“Screenagers: Next Chapter,” a documentary being screened around the United States, centers on stress resilience — a person’s ability to handle stressful emotions. Lower stress resilience is correlated with mood disorders and conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. But when adolescents learn to experience and regulate their emotions, they can recover more rapidly from negative situations and overcome adversity.
Adults can help. Different populations of adolescents experience different challenges, educational psychologists Staci M. Zolkoski and Lyndal M. Bullock write, but caregivers can help teens build resilience when they support and encourage kids, be warm and caring, and teach strong communication skills.
In the film, Ruston puts those principles into action as she talks to researchers about how to help her increase her kids’ resilience. One of them, psychologist Jessica Borelli from the University of California at Irvine, tells her that parents’ attempts to help their children can backfire.
In experiments in which parents try to assist their children in a complex puzzle, parents’ cardiovascular stress levels lessen — while children’s spike. Instead of intervening, parents should learn to validate their kids’ emotions, psychologist Laura Kastner suggests.
“It’s not approval, it’s not agreement — it’s seeing it from their perspective and accepting their feelings exactly the way they are, without trying to mess with them,” she says.
By stifling children’s emotional expression, Ruston says, parents can rob their kids of the chance to build up their resilience and learn critical coping skills. Her willingness to connect with her children — and allow them to show her what they’re made of — makes for good viewing, and an honest portrait of the challenges and capacities of kids for whom 24-hour-a-day connectedness is a double-edged sword.