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USING MOVIES TO HELP ENHANCE YOUR TEEN’S EMOTIONAL DEVELOPMENT

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies.

Movies are an important part of youth culture and as such are recommended to parents, teachers, and counselors as valuable tools in addressing the emotional and social needs of teens. Moreover, videos and movies have proven particularly effective in working with gifted children and adolescents.

If you’d like to use movies as a bridge to talking about important life and developmental issues your teen is facing, you’ll find in this article how the strategy works, how you can guide the process, what questions you can ask, etc.  We’ll also show you how you can use the Harry Potter stories to address the emotion of fear.

Called video-therapy or cinematherapy by some authors, this strategy is similar to the more widely recognized approach known as bibliotherapy and actually, relies on its rationale and process. While reading a book or watching a movie, we initially experience identification, where we recognize similarities between ourselves and the characters in the story (in this case, a movie). Then comes catharsis, where we are touched by specific happenings in the movie and we react emotionally. Insight dawns when we realize that we’ve reacted emotionally because of a particular issue from our own life that we connected with the character or situation in the movie.

Frequently, we’re not aware of why we are so moved, and that is where talking about it later can help us gain insight and integrate this new understanding into our life experience. Reflection on the movie and conversation about it afterward can also help us explore our needs, desires, fears, inner conflicts, patterns, values, aspirations, etc. Moreover, it can help us learn new coping mechanisms which we can then apply in solving our current life challenges.

This is especially important for teens since apart from any inspiration or life lessons they might glean, certain movies can help reassure them they aren’t isolated and alone with their needs and problems.

There are two ways you can use movies to boost teens’ social and emotional development. You can ask about a movie that had a significant impact on them and you can choose a movie to watch together – one you consider to be particularly beneficial for their development.

ASKING ABOUT A MOVIE

This approach is helpful in gaining a better understanding of teens’ inner world – their self-image, current dilemmas, and general aspirations in life. Here are some examples of questions for opening a dialogue:

What is it about this movie that inspired you so much? What did you learn from the movie? These may be basic questions but the experience of listening to your teen’s responses and opinions can be enjoyable as well as instructive. That’s how I found out from my teen niece (15), a valuable assistant in writing these articles, why she’s so inspired by the movies Whiplash (2014) and Cyberbully (2011). She aspires to achieve excellence in what she is good at – the movie cautioned that this drive may sometimes come at a cost. Her second choice showed her how our activity on social networks can affect the lives of others, the pitfalls of trying to satisfy our emotional needs through the virtual world, and the importance of true friends and family support. Besides, I found out about some applications popular these days among teens that I haven’t heard of before, so I think I’m now fairly well up to speed!

In one of our previous articles, we offered practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways (4 Ideas to Get Closer to Your Teen). Remember, don’t push and let the discussion take its natural course. However, if you notice that you’ve captured your teen’s attention, that he/she is thinking and is willing to continue and go deeper into the conversation, here are some aspects that you can explore:

Favorite character

Who is your favorite character? Why? Describe his/her personality and abilities. Do you find any similarities between this character and yourself? And differences? Does he/she have some traits or abilities that you would like to have, too? In which specific situations would you need these abilities? With these questions, you are opening a space to discuss your teen’s needs, troubles or aspirations and possibilities for development.

People/behaviors they don’t like

Are there some characters that you disliked? What was it about them that you didn’t like? Are there people in your circle who have similar characteristics? How do you feel when you interact with them?

Situations that provoke emotions

Was there some situation in the movie that provoked strong emotions? What was it about this situation that made you sad/angry/enlightened…? Strong emotions are always in play when we reflect on something truly important and valuable to us. If you’ve been able to get your teen to talk about it, your efforts have been successful. Use this experience wisely.

Follow-up activities

If your teen is open to role-playing, you can even use theater and improvisation techniques as follow-up activities. For instance, your teen needs more confidence in the classroom. Let him be a director and set up a scene that mirrors the real situation he wants to change. He can give roles to you, to other members of the family; even puppies, dolls, pillows, etc. Then, encourage him to imagine that he is like this chosen character, to take some of his abilities and to act, empowered, in the chosen scene. You can make variations together and have fun. Ask him how this acting made him feel and how he can apply it in a real situation. This tactic, especially when used with superheroes, has been extremely effective in the workshops for personal development that I run.

Of course, these are just examples of questions and follow-up activities for guiding a process of learning from a movie. You will use the ones appropriate for the given situation and your teen’s sensibility and readiness to participate.

CHOOSING A MOVIE: HARRY POTTER

The other way to use movies as a means of addressing the emotional needs of teens is for you yourself to select a movie which addresses particular themes or issues you consider significant for your teen’s development. Then, after watching the movie together, you can talk about it with each other, channeling the conversation to the themes most beneficial to your teen’s development.

Let’s take the example of the Harry Potter movies, as most of us are familiar with the story. With all due respect to those who value its original written form, the motion picture adaptations can serve this purpose effectively. There are plenty of themes important to teens elaborated in the story of Harry Potter: friendship, life challenges, loss, failure, danger (even encounters with evil), the school environment, relationship with authorities, competition, fighting for a greater cause, etc.

A particularly useful feature of the story lies in its exploration of the emotion of fear and more importantly, how one can handle it. This is always a timely topic, especially during adolescence with all its manifestations, such as low self-esteem, insecurity or anxiety.

Harry Potter embodies all the characteristics of the hero, one of which is his ability to plumb the deeper and darker chambers of his being and squarely confront his fear. How to find strength in difficult times when we are vulnerable is an important lesson in preparation for adulthood.

You can discuss with teens how Harry Potter and other characters reacted when faced with serious obstacles or dangerous, even evil creatures. When faced with danger, is their usual reaction more similar to Harry’s, Hermione’s, Ron’s, another character’s behavior, or some combination? Ask them to recall how fictional characters managed to handle dangerous creatures. What helped?

Of course, you should always try to connect insights from the movie to the life of your teen and how he/she can incorporate those lessons into his/her life. What is particularly useful is that the Harry Potter story offers concrete strategies for handling fear. Yes, I’m referring to the Patronus and Riddikulus charms. As the story goes, these charms can protect you from dark creatures such as Dementors and Boggarts, who are nothing more than personifications of our fears.

It is well known that a strong positive emotion, such as love, is an antidote to fear. Also, the presence of a trusted, loving person can calm the fear response. Seeking help from the spiritual realm, whatever our belief system, is invaluable, too. In a way, all these elements are contained in the Patronus charm, which works by evoking the happiest memory from one’s life and concentrating on it. Done correctly, this will create a positive force in the form of a sacred animal (totem), a spirit guardian, which will protect us from the scary Dementors. You can practice Expecto Patronum! with your teen so that each of you, using your imagination, can find a source of strength and support to help you fight the dark creatures of your life.

Similarly, the Riddikulus spell is also a beautiful metaphor for a technique that is sometimes employed in a therapeutic session – the gift of humor. Humor is a powerful tool in fighting fear. When we are anxious and tense, there’s nothing better than a good laugh to immediately ease our distress. It’s good to be able to bring out the clown in ourselves to help us see a stressful situation from a funny, absurd angle. Practice Riddikulus with your kids when appropriate or let them teach you if you forget how to do it.

The real “magic” is the strength the characters muster from the inside. This can apply to parenting as well.  We are here to boost your real “ magic” of parenting. If you need any kind of advice related to the emotional development of your teen children, you’ve come to the right place!

Sources:

  1. Greenwood, D. & Long, C. R. (2015). When Movies Matter: Emerging Adults Recall Memorable Movies. Journal of Adolescent Research, Vol. 30(5) 625–650
  2. Milne, H. J. & Reis, S. M. (2000). Using Video Therapy To Address the Social and Emotional Needs of Gifted Children. Gifted Child Today, Vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 24 – 29
  3. Hébert, T. P. & Speirs Neumeister, K. L. (2001). Guided Viewing of Film: A Strategy for Counseling Gifted Teenagers. The Journal of Secondary Gifted Education, Vol. XII, No. 4, pp. 224–235.

ON BEING A NOBEL NOMAD

“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other places, other lives, other souls.” – Anaïs Nin

When I first decided to spend three months traveling through Mexico, I was met with different reactions. Apart from my family being deadly worried about my chosen destination, most of my friends were excited and above all wondered how I could leave my work for three whole months. The nicest thing about it was that I wouldn’t have to.

I am a psychologist working as a Coach for Nobel Coaching & Tutoring. Areas of online professions are constantly expanding and although programming, translation, web design, etc., constitute what you might consider typical freelance jobs, a growing need for an easily accessible professional who can help you deal with many life issues has led to Coaching finding its place in the online work market. The two greatest advantages of working with an online Coach are, as I mentioned, accessibility and reliability. In order to create and maintain a good relationship with a client, which is the basis for success, one of the most important things is always honoring the schedule. This means that you must do your very best to make sure you are there for the session on time and with no external interfering factors such as, for example, a bad internet connection.

Having that in mind, working while traveling is not as simple as it might seem and this is something I learned from experience.

Distant places have always attracted me. There is something very special about submerging oneself in an absolutely foreign culture with a different language, different customs, and traditions, ways of interacting, etc. And Latin America especially attracted my attention. I had been thinking of ways to be able to visit this very special place for a long time and, as it often happens when we sincerely and with all our hearts wish for something, circumstances aligned perfectly to make it possible for me to do so. I had some good friends in Guadalajara and I decided to make it my Mexican home base. I rented a room in a house with four Mexican roommates, having first made sure it had a good internet connection. This is the only plan I made. I knew I wanted to travel the country, but so many places captured my attention that I decided I would just let myself go with the flow. I also decided that I would, for the first time in my life, travel alone. I had been warned many times that Mexico is not the perfect place to pursue such an adventure. However, from the very first moment I set foot in the country, I instinctively felt comfortable and secure by myself.

My path led me to the most magical places I could have imagined. I walked through beautiful canyons in Chihuahua, camped in an indigenous village learning how to make corn tortillas, spent a night in the middle of a desert, stared at the clearest sky my eyes have ever seen, heard stories and met people whom I will never, ever forget.

I must admit that, even though I tried to keep everything under control during this three-month adventure, my work did suffer slightly. Sometimes, places that claimed to have a good internet connection actually didn’t have one. Then there were many occasions when a bus that was supposed to arrive at a certain time arrived two hours later, broke down along the way, etc. From time to time, this would interfere with my sessions, and after a while, I realized some changes had to be made. In my case, this means that the next time I decide to explore distant places, I will stay put during the working week, and move and travel during weekends.

Looking back on the whole experience, my conclusion is that yes, you can definitely work while traveling. However, a bit more attention needs to be paid to logistics. This doesn’t mean that you need to take away all the spontaneity from your journey, but it does mean that you need to take more time and move from one place to the other at a somewhat slower pace, which can actually have its advantages. So, if you have a job that doesn’t constrict you to one place, organize yourself and don’t miss out on the chance to travel. Just be careful. Once you do it, you’ll probably never completely stop.

by Dunja Stojkovic

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PROJECT-BASED LEARNING EXPLAINED

by Anja Andelković

Instead of endlessly memorizing facts and using pen and paper to take extensive notes, students learn about a subject by actively exploring real-world problems through project-based learning. This type of learning is becoming increasingly necessary in the global world, as it focuses on the individual and helps people learn while engaging in investigation and applying their knowledge to solve actual problems. But what is project-based learning exactly, why do we really need it and how does it work? Read on to find out!

Not an ordinary project

When you think of projects in an educational context, the first thing that comes to mind is probably the concept of “projects” solely based on facts in a unit. For example, in history class that could be a poster depicting certain historical events and in biology class students might get to give a lecture to their peers about human metabolism. Simply put, they would repeat facts that they have read about elsewhere, without analysis or deeper comprehension [3].

When faced with these types of projects, students often think “When will I ever need this in real life?”, and this is where project-based-learning (PBL) comes into the picture. Its content is predicated on real-world problems that need to be dealt with creatively [3]. So, instead of making a poster on women’s rights based on facts they have learned from a textbook, students can organize a campaign to promote them and talk about their significance or make a documentary interviewing people involved in the issue, or discuss the importance of suffrage with people they know.

Even though the entire concept of PBL sounds new and is often mentioned in the context of “honing 21st-century skills”, it actually stems from strategies that were used by classical Greek philosophers, who talked about “learning by doing” and focused on critical thinking and not just repetition of information. Later on, other philosophers also accentuated the importance of learning based on experience and not purely verbal information, and half a century ago PBL emerged as a practical teaching strategy that can be used in various disciplines [1]. In this form it involves, as we said, student is learning in order to overcome real-life problems, while educators serve only as coaches who relinquish control to students usually working in pairs or groups [6].

If this concept sounds a bit too fluid and perhaps not as efficient as good old-fashioned rote learning, you are not alone. It was often criticized for not being rigorous enough and there are still people who doubt that students can learn everything a curriculum may require this way. But, “proper” PBL actually has many rules that need to be followed in order for students to learn something successfully, so there is usually no space for skipping certain steps or accidentally avoiding a certain facet of a problem that is being taught [6]. By having these practical rules, PBL as a teaching strategy ensures that students learn what they are supposed to learn while being fully engaged in the process [7].

But why is it so much better? Benefits of PBL

Some benefits of PBL were mentioned earlier where we explained what it actually is, but there is more to this story. PBL is so talked about recently exactly because of its many advantages over the traditional type of learning:

  • PBL makes learning more grounded in real life and students have the feeling that they are learning something useful, and not merely facts they will never need in their future lives [2]. This knowledge of the relevance of the project usually engages them more in the entire process of learning and they “learn by doing” instead of just finishing yet another school assignment [7].
  • Research has shown that PBL also increases students’ motivation [3]. The contextualization of the studied material and the authenticity of this type of learning together with its student-centered approach and individualization of the entire process motivates students to learn for the sake of learning, and not just to get a good grade [6].
  • In order to solve complex problems posed by PBL, students have to engage higher-order thinking skills and problem-solving skills. These types of skills are necessary for almost all jobs and by practicing them in an educational environment, students not only prepare for their future careers, but also for tackling diverse issues throughout their lives [1].
  • Collaboration is one of the main characteristics of PBL, and in order to work on a project students also have to learn how to work in a group efficiently and overcome any problems they might have within the group. Working in a group and solving all kinds of interpersonal struggles, teaches students both people skills and project management skills that are more than necessary in order to work in today’s society [2].
  • It has been shown that PBL as a method affects students’ achievement in a positive manner. Students who learned by working on projects proposed by PBL usually learned better than students who used more traditional ways of learning. The reason for this could well be the fact that students generally achieve more when they have a greater desire to learn, and as we have seen, PBL usually increases this desire [4].
  • PBL is also thought to improve long-term retention of knowledge, meaning that students who learn using this method remember the things they learned longer than students who learned in the traditional manner [6].
  • PBL is an interdisciplinary method so it gives students a chance to use the knowledge they gained in many other classes while working on a project, and shows them how that knowledge can be relevant in real-life situations [5].
  • Today’s students are more than familiar with technology and its various uses, and PBL is a perfect opportunity to use it in an educational setting and think about its different benefits. Using technology also allows students to connect with many people around the world while working on a project which, of course, gives them an even wider knowledge of the subject they are working on [7].

When taken into consideration together, all of these benefits of PBL lead us to the conclusion that PBL is essential in developing something called 21st-century skills that we all need in order to succeed in the fast-paced global world [2]. It is no longer enough to have basic knowledge and skills; we need to be able to solve problems quickly and effectively, work in teams, adjust to changes, think critically, manage ourselves and communicate ideas – PBL helps in bettering all these skills [7].

How to make it work [8]

In order to make PBL work, it is not enough to just think of a fun, relevant project and let the students work on it. If that happens, it is more than likely PBL will become just another means to an end, the end being a grade. It is important to set learning goals, which would concentrate both on the skills that the project can help develop and also on the content that has to be learned by the end of the project.

It is easy for students to think of PBL as another school assignment, so it is important to choose a project that is firmly grounded in reality, with clear relevance to the students. Reminding the students from time to time of what the project can help them do later in life is also not a bad idea.

In PBL, asking questions and discussing the problem is half the work, so it is extremely important to encourage the discussion, without leading it. A teacher or a parent who has taken the task of PBL on her/himself should only serve as a guide and help students reflect on their progress and the learning process. Students are the ones who should be making decisions.

Setting an end goal that it is tangible or demonstrable is also a smart way to make PBL more effective. It is a good idea to have the students work on a product that they can later talk about in front of an audience or to make a presentation describing the problem they solved.

References:

  1. Boss, S. (2011, September 20). Project-Based Learning: A Short History. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-history.
  2. Boss, S. (2011, September 20). Project-Based Learning: What Experts Say. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-experts.
  3. Gonzales, J. (2016, June 26). Project Based Learning: Start Here. Retrieved from https://cultofpedagogy.com/project-based-learning/.
  4. Helle, L., Tynjälä, P., Olkinuora, E., & Lonka, K. (2007). “Ain”t nothin’ like the real thing’. Motivation and study processes on a work-based project course in information systems design. The British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 397–411. http://doi.org/10.1348/000709906X105986
  5. Karaçalli, S., & Korur, F. (2014). The effects of project-based learning on students’ academic achievement, attitude, and retention of knowledge: The subject of “Electricity in our lives.” School Science and Mathematics, 114(5), 224–235. http://doi.org/10.1111/ssm.12071
  6. Vega, V. (2012, December 3). Project-Based Learning Research Review. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/pbl-research-learning-outcomes.
  7. What is Project Based Learning (PBL). Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl.
  8. Why Project Based Learning (PBL). Retrieved from http://www.bie.org/about/why_pbl.