Leaning to manage stress and regulate emotions is one of the greatest challenges of adolescence, but a study on youth empowerment has found ways to help teens work through emotions, deal with stress, and decrease impulsivity. The study educated teens using a mindfulness program called YES!

The YES! program was administered to three Los Angeles-area high schools. Researchers surveyed a total of 788 students aged 14 to 18; 524 completed the YES! program, while the other 264 served as the control group. Students in both groups completed questionnaires about their levels of impulsivity before and after the four-week program. The questionnaire included items like “I act without thinking,” and “I feel self-control most of the time.”

Taught during physical education class, the YES! program guided students through three modules designed to promote healthy bodies, healthy minds, and healthy lifestyles. The modules included activities like yogic stretching and breathing techniques, mindful eating, interactive discussions, and strategies for handing peer pressure. At the end of the program, students organized group community-service projects as a way to demonstrate and apply their new skills.

Dara Ghahremani, assistant researcher in psychiatry at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and lead study author, explained that, “The program helps teens to gain greater control over their actions by giving them tools to respond to challenging situations in constructive and mindful ways, rather than impulsively.” Ghahremani and his team found that the YES! program helped teens to reduce impulsive behaviors. This research is important because teens who learn to control impulsivity and regulate emotions as adolescents are much less likely to carry impulsive behaviors into adulthood. Programs like YES! also encourage teens to find healthy solutions to problems, rather than turning to drugs or destructive behaviors.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has since awarded Ghahremani and his colleagues a grant to analyze the effects of the YES! Program in greater detail by using fMRI to study the brain circuitry involved in self-control and emotional regulation.

This study is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Previous news in stress and emotional regulation: