Adolescents may especially need social and emotional help. They're learning how to handle new demands in school and social life while dealing with new, intense emotions (both positive and negative), and they're increasingly feeling that they should do so without adult guidance. Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are one way to help them navigate these difficulties.

SEL programs try to help adolescents cope with their difficulties more successfully by improving skills and mindsets, and they try to create respectful school environments that young people want to be a part of by changing the school's climate. In this article, David Yeager defines those terms and explains the changes that adolescents experience with the onset of puberty. Then he reviews a variety of SEL programs to see what works best with this age group.

On the positive side, Yeager finds that effective universal SEL can transform adolescents' lives for the better. Less encouragingly, typical SEL programs—which directly teach skills and invite participants to rehearse those skills over the course of many classroom lessons—have a poor track record with middle adolescents (roughly age 14 to 17), even though they work well with children.

But some programs stand out for their effectiveness with adolescents. Rather than teaching them skills, Yeager finds, effective programs for adolescents focus on mindsets and climate. Harnessing adolescents' developmental motivations, such programs aim to make them feel respected by adults and peers and offer them the chance to gain status and admiration in the eyes of people whose opinions they value.