If you're living with a moody teenager with a penchant for door-slams and one-word answers, this new study may be of interest to you. Psychologists at the University of Bristol wanted to delve deeper into the interpretation of often ambiguous facial expressions; we all see strangers on the street as we go about our day, and consciously or not, we make decisions about their mental-state based on their countenance. Are they happy? Scared? Sad? And what do teens have to do with it?
Since most people's visages are relatively neutral, each of us just makes general assumptions based on learned cues. But the research found that teens who grew up in a hostile environment typically assessed neutral faces as aggressive faces, causing the teens themselves to be aggressive, starting a vicious cycle.
But here's the interesting part: researchers were able to break that negative chain of events by instructing the teens every day for a week that those faces they thought were aggressive were actually happy. After seven days of this reteaching, the teens saw the world differently and, thus, less aggressively.
Psychologist Ian Penton-Voak explains that this finding "demonstrates that the way you see the emotional world around you affects your behavior in a kind of causal way."
So, could we employ these tricks at home? I don't see why not. You are the "emotional world" around your kids, so why wouldn't your mood affect how their behavior? If you're pissed off all the time, they'll be pissed off all the time. Or conversely, they'll think that the whole world is as pissed off as you are and will learn to build a wall to keep them safe from all the angry people out there who may or may not snap at spilled milk, a video game left out on the floor, or a B- on a report card.
This isn't to suggest you should hide your negative emotions around your teens, but is to say that perhaps the simple act of expressing your positive feelings around the house could be a mood-elevator for the whole family.
If that doesn't work, you could always tape this photo to your teen's bathroom mirror and hope for the best:
What do you think?