional needs of an adolescent but I wonder how can teachers, who see these students five days a week, use class work to enrich and engage students with these real world skills. Three additional articles were reviewed to expand the discussion and understanding of how adolescent turmoil is perpetuated at school and what emotional and meta cognitive skills teachers should specifically be teaching students in this critical development period of emption and self concept.
Before addressing the techniques and challenges of teaching the adolescent about emotional competency and self-awareness, it is important to examine the development of this behavior as it manifests in childhood. Analyzing why adolescents are the way they are from an evolutionary and developmental point of view adds scientific validity to the research being conducted on how to assist and manage emotional distress in adolescence. Two articles were reviewed to better understand the development of negative and positive emotions of children as they grow through adolescence and into adulthood. The development of children’s sympathy, moral emotion attributions, and moral reasoning in two cultures and Is Adolescent Bullying an Evolutionary Adaptation? provide two unique frameworks of research to aid in understanding why and how adolescent’s develop emotional instability.
Research by Volk, Camilleri, Dane, and Marini (2012) supports the notion that aggressive adolescent behavior such as bullying results from maladaptive development of social and emotional awareness. Bullying, as a topic for this paper is appropriate as bullying can be seen as one of the major implications of adolescent’s being unaware or unable to understand emotional repercussions. Bullying is believed ‘to be what happens when something goes wrong with the developmental process’ (Volk et al., 2012). Data collected from across industrialized and non-industrialized societies shows that bullying exists in adolescence across geographically and socially different communities. It is important for parents and teachers to realize that bullying stems from an emotional need that students may not even be aware of. It is developing a framework of dialogue, language and self-awareness that can allow students to take ownership of their emotions and subsequent actions and reactions to those emotions.
Similarly, Chaparro, Kim, Fernandez, and Malti (2013) examine two different cultures to analyze the development of children’s sympathy, moral emotion attributions, and moral reasoning with one hundred seventy-six children in two age groups (6 and 9 years old). Developmental researchers have expressed the need to examine moral emotions and moral reasoning to uncover the developmental reason children and adolescents act and react certain ways to social and moral conflict. The understanding of these developments can aid teachers when incorporating emotional language learning in the classroom from elementary through to secondary.
Bosacki and O’Neill’s 2013 paper Early adolescents’ emotional perceptions and engagement with popular music activities in every day life provides insight to how music engagement can aid the development of emotional competency and self awareness. The needs of the adolescent are constantly changing in response to the fast paced contemporary world in which they live in. Popular music is one-way students create meaning and emotional perceptions of themselves. Music is a fairly accessible medium for teachers to use in the classroom, which provides a venue to examine language, and meaning that develops in response to popular music. Developing a framework of conversation and practice to enhance emotional competency through their ability to develop critical thinking skills about the content and emotion in music. According to Bosacki and O’Neill (2013) emotional competency as a skill is defined as “the ability to discern one’s own and other’s emotional states and to use the vocabulary to emotion effectively” (p. 2). Once we are able to define and conceptualize an emotion it becomes much more tangible to work with and easier to develop a dialogue about our own understanding of emotional implications.

Discussion: Implications & Future Research

Educational research speaks to every day real world issues that students face across the world. It is remarkable to examine the correlation between brain development and outcome of attitudes and emotion in adolescents in varying social and geographical contexts. The articles reviewed provide proof that the development of the brain on emotional and cognitive awareness in elementary and secondary age has a profound impact on a person’s ability to interact positively with the world around them.
Becoming a teacher immersed in the western realm of 21st century literacy requires the teaching practice to reflect the emotional needs of our 21st century learners. Urging that to take responsibility for their actions, adolescents need to play a central role in creating their personal emotional awareness indistinguishably links language and emotion. My question regarding teachers effectively promoting positive, constructive, and emotionally self-aware attitudes and skills in the classroom has shifted from the WHY to the HOW. What tools are available to teachers for engaging with these higher order thinking, meta-cognitive skills in the classroom? Bosacki and O’Neill’s (2013) article provides insight to how the arts (music) can act as a vehicle for exploration and 21st century connections to language and meaning. One could propose a similar model for other forms of art such as drama therapy, Theatre of the Oppressed, visual and media arts as well as voice and dance curriculums. The venues in which to connect with students and have them connect with their life in meaningful ways should be part of the essential development of student skills within the curriculum. Integrating these conversations of awareness of emotional/social interaction into any and all classrooms could assist students in gaining consistent and constructive methods of positive self-awareness.


Bosacki, S. L. & O’Neill, S, A. (2013). Early adolescents’ emotional perceptions and         engagement with popular music activities in everyday life. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth, 18. Retrieved from            http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02673843.2013.785438

Chaparro, M, P., Kim, H., Fernandez, A., & Malti, T. (2013). The development of           children’s sympathy, moral emotion attributions, and moral reasoning in two          cultures. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 10 (4), 495 – 509.

Pickhardt, C. E. (2012, May 28). Surviving (Your Child’s) Adolescence: Adolescent          Apathy and What Loss of Caring Can Mean. Psychology Today. Retrieved from            http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-        adolescence/201205/adolescent-apathy-and-what-loss-caring-can-mean

Pickhardt, C. E. (2014, February 17). Surviving (Your Child’s) Adolescence: The   Emotional Minefield of Adolescence. Psychology Today. Retrieved from             http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-        adolescence/201402/the-emotional-minefield-adolescence

Volk, A. A., Camillen, J, A., Dane, A, V., & Marini, Z, A. (2012). Is Adolescent Bullying             an Evolutionary Adaptation? Journal of Aggressive Behaviour, 38, 222-238.

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