It has been a crazy few weeks here at bradenbell.com, Mockingbird Cottage, and all other associated environs. So, I haven't posted anything for MSM. This week is our fall production, My Fair Lady, and so it's crazy again. Or still. But I had a quick thing I've been thinking about that I thought might be good to pass on.
I've been thinking about a concept I call "Emotional Depth Perception." In my experience, this is a quality that most adolescents, even the very mature ones, simply don't have. What I mean by "Emotional Depth Perception" is this: adolescents tend to feel things very strongly. Their emotions are powerful. But they tend to respond to all feelings equally, acting on their feelings as if feeling something means it is true, or wise.
Adolescents generally can't discern where a powerful emotion lies in relation to other facts, and the larger context of their lives. It is immediate, powerful, and often is what drives them to act.
Adults do this too sometimes, but I really think this happens almost universally in adolescents. Part of this is because they don't have a lot of life experience to provide perspective and balance.
Most adolescents are unable to look at something and say, "I'm really stressed right now, but this is actually fairly minor in terms of the real-world consequences." To them, very small things that don't matter all that much are often equal to huge, life-shaking developments because both kinds of stressors generate emotion and adolescents are not very good at deciding which are serious and real, and which are passing.
Synonyms for emotional depth perception would be: balance, perspective, experience, prudence. All the qualities that allow someone to be in a situation that is highly emotional and rationally get to the point that mitigating factors are considered.
Some examples would be as follows:
A student is participating in the play and possibly playing a sport. He or she is tired and stressed. When a teacher assigns something that causes the student to stay up late, he or she falls apart.
Emotional depth perception tells the student, "It's not the end of the world. You feel like it is, but it's not. You might even get a B, but next year, probably next week, this will no longer matter."
A student is treated unkindly or ignored by people he or she thought were friends. They are sure that no one likes them and that they will never again have friends. Emotional depth perception allows the student to say, "That was really hard. But tomorrow things will likely be different again."
It works for more positive emotions as well. Someone gets the lead in the play or a spot on the varsity team and the boy/girl they like returns their affections. They are sure life is perfect now, going to proceed in an untainted, unalloyed, rose-strewn path. Emotional depth perception allows them to say, "This is great. But I need to realize things won't always be perfect."
As I type this, I realize that adults struggle with this as well. In my mind, the difference is that adults *can* do this while most adolescents are simply not capable of looking beyond what they feel at the moment.
It goes without saying, I think, that an adult's job is therefore to help them develop this emotional depth perception. It's to help them learn to not act immediately on the basis of something they feel strongly, to not believe in the wisdom of every feeling, and to help talk them through things. It is not to prevent them from struggling or encountering trouble, it's to help them learn to assess it and balance it properly, understanding it so that they can then work through it.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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