Teen Well-Being: Advice From Dr. Maurice Elias

If you had to choose 3 of the following 8 values for your children to internalize forever, what would they be: Friendship, peace, wisdom, beauty, long life, riches, popularity or family?

This was the question posed by Dr. Maurice Elias, a Rutgers University psychology professor and author of “Raising Emotionally Intelligent Teenagers,” to a large audience of parents and educators at New Trier High School on March 12.

According to Elias: “Parents are now in serious competition for the attention of their children, and our attempts to influence them are constantly being diluted by numerous messages encouraging them to act and think differently from the ways we would like them to.”

Elias encourages the development of a child’s emotional intelligence—especially the emotional intelligence of teens—which will ultimately enable kids to face future situations by understanding their thoughts and emotions.

Furthermore, he argues that parents of teens need to focus on building the following in their children:

1. Appreciation: feeling loved, valued and cared for. Praising students only when they meet high academic standards sends the wrong ethical message. Instead, parents should give praise to children for trying new things, for not doing what their peers are doing and even for taking care of small household or school responsibilities.

2. Sense of belonging: feeling connected to or identifying with a meaningful social group linked by goals and values. Participation in local teams or extracurricular activities can provide this opportunity. Belonging implies and requires commitment.

3. Competence and confidence: feeling capable boosts a teen’s self-esteem. Learning how to problem solve is a key intellectual skill for facing today’s challenges. Following a process when approaching difficult situations or problems, and being able to identify and verbalize feelings along the way is crucial.

4. Contribution: feeling a sense of selflessness and generosity to a group or cause is essential for healthy teen development. Elias stresses that if kids don’t have the opportunity to be generous to others, they will never be fulfilled. He encourages families to model and encourage community service and involve children in decisions about donating to charity.

According to Elias, emotional intelligence is needed to manage in today’s pressure-filled, social world. These skills allow individuals to resist harmful impulses; to respond with awareness to social opportunities and pressures; to build and maintain positive relationships in the family, the workplace and the community; and to make valuable contributions in the world.

“Intelligence may get one in the door, but emotional intelligence gets one beyond the door,” Elias says.

To learn more about Elias’s studies of emotional intelligence, visit his Web site.