To cope means the ability to deal effectively with something difficult. Certainly, during adolescence social interaction is hard. To interact with someone requires a stable sense of self. It requires knowing who you are. It even requires liking who you are. However, this is the precise dilemma of being a teenager – they don’t yet know themselves.
The quintessential task of adolescence is discovering a sense of self. Teenagers are reaching for their independence, their uniqueness, and the role they will play in life. However, doing this in the midst of other confused teenagers, family conflicts, and the lingering need to hang onto their childhood is the mountain they must climb. Not to mention the presence of drugs, the pressure of new romantic relationships, and maintaining good grades!
You can imagine the sense of insecurity they might feel, the pressure to fit into society, the need for acceptance, and the experimentation they might need to do. Teenagers will role-play, explore various social groups, and attempt to discover where they fit in. According to Erik Erikson, the developmental psychologist, adolescence is an essential stage of developing a strong identity and finding direction in life. Erikson saw this stage of life as the most pivotal.
In the midst of finding self-identity, social interaction can be challenging. Yet, a study completed in 2012, indicates that teens that sought out social supports later had a higher level of life satisfaction. Of course, life satisfaction in teens includes a wide array of conditions, including physical and mental health. But the study revealed that of those factors that lead to overall life satisfaction, having healthy social coping mechanisms was a primary factor in feeling satisfied about one’s life.
The study surveyed 1,011 students in the seventh and eighth grades on global life satisfaction and coping. They were surveyed once and then again five months later. Those teens that reported reaching out for social support at the first survey also reported having a higher life satisfaction level at the second survey. The findings suggest the importance of making sure that teens have specific social coping mechanisms and a supportive social network. Social support seeking in particular was found to be the most influential in a teen’s overall sense of life satisfaction. This is especially true when there are peer-based stressors.
The study also revealed that the parent-teen relationship is an important factor in life satisfaction when a teen is in early adolescence. However, as they grow older, the impact of parental support on life satisfaction decreases, while peer support increases. In fact, it’s important that a teen spend time with friends. Because he or she is searching for a sense of self, being able to be with others is an essential component to this life task. Positive experiences with friends and peers can in fact help prevent depression.
There are particular environmental and social factors to consider with those in their adolescence. For instance, having a social or peer group with strong connections are important for most teens. If a teen does not have connections with their peers, this might be a source of concern, and possibly a contributing factor in the development of depression. Furthermore, because they spend so much time in the academic environment, their school relationships, academic performance, and achievements will play a significant role in their mood.
It’s clear however that teens need to have certain coping mechanisms in order to successfully move through adolescence. Without them, emotions are expressed inappropriately or they are internalized, behavior can be immature, and growth toward adulthood stifled. The support of friends can provide healthy coping mechanisms to manage the demands of teenage life appropriately. In fact, the support that teens get in their social group can even provide insight, healing, and hope.
Saha, R., Huebner, E. E., Hills, K., Malone, P., & Valois, R. (2014). Social Coping and Life Satisfaction in Adolescents. Social Indicators Research, 115(1), 241-252. doi:10.1007/s11205-012-0217-3