Elsa had a point: How developing the ability to “let it go” can help youth to cope and maintain social relationships
It’s more than just a catchy Disney tune; the ability to let it go - where “it” is whatever shade is being thrown, tea is being spilled, or any other form of wrongdoing has taken place – is an important character trait. Developing the ability to forgive as a child or adolescent sets one up for success in relationships. Their understanding of and ability to forgive may evolve as youth develop but, all in all, it helps them to cope with social and personal situations.
Forgiveness is a tricky thing. It’s something that emotions and the ego can get in the way of. It’s something we need to do to move forward in certain situations. It’s something that often involves our relationship with others. And, sometimes, it’s even something that only we can give to ourselves.
Forgiveness comes in three forms:
Forgiveness of others - When one forgives someone else for something
Forgiveness from others - When one is forgiven by someone else for something
Forgiveness of yourself - When one forgives themself for something.
Forgiveness also needs to be genuine. Simply saying the words, “I’m sorry” don’t mean that someone actually is sorry. Saying these words is something that’s often encouraged in childhood and continues to be put in practice into adulthood. In order to teach young people how to really apologize, they need to be guided to understand what a wrongdoing is and how they should have approached a situation. Additionally, they need to be taught how to express their emotions. These are things that should start in childhood and continue throughout adolescence.
Why forgiveness is important
Kids can be cruel. A 2012 study talks about how an adolescent’s adjustment is related to just how they cope with negative experiences among others in their age group. They took a look at just what kind of potential forgiveness has as a way to cope with these kinds of negative experiences. It turns out that:
Adolescents who were more forgiving were likely to engage in more effective forms of coping and less likely to seek revenge when bullied;
Forgiveness might be a valuable coping strategy for both victims and bully-victims because youth who respond to bullying in more negative ways perpetuate victimization and other relationship problems with their peers; and
The act of forgiving may also help the development of the ability to identify remorse and express empathy.
Further research confirmed that forgiving is good for you because it can reduce the burden on mental health. By being forgiving of ourselves and others, the connection between stress and mental illness can be eliminated. In other words, forgiveness can help young people to both overcome and let go of negative experiences among peers, and it can have a positive effect on their social development and mental health.
The challenge teens face in exercising forgiveness
According to Everett Worthington Ph.D, teens’ immediate responses to being wronged by someone else are motivated by hormones...and there are lots of hormones at play for this age group. Also, he says that “the part of the brain that helps someone to have self-control – and the ability to control their immediate responses – doesn’t fully mature until about age 26. That means that the urge for payback is strong and can be hard to overcome, but patience and putting oneself in the other person’s shoes in order to let go of hard feelings will pay off in the end.
Special considerations for adolescents related to forgiveness
Think about the last time you were faced with having to forgive or ask for forgiveness. It probably had to do with a social situation involving one other person or a group of other people. This 2018 study discusses that “by its very nature, forgiveness is an interpersonal process, and to fully understand the forgiveness process, the perspectives of both the victim (who may grant forgiveness) and the perpetrator (who may seek forgiveness) is needed.” Adolescence is a critical time for social situations and research shows that there are differences in how different aged young people both understand wrongdoings and approach forgiveness. There’s a sort of spectrum that kids move through as they develop an understanding of the consequences of their actions and the nature of forgiveness. For example – two opposite ends of this spectrum are that:
Younger children negotiate with forgiveness, claiming that they’ll forgive in exchange for something they want/need; and
College-aged youth view it more as a means to maintain social relationships.
It’s important to consider just how much of an understanding of forgiveness youth have at their age and stage of life.
Another consideration is that, given the media- and technology-based culture we live in, cyberbullying is a looming threat to young people. But Quintana-Orts and Rey’s (2017) research shows that the promotion of forgiveness can help to prevent cyberbullying. This is a huge opportunity for those in content development and creation. That the very virtual landscape in which cyberbullying happens could potentially prevent it through stressing its importance and educating on how to achieve it, ultimately helping youth to overcome wrongdoings by letting go and practicing forgiveness, is really exciting!
Developing the ability to forgive through technology and media
Everything we’ve discussed in this post ladders up to the importance of having an ability to let it go – not an easy thing to learn, difficult to practice at any age, but something that can set adolescents up for success in life and relationships. Luckily, media developers and creators can play a positive role in helping young people to learn to let things go and forgive others. Here are some actionable insights you can consider that can show teens the importance of forgiveness and help them to develop the ability to forgive:
Show forgiveness in action and its effects or, on the flip side, include a narrative that shows what happens if forgiveness doesn’t happen in a given situation - the consequences of being unforgiving.
Require forgiveness as an action for participation in a given medium’s narrative.
Portray intergenerational forgiveness. Help youth to understand consequences as it relates to relationships with persons of a variety of ages because it’s not just among their friends and same-aged peers that forgiveness will need to happen in life, it will need to be present in relationships with parents and other family members, teachers, coworkers, etc. Humans of all ages make mistakes.
Help young people to understand what it feels and looks like to forgive - this comes down to having an understanding of expression and mannerisms, but also the feelings associated with being forgiven and being forgiving.
Consider empathy-based content where the user virtually experiences what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes – this would work particularly well in augmented reality or virtual reality platforms.
Consider a narrative that helps youth to understand how their hormones play a role in their impulses and self-control, or incorporate self-control related actions into their engagement with or participation in the content.
Jen Rowe holds a Master of Science in Communications Innovation and leads the communications team for a national Canadian non-profit. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
This blog was originally created to support Baylor University in hosting its Technology Innovation Request for Proposal: Improving Character Strengths of Adolescents through Technology Innovation.