Evidence That It Works
Being emotionally agile helps promote resilience and well-being. Generally, acceptance, or “mindful acknowledgment of emotion without judgment,” is one of the most helpful ways for teens to navigate emotions along with reframing situations as more neutral or positive, problem-solving, and distraction.
In a study of adolescents ages 14 to 21 (55% female; 1% African American, 21% Asian American, 6% Hispanic/Latinx, 1% Native American, 2% Middle Eastern, 58% White, and 11% mixed or otherwise defined), acceptance was one of the most commonly used strategies by teens to regulate their emotions, especially in the morning and by those who felt a range of challenging emotions like unhappiness, irritability, boredom, anger, and anxiety.
Based in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, acceptance, mindfulness, and other techniques are used to gain distance from unhelpful thought patterns, nurturing more flexibility to pause, notice, and explore these patterns.
Why Does It Matter?
A review of studies found that mindfulness, or cultivating awareness with an accepting attitude, decreases intergroup bias. How? By reducing factors that contribute to bias like anxiety about people in social groups beyond our own, automatic evaluations based on our memories, and stress. Mindfulness also lessens bias by improving empathy and cognitive flexibility.
Teens’ confidence to interact with people who seem different from themselves and openness to the possibility of making connections rests on a number of factors: low levels of anxiety, positive expectations about contact, positive attitudes about outgroups, empathy, and perspective-taking. Helping our teens navigate challenging emotions can encourage them to bridge differences because they aren’t overwhelmed by distress. Instead, they are more open to the commonalities they share with others, catalyzing a social connection.