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Teaching ‘The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens’ to 200 students!

On 13th December I had the pleasure of being invited to teach roughly 200 students at PanyaDee British International School in Koh Samui Thailand. No, not all at once! I taught in groups of age and year levels. Having multiple cultures, nationalities and languages certainly kept me on my toes. I absolutely love teaching from my book and course The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens. Mostly I teach one year level or  work with teachers but on this day I got to teach every year level and then meet some of the parents.

My book and course The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens covers over twenty topics offering coping strategies and practical life skills in mental, emotional and social health including exercises and videos. Below is a summary of the topics taught at particular year levels at PanyaDee School.

Year 7. Age 11-12: ‘What I can control v.’s what I cannot control’

I had planned to do a session on ‘Choices’ and ‘How to Think for ourselves’ with this group but when they walked in and I saw how much younger they looked I immediately changed my mind. In Australia Year 7’s are 12-13 years old and at this young age, even a year or two younger makes a big difference. In the moments of them walking in and sitting down I made a whole new lesson plan and wrote up on the board two columns: What I Can Control and What I Cannot Control to begin a discussion on the way we think, behave, learn, act and react, our goals and how we make decisions. It is important to understand at this young age that we cannot control things such as if somebody else likes us or is kind to us but we can control how we react and behave. We don’t want to be getting upset over things we cannot control including others’ thoughts and behaviours, or the way we look, colour of our skin and our height. However we can control the way we want to feel about these things. What we do in response and how we react is our choice.

They were a well-behaved and well-mannered group of students who were keen to get involved, put their hands up and participate throughout the one-hour session.

Below is the group brainstorm we did on the board.

Year 8. Age 12-13 & Year 9. Age 13-14: ‘Choices’

12- 14 years old can be a difficult age group. Being cool and fitting in starts to become more important than doing the right thing, listening to your parents or even listening to yourself. Peer group pressure and even bullying can become intolerable and standing up for yourself increasingly difficult. It is also the age (depending on culture and country) where alcohol, drugs and sex become a factor. For these two year levels I chose the topic of ‘Choices.’

 

After a lengthy discussion around what choices are, how we create good options, make good decisions that are right for us, how to listen to ourselves and deal with peer pressure we also looked at where and how we actually make decisions. Do we listen to our head? Our thinking place of  logic, rationale and common sense but also questioning, criticising and uncertainty. Do we listen to our heart? What we feel, desire, want, love, hurt and pain. Or do we listen to our gut? Sub-conscious space of knowing, trust and intuition. How do we know?

With that in mind I posed a scenario to the group based on my knowledge of this age group and of the local expat lifestyle in this area. The scenario was: You are at a house party with all of your friends from your school and other schools and someone finds a bottle of vodka. All your friends start doing shots. You don’t want to. How do you come to the decision to say no and what might be the repercussions of making this decision?

We looked at the possible positive and negative outcomes on the physical self and the possible positive and negative outcomes on the emotional self. The large group was split into smaller groups to discuss and the results of all the groups were put on the whiteboard.  As you can see from the photo below there can be many contributing factors to the thought process. The idea is not to look at which column has the most/least amount of answers as the ‘correct’ decision to make but to look at what is actually in these columns and listen to your gut instinct to know for yourself what the right thing to do is. What you value (ie:wanting your parents to feel proud or needing to feel cool) will help dictate how you make your decisions. As you can imagine many more topics and questions around what is important and why, how you feel about these things and why etc then enter in to this type of discussion.

The year 9’s handled it well and participated fully whilst the year 8’s, being a little younger were easily embarrassed, giggling, teasing each other and it was clear to me it was ‘not cool’ to participate in this type of conversation. That does not mean it is not relevant. Maybe they didn’t have the maturity yet, maybe I hit a topic to close too home, maybe there is some underlying bullying or teasing within this group but my aim is always the same – 1. That if one student feels more confident to listen to themselves and stand up for themselves then I have done my job. 2. That this conversation may be remembered a few months down the track if they find themselves in a tricky situation.

 

 

Year 10. Age 14-15 & Year 11. Age 16-17: ‘Who Am I?’

Adolescence is the developmental stage of identity where the biggest questions (consciously or subconsciously) are who am I? And where do I fit in the world? Although adolescence is considered 12-18 years I believe these identity questions become more prominent in the later years. 14-18 years old is a great age to be delving in to the topic of identity and trying to understand who we are. It is a big question and can feel hugely overwhelming and confusing so I have developed a way of teaching this that helps create understanding and less stress.

After a discussion around the topic I set the task of answering some questions that are listed in my book The Key (listed below). They answered alone before sharing with the person next to them and then back to the larger group. Asking questions in this way allows young people to learn self enquiry skills and objectively look at themselves in the the different aspects of their life, to look at and understand the similarities and differences of the different ‘versions’ of themself.

Some of the students found the questions easy to answer and some more difficult. They seemed to enjoy the partner sharing part too, learning more about each other and themselves. The conversation moved also in to topics around calming ourselves after arguments or before exams including topics such as meditation, negative thought patterns, positive self talk and the concepts of success and failure and how we understand them.

 

Meeting the Parents

So after an inspiring, exhilarating (and exhausting) day, I had a ‘meet & greet’ with the parents after the school’s day ended. A group of parents from different year levels attended to hear about what their teens had encountered with me. I went through The Key’s topics and then specifically what topics were addressed in each year level. A lengthy Q & A followed.

 

Click here for more information or to purchase your copy of The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens.

 

 

 

The Recovery Village, US

I have always believed it important to network and share with organisations around the world. This week ‘The Recovery Village’ based in the U.S. reached out to me.

They are a “leading, full continuum care treatment facility for adults struggling with addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Our 110-bed facility offers a peaceful and therapeutic location near Colorado Springs (US) to provide a nourishing experience for the body and soul.” Their testimonials from people who have spent time there were very encouraging so I thought I would share their link.

If you are a parent and worried about your teen’s mental health, have a read of their article –  ‘Parents Guide: How to help your teen cope with mental health issues.

https://www.palmerlakerecovery.com/resources/parents-guide/

PHASE, Asia Pacific 2019

This November for the first time I will be presenting at the PHASE conference in Hong Kong. I will run a one-hour presentation on ‘The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens’ on 16th and 17th November and a 90-minute workshop on the 16th.

For more information on my presentations/workshops, head to PHASE website.

PHASE Asia Pacific is a conference for all educators focussed on physical education, health, athletics, sports, and experiential learning.  The conference allows participants to learn from leading authorities in their respective fields as well as from practitioner presenters, to network with fellow educators, and to access good practice and resources in multiple formats.

PHASE is an acronym based on the core areas that the community aims to bring together: Physical Education, Health & Wellness, Athletics, Sports, and Experiential Learning.

 

Teen Mental Health

There is a growing mental health crisis with our teenagers and young people across the world. In Australia alone 1 in 4 adolescents will experience mental health problems this year and suicide is the most common cause of death for 15–24 year olds. The stats are alarming. One person is one too many.

In my experience with counselling teenagers I have had clients as young as 12 years old suffering from anxiety, clients at 13 believing that their parents divorce was their fault, at 16 not being able to look past a pimple or scar to see who they are as a person and at 17 wondering why they should get out of bed when “today is just going to be as bad as yesterday.” I have worked with adults who at 30 were still stuck in negative thought patterns, at 40 were still traumatised from being bullied at school, at 50 not feeling worthy of love and even at 70 still haunted by teenage family abuse.

None of us are ‘immune to life’ — to traumas, to ‘bad things happening’, to feeling like we have failed, to holding on to past hurts and to the complexities of navigating teenage friendships.

But this is not all doom and gloom.

Life doesn’t have to be this way. The problem is that quite often we don’t know what it is we can try. In those moments we have lost perspective. We have lost faith in the world and we have lost trust in ourselves.

My past clients spurred me to write my latest book ‘The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens.’ The most common sentence I was hearing from adults after working together was, “I wish I had learnt those things when I was younger,” and from that I set out to write. The frustration I felt at working with adults who had been carrying their life’s anxieties and traumas around for 10, 20, even 40 years was deeply saddening to me. Five-minutes is too long.

I believe the answer is in education. Not education that says ‘go to school’ but emotional intelligence education, social-emotional education, life education, education of the self, the heart and the soul.

A friend of mine, Kosal Khiev once wrote a poem ‘Moments In Between the Nights’ and that title alone springs to mind when I think about educating teens. It’s not in the ‘going to class,’ but the moments in between — the moments when no one is looking, when your mind suddenly turns, when doubt, fear, embarrassment, a memory, sadness, anxiety or negative thoughts kick in. It’s in those moments that we need to learn the self-awareness, the skills, tools and coping strategies to find our own balance again.

We can teach young people how to gain perspective, how to process their thoughts, emotions, behaviours and understand how and why they react to situations the way they do. We can teach them to understand and redefine terms such as success and failure. We can teach them self enquiry and self awareness, teach them how to better understand themselves, better understand friendships and the roles they play, that there is always someone they haven’t thought of they can talk to, something else they can try. We can teach them how to breathe — to calm down and to steady the mind. And to remind them that they are in control, that they have choice — choice in their actions, reactions, thoughts and behaviours. That there is ALWAYS something they can do. Life doesn’t happen TO us, we need to learn how to get back in the driver’s seat.

Through self-awareness we can create behaviour change but we cannot change what we are not aware of.

Yes we can even break out of negative thought patterns or better understand and cope with anxiety. There are simple steps that can be followed and in my book and videos I guide teens step-by-step in a very simple, practical and no bullshit way. I don’t brush over topics or say “Oh you’ll be okay.” he book gently holds their hand and takes them on a journey of self discovery where they learn to better understand themselves, find their strengths and resilience and get back in control of themselves.

In psychology terms, adolescence is the developmental stage of identity. Who am I? It is a powerful thing to begin to answer that question as a teen. How many adults can truly answer it?

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* The Key, A Social Emotional Toolkit for Teens is not a substitute for a specialised mental health counsellor or diagnosed mental health conditions.

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