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Home » Emotional Intelligence From a Teenage Perspective: Maximilian Park (Transcript) 

Emotional Intelligence From a Teenage Perspective: Maximilian Park (Transcript) 

Here is the full transcript of Maximilian Park’s talk titled “Emotional Intelligence From a Teenage Perspective” at TEDxYouth@PVPHS conference.

Listen to the audio version here:


Last Year’s Ultimate Rejection

Last year, I experienced what I call the ultimate rejection from not one but two people at the same time. And I don’t need to go into too much detail about that, because that’s the short story. But what is more important, the long story, is what happened after. It hurt. It really hurt. It’s kind of like that feeling when someone follows you on Instagram, so you follow them back and one week later you realize they unfollowed you. But times a hundred. I try to sleep as much as possible to escape my pain.

But after being brought back to reality, I’d wake up crying. It was like this cruel joke my brain was playing on me, tricking me into this false sense of comfort with my dreams, only to be brought back into a world where my body burned through each hour of consciousness. I isolated myself, successfully losing friendships I’d spent years cultivating. I didn’t go to school. I struggled with homework. And I was constantly overwhelmed by anxiety, always feeling like I was dancing at the edge of a cliff.

Of course, my family, my friends, and my classmates were there. But when you feel like you’re drowning in loneliness and your emotions get the best of you, everyone just seems so far away. I needed a life raft. And the reason I couldn’t handle these emotions is because I did not have a high emotional intelligence quotient.

The Rising Tide of Anxiety

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand your emotions and respond to them effectively. And I’m not the only one who’s had this problem. Anxiety and depression are rapidly increasing in high schoolers, and even middle schoolers. The American College Health Association found a significant increase from 50% in 2011 to 62% in 2016 of undergraduates reporting overwhelming anxiety.

So what happened? In just the last 10 years, there’s been a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers. And most teenagers got this way, like me, because they were too afraid to open up or didn’t know how. Anxiety is like a snowball rolling down a hill, becoming bigger and bigger with each passing minute until it becomes unmanageable. So what can we do to stop this?

We need emotional intelligence-building classes in every high school across the nation. This would help prevent the buildup of anxiety in children before it takes over their lives or even takes their lives. When we don’t understand something, it becomes scarier. Emotions are puzzles we have to solve each and every day to become better and healthier. And they become easier to solve once you understand where they come from.

The Tale of Two Worlds

Take a two-worlds example, both worlds having the same girl struggling in math. Let’s say both girls get a D on a test. Now let’s look at world one, our world, the one without emotional intelligence classes. The girl sees the D, gets pissed off, angry, upset, all the emotions when you have a bad grade, and she says, “I hate math.”

The next test comes up and she decides, “Why bother studying anyways? I’m just going to fail.” She catastrophizes, seeing the world in black and white, and perceives her future as darker and darker. She’s vulnerable and anxiety sees an opportunity to jump into her.

She feels as if she’s in the eye of a tornado, watching the world spin around her, helpless to its attacks. And this built-up pressure starts to have physiological effects on her body, depriving her of sleep, causing a positive feedback loop on the instability of her grades. Her vibrant colors, her red passion, her calm green, and her optimistic yellow fade away. They melt into each other, blending into a monochrome blob of darkness and mystery.

A few years later, after barely graduating high school, this girl with this built-in mindset doesn’t get into the college she once dreamed of. She settles for a job she hates and considers it her fate, because she feels it is what she deserves. She didn’t have the most compassionate friends or the most supportive family. She was in a dark room, locked in her own mind, with no exit.

A Vision for the Future

She needed a doorway. I needed a life raft. Now, obviously not every student is like this, and some are more naturally inclined to handle disappointment and stress, but that doesn’t mean they still can’t benefit from these classes and fine-tune their EQ. And what is more, it dramatically affects the majority of the student population whose silent crises need to be addressed in a safe learning environment.

So what can we do to help? How can we support our next generation? Well, let’s look at the other world, world two, the world with emotional intelligence classes. It’s the same circumstances, the same girl. The only difference is, she’s a semester into her first course. She gets her test back and sees the D slapped onto her paper in red ink, and before her emotions take over, she stops and breathes, because she remembers her EQ teacher.

She remembers learning about a UC Davis study, and she recites it in her head. “An experiment group was told to think of one thing they were grateful for every time they got stressed.” This lowered their stress-causing cortisol levels by 23%. She remembers that these positive, gratuitous thoughts can become reflexes that are eventually built into the brain, and that people with these reflexes, when hit with waves of stress, almost instantly combated it. She finds it interesting how a self-made, automatic coping system can be made by anyone, and is inspired to make her own.

This girl, with her newfound confidence, is determined to try better on her next exam. She gets a B, which helps her realize that she’s in control of her life, that effort is directly correlated to success, that everyone can do better, despite how they feel about themselves. EQ schooling teaches you that you can reach your lowest, most helpless point, and still bounce back. As the girl’s emotional intelligence increases, the flow of information between her rational and emotional brain increases, allowing her rational brain to comprehend her emotions better than before, and prevent them from overtaking her.

Compare World 1 and World 2. We live in World 1, but I’d like my children to live in World 2, and have an opportunity I didn’t have, to learn something essential to life. An important part of EQ is to understand that it is not fixed. It has an unknown capacity that anyone can utilize and grow, and it can act outside the scope of helping emotionally vulnerable kids. For example, imagine your friend Becca ignores you. You wave to her in the hallway, put on your brightest smile, and make direct eye contact with her, and she walks right past you.

Now, the first thing that can pop into your brain screams, “She hates you,” as your brain gets rattled with negative assumptions about her. Or she could have just failed her test, or been yelled at by her mom earlier that morning, or maybe she just didn’t see you. We, as humans, tend to assume the worst-case scenario, mainly because we don’t want to give ourselves false hope.

After all, pain is easier to accept after you’ve given up. But these assumptions thoughts poison our well-being. More often than we think, negative or aggressive actions directed towards us have nothing to do with what we did or who we are. More often than not, it’s the other person’s issues being projected onto us.

EQ schooling helps people understand that, really understand that. And with that knowledge, poor experiences can be converted into great ones. You ask Becca what’s going on in her life, how she’s feeling, and instead of isolating her for ignoring you, you become closer friends as she spills her problems to you.

And here’s another EQ tip. Call people by their names as often as you can, because it releases their good feeling hormone, which causes you to be perceived as more likable, since you triggered that chemical reaction.

It’s a fun way to trick people into liking you. It seems small and insignificant, but it really works. On average, we have about 400 emotional experiences every day. How nice would it be if we can make just over half of those positive? An article by Lisa Firestone explaining how she taught an emotional intelligence course reveals that her students, after taking this course, had a higher social awareness, self-awareness, were more introspective, were more creative, had better leadership skills, were able to communicate better, and even did better with their academics, all while reducing their anxiety and stress.

EQ schooling helps students understand body language, be able to work better in a group environment when they get older, and overall bring positive benefits to the world. Now, Western culture has a habit of labeling emotions as good or bad. But judging yourself for having these emotions and labeling them as undesirable prevents you from realizing what created them. And when you ignore what created it, you ignore how it can be solved.

Last year, my coping mechanism was to lock myself in my room, pretend I didn’t exist, and empty my mind. But using your brain with no idea of how it works is like trying to play Monopoly for the first time without instructions. It’s confusing, frustrating, and hard to win. Although, to be fair, Monopoly is hard to win even with instructions.

Emotional intelligence videos I found online were my Monopoly instructions. By watching these videos, I was pulled out of my hole. It allowed me to accept help from my wonderful family and my friends, whose support I rejected in the past. I tried new things and failed at some, but it didn’t matter because I saw my life as a heart monitor. You can be high and low, to the tops of the mountains, to the depths of the valleys, but that means you’re alive, that your heart’s beating. And if you reject life, never reaching high for the fear that you might fall, your heart stops beating.

It’s still. And your story’s dead. If you ever feel like you’re flatlined, do something fun. In the time span of the universe, we are only alive for like a second. In a thousand years, no one’s going to remember your embarrassing moments. That time someone lent you their pencil and you accidentally started chewing on it. That time your stomach exposed your hunger in a silent math class. Or that time you were rejected.

It’s okay. It means your monitor’s going crazy, that you’re living your life to the fullest. I spent hours creating this art project for English, and instead of thinking, “Is this good enough,” like I used to, I thought, “This is me.” It can be called beautiful, ugly, rancid, or anything in between, but I love it.

So think. If only a few hours of watching these videos a week helped me this significantly, think of what scheduled emotional intelligence courses could do for a nation. Thank you.

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