High School Tips: Social and Emotional Development

    The teenage years are a time of tumultuous learning and growing. Teens are trying to establish a sense of identity and a sense of liberation from the fences of childhood. These years are a time when teens push adults away and spend a lot of time with friends. However, parental input is still extremely important (Block, 2009).Though the change is most apparent in the physical aspect, social development and emotional development seem to vary dramatically in this age range. Students at this age are attempting to realize their place in society and how to proceed with their futures. It is also during this time that they learn to self-regulate their emotions and, as time passes, become more aware of their sense of self as well as the needs and feelings of others. Teens in this stage are now capable of reflecting on more than just their own past experiences. This time of adolescence serves as a foundation from which these youthful individuals will progress into their futures.

Emotional Development
    The high school realm provides ample room for experimentation. During this time, students are able to determine preferences and reaffirm, or even forge entirely new views on various topics. High school also provides young people with the opportunity to form bonds such as friendships and romantic ties. Parent-teen interaction may become increasingly limited, as a major goal of teens at this stage of development is autonomy and independence from parents (Mersch, 2009). Although the relationship between student and parent may hinder, school-related relationships become more crucial; relationships between peers and educators become increasingly more necessary for healthy emotional development and for overall well-being, "For example, when students lack social and emotional connections to learning educators, schools, and their peers, it often leads to behavior issues or disengagement, which inevitability leads to declining achievement and, in the worst cases, students dropping out of high school" (Finn, 1996).
    During these years, teens develop the ability to reason abstractly and form and consider multiple hypotheses. They have a thought process that is less concrete, enabling them to see grays and not just black and white (Mersch, 2009). One of the biggest questions that teens are looking to answer is, “who am I?” They may not always realize this, but their behavior indicates they are searching for this answer (Block, 2009). Teens are looking to establish an identity. This consequently leads to high-risk behaviors (Mersch, 2009). This can be attributed to the fact that teenagers are taking much more pride than they used to in responsibility and respect of others (Cox). Teens are seeking intimacy with other teens. However, this does not necessarily include sex. They often form close bonds with members of the same gender. Despite these close bonds, however, most teens still keep a lot of information to themselves, as they evaluate themselves in terms of how others see them.

Social Development

  It is during high school that adolescents are making the transition between childhood and adulthood. Their social understanding of the world is changing and progressing, and they think daily about their social interactions.
For example, normal adolescent development often revolves around joining cliques, wanting to join cliques, or being excluded from cliques. Cliques can have a strong positive effect on self-worth. They provide a social niche and help kids develop a sense of belonging, support, and protection (Mendal, 2005). Although cliques are often beneficial to the high school experience, they can also negatively impact social development. The desire to gain acceptance in certain social groups allows peer pressure to play a large part in determining actions and behavior; which is a common concern pertaining to drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual activity. However, peer pressure can also have a positive influence throughout the high school experience; it can boost overall confidence, compel a student to join an athletic team, or  push a student to run for class president when they might not have before. 

During late adolescence, a person is more able to understand, decipher, and explain the actions and motives of others. At this point in their lives, teenagers have had a variety of social experiences with different people from different backgrounds. They are gaining social insight and able to consider another person’s perspective. Adolescents will use a group of their peers in social situations as an outlet for self-exploration. They begin to recognize that people are a result of their environment and that the past and present influence both behavior and personality in a person. Just as they understand others, they are trying to gain a social understanding of who they are. Opinions of their peers begin to take the main focus of how they view themselves. In order to reinforce a sense of who they are, teenagers spend more time with their friends. They begin to look for others who understand who they are. Teenagers look for others to relate to and rely on, as they did with their parents.


Resists Peer Pressure

Gives Into Peer Pressure

Teaching Tips
Teachers have to understand that their students are bringing their baggage from home to the classroom, including their emotions and problems. Students at this age are trying out different characters and are searching to find themselves.
 Teachers can begin working to help their students on the first day of classes by starting with an activity to learn the students' names quickly.This will help the students to feel comfortable and know that you care. By making a classroom feel safe and encouraging, teachers have an aid for instruction. Teachers also should realize that they are an example for their students, so they should by mindful of their emotions 
and not over react. In the classroom, teachers can use discussion, group work, and debates to get students communicating with each other. Teachers can also encourage students to participate in real-world activities through internships and volunteering. As teachers, we can teach self-help by delaying our own ideas for assistance long enough that the student can find solutions for themselves--relying on their own resourcefulness.  (Pickhardt, 2009).
A simple, useful guide to helping teens cope with the adversities of everyday life is presented next. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the Seven C's of Resilience

Competence- the ability to handle situations effectively

Confidence- the solid belief in one's own abilities 

Connections close ties to family, friends, school, and community give children a sense of security and values that prevent them from seeking destructive alternatives to love and attention.

Charactera fundamental sense of right and wrong that helps children make wise choices, contribute to the world, and become stable adults.

Contributionwhen children realize that the world is a better place because they are in it, they will take actions and make choices that improve the world. They will also develop a sense of purpose to carry them through future challenges.

Copingchildren who learn to cope effectively with stress are better prepared to overcome life's challenges.

Controlwhen children realize that they can control their decisions and actions, they're more likely to know that they have what it takes to bounce back.

  • Listen to your students. Establishing a secure teacher-student relationship is the best thing you can do for your self, students, and classroom.
  • Use effective, positive discipline. Be consistent. Provide positive consequences for positive behavior. Set explicit goals. Give feedback.
  • Express positive emotions. Your students need to see that you are happy, even if you don't feel happy. 
  • Encourage teens to get involved. Provide ways they can be of benefit to the community. It will help to give them purpose and self-efficacy. 
  • Provide responsibility. Students should feel a sense of duty, ownership, and attachment to school and your classroom. 
These tips are a great start to creating a positive, high school classroom, both emotionally and socially. 

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2006). "The 7 C's of Resilience." Helping your child cope with life. Retrieved from http://www2.aap.org/stress/childcopehome.htm

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2013). "Tips to promote social-emotional health among teens." written for National Children's Mental Health DayRetrieved from http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Mental-Health/Documents/SE-TeenTips.pdf

Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development: In your classroom (2nd ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning. 


A great way to engage students and break the ice is through “Social Bingo,” a game where students can identify with and get to know one another. Students walk around trying to find individuals who satisfy each square on their Bingo chart, (has a pet, has siblings, etc.) The first to form ‘Bingo’ wins!


Brookmeyer KA, Henrich CC, Schwab-Stone M. (2005). Parental Involvement, Social Understanding, Protect Teens From Violence. In Family Resource . Retrieved 11/5/2010, from http://www.familyresource.com/parenting/adolescence/parental-involvement-social-understanding-protect-teens-from-violence.

Child Development Institute (2000-2010). Stages of Social-Emotional Development In Children and Teenagers. In Child Development Institute, LLC. Retrieved 11/5/2010, from http://www.childdevelopmentinfo.com/development/erickson.shtml.

Chris. (June 5, 2010). Teenagers & Peers. In Understanding Teenagers. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from http://understandingteenagers.com.au/blog/2010/06/teenagers-peers

Cohen, Jonathan . (2010). Teaching & Learning. In National School Climate Center. Retrieved 11/5/2010, from http://www.schoolclimate.org/guidelines/teachingandlearning.php.

Edutopia Staff. (3/17/2008). Social Emotional Learning. In Edutopia. Retrieved 11/5/2010, from http://www.edutopia.org/social-emotional-learning.

Finn, J. (1996). Social and Emotional Connections with Students. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from http://ali.apple.com/acot2/connections/

McDevitt, T, & Ormrod, J. (2009). Child development and education. Prentice Hall.

Mendal, Joshua. (2005). Social Life in Middle and High School: Dealing With Cliques and Bullies. Edcuation.com. Retrieved April 2, 2011, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/bullying-in-middle-and-high-school

Parker, James D.A, Ronald E. Creque, David L. Barnhart, Jan Irons Harris, Sarah A. Majeski, Laura M. Wood, Barbara J. Bond, and Marjorie J. HoganEls. "Download PDFs." Academic Achievement in High School: Does Emotional Intelligence Matter? Elsevier, 15 Nov. 2004. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Pickhardt, Carl. (2009, July 12). Teaching your adolescent independence. Psychology Today on the Web. Retrieved April 1, 2011, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/200907/teaching-your-adolescent-independence
Photo Credits

Smoking teen: Pixabay.com @ http://pixabay.com/p-64925/?no_redirect
Teens of phone: Flickr.com @ https://farm9.static.flickr.com/8238/8571247015_b60b0feb92.jpg
Young couple embracing: Wikimedia.org @ http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/70/YoungCoupleEmbracing-20070508.jpg
Group of friends: Morguefile.com @ http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/856227
Teens with teacher: Wordpress.com @ http://bellavelo.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/img_9157.jpg