The emotions teens experience are like a roller-coaster. I love the German expression my mom always used for this, stolen from Goethe:

Himmelhoch jauchzend, zum Tode betrübt

It literally means ‘cheerful as high as the heavens, sorrowful as death’. We all recognize this, teens can be on a high one day, joyful and full of energy, and completely down and depressed the next.

Because teen’s emotions are all over the place, we can be tempted to not take them seriously. That would be a mistake however.

Their emotions may be short lived, one after another, but they’re also deep. Their highs are extreme highs and their lows can be deep, dark valleys. Short ones most of the time, but nevertheless deep.

roller coaster

I bet if you think back to when you were a teens, you can clearly remember a couple of deep emotional moments, positive and negative ones. Joy, being in love, feeling loved. Or rejection, shame, feeling left out.

Both can have a lasting effect. Teen depression is a serious problem, caused by consistent negative emotions (sometimes with an underlying medical problem). But even teens who escape a depression can be damaged by their emotional lows. Some of my most hurtful experiences as a teen affect me to this very day.

Positive emotions can have the same effect. Teens who feel loved and accepted are healthier, do better in schools and later on in life.

That’s why we need to be careful as youth leaders in how we handle teen’s emotions, but also in how we provoke these. It doesn’t take much to get teens to feel deep emotions, positive or negative ones.

So in the next couple of posts, I want to share some thought on how we can deliberately invoke positive emotions like feeling accepted and loved, and how we can prevent negative ones, like humiliation or rejection.