Helping Youth Rediscover Joy: Body Senses and Connection

Author’s note: This blog post is the first of a two-part series. Read part two here.

Adolescence is characterized by unprecedented cognitive, hormonal, and relational changes. These changes often result in teens’ inability to effectively balance their emotional and physical wellbeing.1

Youth begin to experience life in radically different ways than adults. Therefore, emotional regulation becomes challenging for both teens and their parents.

The Role of Joy

In this context, joy is an excellent emotional regulator. It plays a crucial role in helping teens handle pressures, decrease hypersensitivity and hypervigilance, and re-center their body and mind. Contrary to popular beliefs, joy is not just a fleeting, rare, or unpredictable emotion reserved to the lucky few. Joy can be cultivated and nurtured by anyone, often indirectly.

Indeed, joy is not an end in itself. Rather, it is an outcome of the meaningful factors in our lives. As such, joy points to what really matters and satisfies us.

Joy Activators

Throughout this two-part series, I will discuss five joy activators. Each has the potential to nurture joy in youth.

In this first post, I will focus on the first three joy activators. My goal is to help you understand how these activators can lead to—what Richard Boyatzis calls—a positive emotional attractor (or PEA).2 This refers to a positive psycho-physiological state that creates a cluster of positive effects on people’s bodies and minds. These activators will allow teens to reap the benefits of joy more easily in their lives.

1. Reconnect youth with their body senses

Rediscovering the joy of being alive

Hormonal changes can alter teens’ bodily experiences and perceptions. As a result, feeling new sensations can be overwhelming and different to what they are used to feeling. Thus, this may prompt them to ignore their body senses altogether.

The purpose of this first joy activator is to awaken teens’ body senses. It is important to captivate their sense of smell, sight, touch, hearing, and taste. By doing so, they will remember the joy of simply being alive.

Some ideas to consider:
  • Engage teens with their favorite smells. Cook their favorite dish with them to fill the room with delightful odors, or go to the mall to pick their favorite perfume. Explore places where familiar smells are powerful enough to activate joy in them.
  • Identify sounds that are particularly soothing to your teen. Listen to nature during a walk, or to the music at a coffee shop. These sounds should be positively stimulating or relaxing for teens.
  • Enhance your teens’ senses by engaging them often in various sensory activities.

Whether you combine activities or stick to one that is particularly effective in your teens, the idea is to enhance a meaningful experience for them.

2. Allow youth to move their bodies in meaningful ways

Delighting in the joy of doing (or creativity)

Adolescence is a time where teens’ perceptions of themselves and their place in this world are constantly changing. This is especially true with both the vestibular system (the perception of one’s body in relation to gravity, movement, and balance) and proprioception (one’s sense of the relative position and strength of the body).

When youth re-familiarize themselves with their creative strengths and body movements, they are able to rekindle a joy of doing that was particularly dominant during their elementary school years.

Some ideas to consider:
  • Find projects or activities that help teens channel their creative skills. Several ideas can be found here.
  • Play sports or other physical games with your teens to incite recreation and movement. View some ideas here.

However, competition, making comparisons, and teasing teens on their competencies will cause them to stop experiencing joy. This second joy activator is meant to help them gain freedom and confidence in moving and creating things with their bodies.

3. Have micro-moments of positive resonance with youth

Experiencing relational joy through connectedness

It’s no secret that it is emotionally challenging for many parents to connect with youth. Consquently, tensions build up at home. Peer pressure adds new layers of complexity when parents and teens try to communicate. Although often difficult to do well, connecting with youth in meaningful ways is not only essential, but greatly needed.

This third joy activator is meant to satisfy this need through positivity resonance,3 a term coined by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson. This is the positive emotions we experience when we’re in sync with another person. Being in sync with your teens requires attuning to them. When teens leave a conversation feeling seen, heard, understood, ecstatic, and joined in their present situation, you have achieved attunement.

Some ideas to consider:
  • Teens often alternate between moments of intense isolation and needing to verbally process situations. Connect with them by making non-judgmental eye contact. Be genuinely interested in both their body language and words. Mirror back their emotional responses, but do not interrupt them until they are completely finished.
  • Micro-moments of positivity resonance—short moments of connection that usually last three to ten seconds—occur when you welcome others as they are. Teens need periods of connection and disconnection. Therefore, micro-moments of positivity resonance are a good alternative to having deep conversations. Be supportive and affectionate. Express words of encouragement and affirmation. You may even offer them an unexpected gift or treat.
  • Shift between attuning and micro-moments of positivity resonance with your teen. Attunement is usually necessary when an acute emotional need or struggle arises. Take time to fully experience these moments with your youth as an ally. This can mean welcoming spontaneous and unexpected desires, longings, or needs from your teen.

Encourage your teens to experience joy in their daily lives. These joy activators provide an opportunity for youth to re-center, rediscover what matters most, and thrive.


Endnotes

1. Fredrickson, 2013

2. Boyatzis, Rochford, & Taylor, 2015

3. Broderick, & Blewitt, 2015

About the Author

Frederic Defoy

Frederic Defoy

Frederic Defoy is a PhD student in the Psychological Science program at Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as a Thrive Scholars Fellow from 2018-2020. He holds an MA from Wheaton College in Christian Formation and Ministry and is a professional vocational coach. Fred is actively involved in the Thrive Center's Joyride Project and Spiritual Exemplars Project. He hopes to contribute to the discussion of helping others embrace their vocation and connect them to their purpose.

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