Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – is it a teenage thing?

researchThere’s an interesting article in today’s Kauai Garden Island News. They’ve been running a series of columns where adults try to answer questions posed by the Hawaiian island’s youths. The question today followed up an earlier article in which it was said; “…that humans have physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual bodies.” the reply has been prepared by Annaleah Atkinson, the manager of the ‘teen’ court on one of the islands. It’s a really nicely written article with plenty of down-to-earth information and advice for anyone baffled by other peoples’ behaviour and emotional state.

One thing that she said though made me stop for a moment: “Adolescence is the time it takes for a child to become an adult emotionally and mentally. A 16-year-old may have reached his/her full growth, look like an adult and be able to reproduce, but may still not be able to understand what they or others are feeling. In some families, emotions aren’t talked about. Hopefully, these children will be able to learn about their feelings from their friends’ families, teachers or counselors. Feelings are natural.”

She seems to be saying that children get to put the emotional parts of the jigsaw into place as a part of their adolescent phase. She is also implying that people with low EQ come from families where emotions aren’t talked about. And finally, that an adolescent who is struggling in this way, may be put on the right track through interventions by friends’ families, teachers and counsellors.

I’m not entirely sure that I agree and I wonder what you think?

Firstly, I know it is an extreme state but children are diagnosed with Asperger’s (which she mentions elsewhere in the article) as young as 5 years of age. If this was an adolescent thing, why would we make the diagnosis at that early stage?

Secondly, I’ve come across folks with low EQ from at least two different home scenarios. One of these is where there is little emotional contact among the family. This doesn’t mean emotions aren’t talked about, the parents assume tha the child is as precocious in its emotional development as it will be intellectually. There is therefore little immediate opportunity for the child therefore to test out their feelings and their interpretation of them in ‘real time’. Simple examples are the “latch-key” children of working professional couples. The parents expect the child to be mature beyond their age, reward academic and past-time achievements, but are not immediately there when the children need help validating their emotions. These children become isolated, retreat from friendships, and find it hard to relate to others. Their emotional radar may be highly developed but they find it hard to know how to respond to other people.

The other scenario is where the emotional contact is distorted – for example, a single parent treating the child as if they were an adult and trying to engage them in satisfying the parent’s emotional needs before the child is equipped to do so.

It seems to me that the linking concept is that the children in both cases are expected to have developed emotionally far earlier than is reasonable, rather than the lack of dialogue per se.

If this is the case, then it seems a little unlikely to me that such programming will be restructured and a different set of pathways created by a few interventions by friends’ families, teachers and counsellors. So far, my experience has been that it takes many iterative sessions with a psychotherapist before such adults, as they have usually become by then, can begin to reshape their thinking and behaviour by drawing on a repertoire of emotional states and the symptoms they use to detect them by.

Have you had different experiences? Have you been defined as low EQ? If so, does any of this make sense or have you a different view? Are you a professional in the field? What do you believe about the origins of low EQ and its effective treatment?

Best wishes

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