Life as a teenager is pretty confusing as one is neither a child nor an adult. Stereotypes portray teenagers as aggressive, distracted, misbehaved and lacking societal awareness. However, a new study shows that teenagers have different personalities and their way of coping with stress determines how they behave with others.
"We're each born with some personality tendencies; for example, we see that babies are fussy or calm. Those characteristics can change over time as people experience certain events or as a result of their parents, peers or communities. At the same time, as we get older, our personalities become more stable," said Gustavo Carlo, the Millsap Professor of Diversity in the University of Missouri's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
The study survey included more than 1,500 students between the ages of 12 and 15. Researchers measured their levels of prosocial behavior; how they interacted with others, manage stress and levels of aggressiveness.
Researchers found that teens that were emotionally stable were calm and were more likely to use coping techniques that aimed at solving a problem (problem-focused coping). Also, these teenagers were more engaged in prosocial behavior like helping others, volunteering and donating things.
Teens at the other end of the spectrum, those who were emotionally unstable, tended to be more aggressive, distracted and used emotion-centric approaches to solve a problem.
"Empathetic kids are generally very good at regulating their emotions and tend not to lose their tempers. When you're good at regulating your emotions, you're less concerned about yourself and more considerate of other people. On the other hand, impulsive children are more self-focused and have difficulty engaging in problem-focused coping," Carlo said.
Researchers say that children must be taught many types of coping strategies so that they become more adaptable in a social setting. Using a problem-focused approach may not always be beneficial like when there is a conflict in a family and the teen can't do anything about it.
"Sometimes we get stuck dealing with stress in one way because it was successful in the past; that coping style may not be effective with other stressors and in other situations. There is more than one way to cope in situations, and people need to know when to apply which coping mechanisms," Carlo said.