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When considering the development of emotional regulation, it is important to consider not just the superficial means to that goal, but also the underlying mechanisms that make gaining emotional regulation possible. From infancy, children look to their trusted others, nearly always caregivers, to determine the emotionality of novel stimuli (Hutman, 2009). Identifying pleasurable and uncomfortable emotions would intuitively seem to be important building blocks to developing emotional regulation skills. When those skills begin to express themselves in friendships, children who demonstrate greater emotional regulation seem to enjoy a variety of benefits including a tendency to have more satisfying peer relationships (Spinrad, 2006). Determining the specifics of where and when emotional competence are most highly correlated should consider underlying mechanisms. How can future studies consider confounding factors like the gaining of belongingness and mastery in the means of gaining emotional competence?

Donaldson, 2006 studied adolescent involvement in sports and emotional well-being. Being a correlative study, it simply measured involvement in sports and emotional well-being through validated measures. Unsurprisingly, they found that degree of athletic involvement positively correlated with emotional well-being for adolescents. However, the study did not expressly consider previously mentioned underlying mechanisms for emotional well-being: namely, belongingness and mastery. Belongingness and mastery are well-established human needs (Deci, 2000). Being on a team contributes to fulfilling both of those needs through camaraderie and skill acquisition.

Donaldson’s study does not presume that athletics are the only way to gain emotional competence (2006). However, in its focus on athletics it ignores other avenues to belongingness, mastery and social referencing. In toddlerhood, children learn about the safety of novel stimuli by referencing caregivers. Beginning in childhood and intensifying in adolescence, teens begin to learn the safety and frameworks for adult interaction by referencing peers, and thus prepare to master the upcoming developmental crisis of intimacy versus isolation. Future studies should focus on the perceptual experience of athletics, drama clubs, religious groups and other purposeful activities. Additionally, exploring adolescents’ intrapsychic experience of membership will be an important element of future research. An adolescent must perceive their mastery to experience its benefits.

Organized activities seem to play a role in adolescent development of emotional regulation. What happens when those organized activities are unavailable or understaffed/underfunded? How do adolescents develop emotional regulation without positive adult influence? I am suspicious that although a few effective alternatives to “traditional” organized activities do evolve, such as kinship and neighborhood networks, developing appropriate emotional regulation skills requires some influence of consistent adult leadership. Peer created and managed alternatives, though an essential element of developing independence and priming for intimacy, are only one element of positive adolescent development. If positive and consistent adults are unavailable, by either personal or systemic obstructions, adolescents are left with only the peer-led option, which may contribute an intensification of the personal fable and the normalizing of reactive emotional states. Both factors would seem to, in turn, leave young adults unprepared for a world in both emotional expression and non-expression are socially relevant and appropriate at certain times (Kennedy-Moore, 1999).

Creating the space for organized activities and more informal multigenerational networks is a daunting task. From my perspective, it begins with those three words: “creating the space.” Adults cannot devote time to their neighborhoods if they are working long hours to make a living. Teachers will not devote time to afterschool activities if they are already overworked with classrooms of 35-40 children. Make classrooms smaller, pay people living wages, create safe community spaces and give communities and individuals the resources they need to require so they can devote their intrinsic resources to their children.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268

Donaldson, S.J., & Ronan, K.R. (2006) The effects of sports participation on young adolescents’ emotional well-being. Adolescence, 41(162), 369-389.

Hutman, T., & Depretto, M. (2009) The emergence of empathy during infancy. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(4), 367-390

Kennedy-Moore, E. & Watson, J.C. (1999) Expressing emotion: myths, realities and therapeutic strategies. The Guilford Press: New York, NY

Spinrad, T.L., Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., Fabes, R.A., Valiente, C., Shepard, S.A., et al. (2006) Relation of emotion-related regulation to children’s social competence: A longitudinal study. Emotion, 6(3), 498-510

I just finished putting together a curriculum on male emotional development and regulation for one of my classes and I would love it if any of you would be willing to go and check it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t, and improvements I can make.  I love the beauty of 1.0.

Naming His Feelings

Research has explored both the role of family relationships and peer relationships on gendered social development.  Studies show that adults interact differently with babies dressed in pink (a “girl” color) than babies dressed in blue (a “boy” color).  When entering a room with a baby dressed in blue, adults tend to play more actively and rough house more with the child.  When the same child is dressed in pink, adults tend to play in more soothing ways, cooing and cradling the infant as opposed to tickling it or tossing it in the air.  As boys and girls grow up in America they are socialized into their gender roles.  Boys learn that they are made of “snips, snails and puppy dog tails” while girls consist of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”  When boys fall, they are encouraged to “be tough.”  When girls fall, they are checked in with, dusted off and cuddled (Santrock 2007).  In the midst of all of these interactions, boys learn that vulnerable emotions are to be at best contained, at worst stifled.  Either of those extremes can be epitomized by either the police officer containing their emotions in crisis to best serve, or on the other end, a male with a high need for expression, who societally isn’t allowed to do so.  Girls seem to be taught that vulnerable emotions are at best, experienced by a group, at worst, tools for manipulation.

In the midst of those interactions, boys and girls are also developing peer relationships.  In those peer relationships, Deborah Tannen identified that boys tend to use report talk, while girls tend to use more rapport talk.  Report talk is defined by what is going on, while rapport talk is what does it feel like.  Report talk is built on a hierarchical structure, while rapport talk is built on a structure of egalitarian connection (2001).  Egalitarian structuring lends itself more towards the sharing of vulnerable emotions.  If one is trying to prove superiority over a competitor, being seen as susceptible is a liability.  In contrast, being seen as imperfect or needing fits with a connective social structure because it compels the maternal within to protect and soothe. In the midst of these co-occurring processes, what is it that then compels females toward greater emotional intelligence than males?

Both responses can be adaptive as long as they don’t begin and end with the expression or nonexpression of emotion.  According to Kennedy-Moore, cognitive moderation is a requirement to effective emotional regulation and social intelligence (2005).  Does the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory Youth Short Version consider the cognitive processing in determining emotional intelligence?  Do peer or caregiver relationships plays a greater role in emotional development across the genders?

Harrod, N.R. & Scheer, S.D. (2005) An exploration of adolescent emotional intelligence in relation to demographic characteristics.  Adolescence.  40(159).  503-512

Kennedy-Moore, E. & Watson, J.C. (1999) Expressing emotion: myths, realities and therapeutic strategies. The Guilford Press: New York, NY

Santrock, J. (2007) Adolescence. 12th ed.  McGraw-Hill: New York, NY

Tannen, D. (2001) You just don’t understand: women and men in conversation. Harper Paperbacks: New York, NY

A popular framework for looking at how families function is on the axis’ of cohesion and flexibility. Cohesion is the measure of emotional closeness. Flexibility is the amount of change that happens in leadership, roles and rules. Both cohesion and flexibility are continuums. The extremes of cohesion are enmeshed and disengaged, whereas the extremes of flexibility are rigid and chaotic. A healthy family typically manages to strike a balance between all extremes. Communication is the grease that allows natural movement. For instance, a family may typically be structured-connected (generally stable roles, emotionally involved) and become enmeshed-connected (generally stable roles, but with little differentiation between individuals or emotionally intrusive) when they experience stress. In contrast, another family may be chaotic-cohesive (little stability in roles, emotionally involved) but become flexible-cohesive (some variation in roles, emotionally involved) when stressed.

A similar framework could be used to look at cultures. How stable are roles within the culture? To what degree is interpersonal or emotional involvement tolerated? The prevailing American culture could be probably easily be described as flexible-disengaged (role change is fairly tolerated, highly individualistic even in familial sub-systems). In contrast, from my understanding of traditional Chinese culture, it could be described as rigid-connected (roles are extremely stable, emotions are shared but not extensively). According to recent research, according this model, positive mood may be the grease that allows individuals to explore cultural paradigms other than their own.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia manipulated participants emotions and then had them take a series of questions exploring their self concept and cultural beliefs. Participants who were smiling or listening to soothing music were more willing to “explore values different than their own.” In contrast, participants who were frowning or listening to music in minor chords more consistently picked values that were their own.

[Researchers] surmise that positive feelings may send a signal that it’s safe to broaden one’s view of the world — and to explore novel notions of one’s self. The researchers go on to indicate that negative feelings may do the opposite: They may send a signal that it’s time to circle the wagons and stick with the “tried and true.” They conclude that the findings also suggest that the “self” may not be as robust and static as we like to believe and that the self may be dynamic, constructed again and again from one’s situation, heritage and mood.

Association for Psychological Science (2009, April 14). How We Feel Linked To Both Our Culture And How We Behave. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 16, 2009, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/04/090414153538.htm

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