Teaching Teenagers to Develop Their Emotional Intelligence
If the U.S. is going to remain competitive in an increasingly global business environment, we need a future workforce that’s prepared. But the reality is that the youth who will be tomorrow’s innovators, educators, politicians, and business professionals aren’t ready to meet such competitive expectations – not so much because they’re untrained, but because they’re unequipped emotionally. To be competitive in the future, business leaders need to do something about this today.
At the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, we are studying the future workforce, and the outlook isn’t good. Teens in the United States are in dire psychological straits. Their stress is edging beyond that of adults, according to a recent report by the American Psychological Association. Their rate of psychopathology is five times that of 75 years ago, according to one meta-analysis. Their rate of attempted suicide surpasses most other countries. America’s teens “trail much of the world on measures of school achievement, but are among the world leaders in violence, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, abortion, binge drinking, marijuana use, obesity, and unhappiness,” says adolescence scholar Larry Steinberg. A 2013 survey of more than 123,000 students at 153 colleges showed that more than half experience overwhelming anxiety, and about a third feel intense depression during the school year. Business leaders concerned about future U.S. competitiveness on the global stage, take heed: These are the kids leading us into the 21st century.
Business leaders are beginning to recognize that how people manage their emotions matters to their society’s economy. Nobel Laureate James Heckman writes that investment in the education of children’s “non-cognitive” skills – like motivation, perseverance, and self-control – is a cost-effective approach to increasing the quality and productivity of the workforce. The 2014 Skoll World Economic Forum’s vision for 21st century education called for the development of skills like initiative, persistence, adaptability, leadership, and global citizenship. Studies in organizational psychology and leadership, as well as popular articles, buzz with discussions of the importance of emotional intelligence.
Some business schools are working to train future leaders in the management of feelings. The Yale School of Management administers a test of emotional intelligence to students, then offers coaching to shore up skills in need of improvement. At the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the most popular elective for 45 years running is Interpersonal Dynamics, otherwise known as “Touchy-Feely,” where students meet in small groups and receive detailed feedback on how their behavior affects others. Stanford courses like “The Art of Self-Coaching” draw on the latest emotion science, positive psychology and mindfulness training. “Acting with Power” helps students explore the physicality of authority, status and power.
Graduates are getting results. “Something as simple as learning to manage my micro-expressions – a frown or a smile – has made me a more empathic and effective leader,” observes graduating Stanford MBA and healthcare entrepreneur Nima Ahmadi.
A large and growing body of research demonstrates that emotional intelligence – the ability to reason with and about emotions – is correlated with positive outcomes in children beginning as early as preschool, as well as in adults, including business managers and leaders.
Teaching emotional intelligence – or what’s more broadly called social and emotional learning (SEL) – to children and adults also has proven to be effective., The approach to SEL that we’ve developed at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence (called RULER) has demonstrated that children of all ages can be taught these skills – and that when they are, there are real benefits, such as more effective leadership skills, stronger friendships and connections to teachers, better conflict management skills, and greater academic achievement than children who do not receive the training. A meta-analysis of 213 studies on a wide range of social and emotional learning programs showed similar findings. And a cost-benefit analysis released last month concluded that for every dollar schools spend on SEL, there is an average of $11 worth of benefits to society, including costs associated with healthcare and educational attainment.
Given that evidence-based SEL programs in school are highly effective and sorely needed, it’s frustrating to see that the policies to mandate and fund them are slow to come. Two federal bills are pending. One, the Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act (HR 850) would fund teachers’ professional development. A second, named for a young child lost in the Sandy Hook massacre, the Jesse Lewis Empowering Educators Act (S 897) would support evidence-based SEL programming. A few states like Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have moved ahead to adopt their own policies.
American business leaders have the power and – if they but knew it – the pressing need to advocate for our nation’s schools to include the education of emotions. We hope that leaders across the nation will work to change education to equip America to be competitive for the new global century well underway.
Here’s how business leaders can help: The Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence in partnership with Born This Way Foundation – founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta – is amplifying youth voices to press harder for change. Together, they have launched a national campaign called the Emotion Revolution to address the emotional needs of high school students.
It begins with an anonymous survey for students to report about how they currently feel in school, how they want to feel, and what they believe needs to happen to bridge the gap between the two. Encourage the high school youth you know to participate in the survey here.
In October 2015, there will be a summit at Yale to unveil the survey’s findings and offer youth the opportunity to share ideas with educators, academics, and policymakers for creating improved learning environments. Business leaders would do well to pay attention to what these future leaders and employees are telling us. Your company’s future depends on it – and them.