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THE BENEFITS OF ONLINE LEARNING

Learning online is no longer a novelty and more and more students are opting to take online courses every day. The world’s top universities and colleges now offer online courses and it was recently noted that “The future of higher education lies with it.” (Tom Snyder, Huffington).

The popularity of online learning lies principally in its flexibility. Students do not have to be physically in a classroom but can learn remotely and frequently at their own pace. Naturally, this approach may present challenges. While learning online, students must also learn to prioritize their commitments. Good time-management and organization skills are essential for it to be effective, but those are skills which can be improved upon, and that usually do improve, along with self-discipline and responsibility, as students progress through their online courses.

Online learning can also help busy professionals get additional training and keep abreast of advances in their fields of expertise as they continue to work at their jobs.

Another great advantage of online learning is coverage. There will never be as many spots in universities as students who want to enroll in them, but with online courses, educators can reach many more students than would be possible in the traditional classroom. Moreover, everyone receives the same training, communicated in the same way to everyone participating in the course.

It is often thought that with flexibility comes a more laissez-faire approach to learning; that online courses aren’t as “serious” as more traditional ones, and that students simply can’t learn as much as they would if they were sitting in a classroom with a teacher in front of them. If you’ve ever taken an online course you’re probably aware that this criticism is unfounded. Many online courses make greater demands on students and assign more reading material than traditional ones in order to ensure students stay engaged and always have something to work on.

Online courses are designed so as to keep engagement high and help students retain the material taught in them longer. This is usually achieved through the use of media inherent in this type of learning, and also with gamification. Online teachers often find ways to make the course fun and more similar to a game than to what we usually think of when we imagine learning.

Last but not least, online learning usually means time and money savings. Students who opt for this type of learning remove the need for travel and its attendant costs. It reduces or eliminates time away from the workplace and opens a pathway to lifelong learning.

And let’s not forget our planet. The fact that we can now learn without dozens of handouts and paper-based materials does the environment a great favor that we shouldn’t take for granted.

IS ONLINE LEARNING FOR EVERYONE?

As with anything in education, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question as to whether you or your student should try online learning. It is designed on the assumption that the student has some interest in the subject already and will be motivated to learn more. It also requires instructors familiar with this approach who know how to engage students and present the material in an original way, tailored for the online environment. But it is definitely worth a try. The benefits are great and any drawbacks can be overcome if dealt with in a timely fashion and with solid support. We will offer just that this summer to all students interested in online learning, combined with the great project-based learning approach in our new program Nobel Explorers. It is worth checking out if you are interested in providing your child with a summer full of learning and fun.

by Anja Anđelković

5 TEAM-BUILDING ACTIVITIES FOR TEENS TO BUILD TRUST AND COOPERATION

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is a success.” – Henry Ford

In this article, you will find several team-building activities useful in developing closeness, trust, cooperation, and team spirit among teens. Besides being applicable in the classroom and teen workshops, some of these activities can be enjoyed at parties, with friends, or during family gatherings. And all of them can be initiated and led by teens, not only by adult tutors or teachers.

Teenagers have a particular need to be accepted, to belong to a peer group, to have their own crew, and to explore the world together with friends and have fun. Yet many of them feel isolated and lonely and find an illusion of consolation in virtual social networks, which can never replace the joys of real interaction.

That is why we’re proposing several team-building activities, varying from simple games to more complex assignments, that can serve to draw teens closer to one another by encouraging interaction to develop trust and cooperation, letting them experience interdependency through working together to foster a team spirit – all preconditions for successful teamwork.

These activities require a leader to initiate an activity, whether this is a teen or an adult.

Team-building activity No 1 – Let’s get to know each other from a different perspective

Want to make everyone comfortable and included at the party you organize? Why not suggest an icebreaking game where everyone would have the opportunity to speak up informally?

Prepare a list of questions. Be imaginative when inventing them – they should be questions that are interesting to you, too. For example:

  1. Who is your favorite superhero and why?
  2. If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  3. If you were a wizard, what would be your superpower?
  4. If you had to describe yourself using only three words, they would be…
  5. What is your favorite band/movie/TV show/video game and why?

Prepare enough questions for everybody. Questions can be printed or written down on paper and then cut into slips – one slip, one question. Roll the question slips up and put them in a jar and your game is ready! Suggest the game to your guests – each one who participates takes one question from the jar.

This icebreaking game is useful for smaller groups (up to ten people). Besides being applicable in the classroom or in a workshop where people don’t know each other, it’s beneficial when the atmosphere at a social gathering is a bit awkward or low energy. Moreover, questions like these are amusing and helpful on dates, too!

Team-building activity No 2 – Karaoke performance

We all know that karaoke can be funny, but here we’re adding an extra team challenge! This activity is also good for larger groups, first divided into smaller ones consisting of at least three members.

The challenge for each team is to select a song (from YouTube or audio player) and create a performance around that song. Members of the team decide together on a concept for their particular performance, with each person taking their preferred role. Roles could be a singer, a drummer, a dancer, a backup vocalist, or even acting out the theme of the lyrics.

There are no rules regarding possible roles, just as long as each member has one. When the teams are ready, each team puts on their performance.

This activity is particularly useful in getting teens closer and helping them be spontaneous and stop worrying what others may think of them. Usually, there’s a lot of laughter and good energy during this activity. Make sure to send us photos if you try it!

Team-building activity No 3 – Dragon’s tower

This is a competitive game, great for developing team cooperation. The minimum number of people playing this game is six. You will also need a coordinator to lead the process. Participants are divided into teams consisting of three members. If performed with a large group of students, it’s advisable to create several teams, with the rest forming a watching and cheering audience.

First, the coordinator introduces the following story: Once upon a time there was a king who had N daughters/princesses (N – referring to the number of teams). Then a frightful dragon came and took away the king’s daughters and put them in his distant tower. The task of each team is to find their princess and get her back home.

Each team consists of the following three players: the Silent One (who is allowed to look, but isn’t allowed to talk), the Talker (who is only allowed to look at the Silent One’s pantomime, and is allowed to talk), and the Tracker (who is blindfolded and navigated by the Talker in his quest to find the princess).

The Coordinator picks princesses from a deck of cards and assigns one to each team. He then attaches the princess cards to the opposite wall. Only the Silent Ones from each team are allowed to see where the coordinator has placed their group’s princess. Talker and Tracker mustn’t see this.

All team members stand on one side of the room. The Silent One has an overview of the whole room. When the game begins, he uses pantomime to explain to the Talker, who is facing him, where their princess is located on the opposite wall. The Talker only sees the Silent One and his pantomime and tries to verbally navigate the Tracker, using the information he receives from the Silent One. The blindfolded Tracker then moves, and with help of his teammates, tries to find their princess and to get her back to his teammates successfully.

The winner is the team whose Tracker finds their princess and gets her back first. It is crucial that teammates play their roles well and cooperate in order to successfully finish the task. This is a hilarious game with a great atmosphere!

Team-building activity No 4 – Trust game

There are plenty of trust games and for this purpose, we’ve chosen the following one. It is good for a group of minimum five members.

Participants stand in the circle holding hands. One member stands in the center of the circle, blindfolded or just with their eyes shut. The one in the center has to walk around and explore the space, unseeing. He has to trust the group will guard him and protect him from harm. The group has the responsibility to “watch his back”- to take care of his safety.

All members should have both experiences – of being guarded by the group and guarding a teammate. The challenge is greater if there are several groups in the room, each group taking care of the one in the middle of their circle. There are variations of the game; for instance, a circle can be wider, using ten people and more, or the one in the middle can be dancing or running about, etc.

At the end, participants should be asked how they felt in both roles and what they can learn from this game.

Trust games like this one show how important interdependence is and that we can rely on our team members. Trust is essential for a good teamwork. Also, it teaches that a team must function as a single unit if wants to survive, with all members included and working together.

Team-building activity No 5 – Teens as researchers

Here we suggest an activity initiated by an adult (a teacher or a youth leader) working with teens to research and describe a concept. This activity can range from a very simple task to a real project. Also, it can give impetus to any creative and curious teen to start his own project with his friends.

Teens are divided into teams of three to five members. They are encouraged to imagine that they are researchers investigating some important social topic. If we assume there are four teams, four different topics would be offered and for each topic, a distinctive method of recording and presenting data. Teams are created taking into account students’ preferences and equal sizes of the teams.

For example, topics can be Love, Friendship, Youth culture, Local activism. Extra instruction can be given. If Love is the focus, you may want to find out what love actually is. How does love manifest itself in real life? Or if you research Friendship, you may want to seek out the definition of a good friend. What would a true friend never do?

In order to assist teams to investigate in their particular field, we suggest interview and observation as the main techniques for collecting information. They are encouraged to conduct research in their local environment: school, or community, and to ask real people for their opinion on the topic the team is investigating.

However, methods of recording and presenting data will vary. We suggest four methods for recording data: Video; Audio; Photos; Writing. One method is assigned to one topic. For example, a team working on the Love topic will use a video; a team working on Friendship will use written form, etc.

Depending on the complexity of the assignment, teams are given from several hours to several days to complete the task. Time is needed to jointly create research questions, conduct research on the ground and to conceptualize how to effectively present data using the chosen method. At the end, each team presents their final product with discussion to follow.

Being gathered around a common project is a great opportunity to experience real teamwork, among other benefits. For more about the benefits of project-based learning, read our previous article.

Teamwork is one of the key values here in Nobel Coaching. Check out our new engaging program Nobel Explorers where middle- and high-school students will work in small teams.

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

THE MINDFUL STUDENT – BENEFITS OF THE MINDFULNESS PRACTICE

In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of hype around the term “mindfulness”. Everybody from yoga teachers to Silicon Valley engineers are talking about being mindful and practicing mindfulness. Of course, there are others who think all the hype is nonsense and that mindfulness is just another new-age fad. It’s easy to get lost in the many articles and videos discussing the term without actually realizing what it means, so let’s start with that: mindfulness is a form of meditation in which people learn how to be in the moment, or more precisely how to stay focused and acknowledge all their sensations and feelings without passing any judgment. This concept has roots in Buddhism [5] but nowadays is more frequently secular and, best of all, can be practiced by anyone, anywhere.

Why would we practice mindfulness?

In today’s world where we are all very busy all the time, it’s getting easier and easier to lose focus on the present and get caught up doing our daily tasks automatically, thinking only about what we should be doing next and thus missing out on valuable insights and experiences. Mindfulness can prevent this from happening and help us learn how to stay aware without getting too active or overwhelmed.

Lately, there has been a lot of research into the benefits of this practice and it is getting harder and harder for skeptics to dismiss it as yet another hoax. Aside from being available to everyone and not requiring anything other than some time and a lot of patience (since being in the moment without passing judgment is easier said than done), mindfulness has a positive impact on both our physical and mental health [7].

One of the most cited benefits of mindfulness is stress reduction, which has a positive effect on sleep patterns and the overall well-being of the practitioner. As we teach ourselves to stay present, we get to know ourselves better, our memory improves, we don’t have emotional outbursts, and we even get more satisfied with our relationships as we learn how to deal with stress effectively and to communicate our feelings to our partners [3].

Benefits of mindfulness to students

The case for mindful meditation is strong and it would be almost silly not to try it out after reading about all the benefits you can reap by practicing it. However, mindfulness can be specifically beneficial to students, and its practice has begun to be incorporated into schools to teach very young children how to stay mindful of their experience in the moment without judgment.

  • It is clear that learning how to stay focused is particularly useful for students as it can prevent daydreaming and procrastination, and helps students learn more effectively. Mindfulness has also be shown to be great for attention and is even used as a technique in the treatment of ADHD [1].
  • As it helps deal with stress, mindfulness is a great tool to relieve test anxiety many students experience and helps reduce stress levels related to school in general (http://www.mindfulschools.org/about-mindfulness/research/#reference-17).
  • The practice is also shown to be related to better grades, as it improves cognitive function and enhances our working memory [2]. It has even been shown that after a course of mindfulness practices, our prefrontal cortex thickens. This is the part of the brain responsible for high-order functions such as decision-making and awareness [6].
  • Last but not least, mindfulness has a great impact on students’ social skills. Through practice, students learn self-control and respect for others [5] and get better at solving interpersonal problems [4].

All in all, the potential benefits of mindfulness are far more persuasive than the opinions of a couple of skeptics and, as a practice that is relatively accessible and easy to introduce, it is a great tool of self-improvement for adults and their children alike. If you are interested in knowing more about it and going through mindfulness training as part of overcoming some learning difficulties, don’t hesitate to contact us.

by Anja Anđelković

References:

  1. Brancatisano, E. (October 24, 2016). The Benefits Of Bringing Mindfulness In To The Classroom.
  2. Chan, A. L. (August 4, 2013). Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health.
  3. Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J. A. (July/August 2012). What are the benefits of mindfulness? Monitor on Psychology, 43 (7), 64.
  4. Gouda, S., Luong, M. T., Schmidt, S., & Bauer, J. (2016). Students and Teachers Benefit from Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction in a School-Embedded Pilot Study.
  5. Holland, E. (Feb 16, 2015). Can ‘Mindfulness’ Help Students Do Better in School?
  6. Ireland, T. (June 12, 2014). What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?
  7. Research on Mindfulness. Mindful Schools.
  8. Weare, K. (April 2012). Evidence for the Impact of Mindfulness on Children and Young People.
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6 Tips to Support Self-Awareness Development in Teens

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”
― Lao Tzu

Research has shown that a high self-awareness score is a crucial predictor of overall success. Acclaimed psychologist Daniel Goleman points out that self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and that mastery of emotional self-awareness is a key attribute of successful leaders

Why is self-awareness important for teens?

Who am I? What makes me special, a unique human being, different from others? What do I want from my life? Why do I feel like this? What made me react like this? These are just some of the questions adolescents ask themselves.

Answers to such questions build the foundation of a teen’s self-awareness. Practically speaking, being self-aware means we are able to understand our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, traits, and motivations and perceive how they affect our performance.

This skill develops naturally over time through experience and maturity. However, since  it is crucial in taking ownership of our lives and the direction we choose, we all need to foster it in ourselves and in our children.

There are a variety of practices and exercises to help you enhance self-awareness as you guide your child’s development, and we describe these below. Your teen doesn’t have to choose only one as they begin to discover which of these practices resonates the most with his/her unique being. Each can become a habit of daily routine, which is the best-case scenario.  And remember, it’s  good for all of us to be open to applying them in our own lives. Let’s not forget that we thrive together with our kids!

Time and space for self-reflection

We live in a busy world where speed and multitasking have become the norm. However, our brains haven’t evolved fast enough to catch up and process all the information and impressions inundating us daily. Sometimes (ideally each day) we need to slow down, pause,  be still, and be left quietly alone for self-reflection because this will ground us in reality.

This applies to your teen as well, especially after busy day or week. If your teen is more introverted, he prefers to spend time alone and you should respect his need. However, you might suggest that exploring and learning different ways to self-reflect could be beneficial for him. If your teen is more extroverted and doesn’t like being alone, you should teach him the advantages of slowing down and self-reflecting every now and then.

This could mean taking a walk outside or just sitting or lying down in your room and doing nothing. Though it may appear we’re doing nothing, we are consciously and subconsciously processing information and getting closer to our true selves.

You can simply offer a  gentle suggestion. For instance: “Honey, why don’t you go for a walk, write in your journal, or just spend some time processing this so you can figure out your true feelings and what you should do next.”

Keeping a journal

This is another form of self-reflection, but it is especially beneficial for teenagers.

Writing our thoughts down can help us explore what is going on in our minds – what we think, how we feel, what inspires or frightens us. Writing provides a sense of clarity especially for confusing and complex feelings we don’t yet understand.

For the emotionally loaded or conflicted experiences teens face as they grow, writing a journal is particularly useful since it provides a safe space for expressing their feelings, and there is a greater chance that creative solutions will emerge in the form of new decisions and actions.

If you had a diary of your own when you were young, you can share it to encourage your teen to start his own.  Journals can take many forms. Besides the classic diary, they can combine words with drawings or images if your teen is more visually inclined.

Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness practices develop full awareness in the here and now, promote non-judgmental observance and acceptance of our inner thoughts and feelings and help us release and overcome emotional pain. Watch this short movie to find out how mindfulness empowers us.

Inspired by the wisdom of the East, particularly the Buddhist tradition of meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn was one of the first to introduce and adapt mindfulness practices to the Western world.

Due to its proven clinical effects on stress reduction, enhancement of self-awareness, inner balance and general well-being, a variety of mindfulness techniques has been developed for application in daily life and school programs.

You can find available mindfulness programs in your area or even find some guided online sessions and practice it together with your teens.

Emotional learning

Emotional awareness, understanding why we feel a certain way and knowing how to handle these feelings is crucial to success and happiness in every aspect of our lives.

Psychotherapist Claude Steiner defines this ability as “emotional literacy”. We learn how to manage our emotions, develop empathy for other people, repair emotional damage when we’ve done something wrong, and succeed in interacting with others effectively.

The importance of emotional awareness has brought emotional learning programs into schools and hopefully your children have already had the opportunity to develop this competency. If not, look for available lectures and workshops in your community that are oriented towards developing emotional awareness and literacy, either for youth or adults. Let’s not forget that as parents, we are pivots of our children’s emotional health and emotional learning, and personal development should always be a priority.

You can also check available online programs. Here you can find more about emotional literacy and even download a full book by Claude Steiner. In one of our previous articles, we wrote about how we can enhance teen’s emotional development through the use of movies.

Learning to have an accurate self-image

Self-image in teens can often be biased or fluid and they need to learn to evaluate their own strengths and limitations objectively. Constructive feedback, both positive and negative, is essential in learning this ability, which is part of self-awareness and development in general.

Foster an atmosphere in your family where providing honest feedback is natural both for you and your children. Here you can check some of the principles to deliver effective feedback.

Try this interesting exercise along with your teens from time to time. Each of you should write down three positive and three negative aspects of yourself. These can be your personality traits, habits, abilities or physical appearance. Then share and discuss what you all wrote down, suggesting how strengths can be used and limitations overcome.

Pay attention to how realistic your teen has been in his/her estimation. Has she written positive or negative first? Did she have problems listing positive or negative qualities? These indicators, if any, will be the basis for your further interventions.

The mind-body connection

Long a tradition in Eastern cultures and advocated widely by current holistic practitioners, mind-body awareness or the ability to “listen” to your body through sensory experiences can enhance the development of full self-awareness.

Besides yoga, there are numerous practices that can help us integrate mind-body experiences.  Some are spiritual in nature while others are more physical. Free dance practices with elements of improvisation, such as 5Rhythms, Open Floor or Authentic Movement, also referred to as “moving meditation”, are good examples. All these can help us focus on our inner selves,  become rooted and more fully present.

So if your teen is more inclined to work through his thoughts and emotions  through body/movement, seek out those activities and practices that best match his channels of communication with himself.

“Know thyself” – it was inscribed at the Delphi temple. This virtue was as valued in ancient times as it is today. Let’s help our kids acquire this wisdom and prepare them to be able to lead fulfilling lives.

Need additional support in helping your teen develop self-awareness? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Self-Awareness: The Foundation of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman
  2. New Study Shows Nice Guys Finish First by Shari Lifland (American Management Foundation)
  3. How Mindfulness Empowers Us: An Animation Narrated by Sharon Salzberg
  4. Emotional Literacy: Intelligence with Heart by Claude Steiner (2003)
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COME TO THE DARK SIDE, WE HAVE EMOTIONS

By Anja Anđelković & Dunja Stojkovic

“Stay positive” and “cheer up” are among the most common phrases of our time, as if it’s now socially unacceptable and “wrong” to feel any other emotions but joy, happiness, and gratitude for what we already have. Showing up for work a bit cranky these days for whatever reason can instantly give you the reputation for being a grumpy, demotivating person, and being in a bad mood for a couple of days can have even more serious effects. The pressure isn’t only to hide certain emotions, but not to feel them at all. We have planners, posters, and even pillowcases with messages such “smile and the world will smile back at you” or “think positive!”, and as if this weren’t enough, there are people reminding us that some feelings are just not worth paying attention to or, for that matter, not feeling at all. This attitude isn’t only annoying to those of us tired of hearing such things, but it can be frustrating and dangerous. Bottling up emotions isn’t necessarily the greatest thing to do for our mental health.

ALL EMOTIONS ARE CREATED EQUAL

To find out why we even have these feelings that are now deemed inappropriate, let’s look into why we have them and how they have survived over time.

It is thought that there is only a limited number of basic, universally recognized human emotions and scholars still argue about the exact number, but the most common classification identifies six: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise [1]. If you examine these closely, you will notice that only one of them, happiness, is exclusively pleasant, while surprise can go both ways. So when we try to ignore unpleasant feelings, we’re basically trying to ignore a whole bunch of our basic emotions and we deprive ourselves of a common human experience. These emotions don’t exist just to aggravate us; they were essential to our evolutionary development and helped ensure our survival as a species. They have purpose and meaning. Emotions help us adapt to problems instinctively, and they serve as instant motivators for our behavior. For example, without the emotion of disgust, we would constantly drink spoiled milk or eat rotten food. Other than that, they color our memories and make them easier to access and serve as a driving force for our future behavior: we try to maintain pleasant emotions and avoid unpleasant ones. This doesn’t mean bottling them up and pretending they don’t exist, but rather trying not to get into too many situations that might give rise to them: we felt disgusted while tasting spoiled milk, so we try very hard to avoid feeling that emotion ever again [5]. Of course, it is impossible to avoid all unpleasant emotions as life is full of loss, problems, downfalls, and missed opportunities, so the key is to understand the reason why we’re feeling a certain way and learn how to deal with those feelings.

Other than their function in aiding our survival as species and helping us adapt to new situations, emotions play a huge role in our communication with others. As we interact with other people, emotions serve as signals for how we are feeling, what our intentions are, the relationship we have with the person we’re talking to, and so on. By being this signal, they evoke reactions from others which, in turn, serve as triggers for behavior [5].

Culture, of course, has always played a huge part in how these functions of emotions are manifested [5]. We still hear people saying how boys shouldn’t cry or how girls should never show anger. These tired old sayings are perfect examples of stereotyping but they also show us how our culture influences our emotional expression and decides which emotions are ideal to have and which aren’t. It might sound as if we are slaves to our cultural background and that isn’t far from the truth but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We couldn’t live in groups without any norms and expectations; the problem is when those expectations become extreme and harmful. For instance, it wouldn’t be possible to live in harmony in a world where everyone expressed their anger in destructive ways, going around vandalizing their neighborhoods but expecting people never to express or even feel anger at all is also harmful and has serious consequences for each one of us.

NEGATIVE CAN BE POSITIVE

When learning mathematics, children find the “two negatives make a positive” concept useful. With emotions, you don’t even need two negatives to make something useful. Just as negative numbers are also real numbers, “negative” emotions are real emotions and it is not only acceptable but natural, to feel them [2]. Therefore, we need to learn how to embrace these unpleasant emotions as a natural and vital part of human experience. In fact, the classification of emotions as positive and negative is completely unnecessary and misleading. Emotions can be useful or not, but there is no reason to divide them into those “good to have” and those we should avoid at all cost.

How exactly are unpleasant emotions natural and useful when they not only make us feel bad but also make others look at us in a different light? Firstly, if we stripped our lives of any unpleasant emotion, we would be basically canceling out a big part of our emotional spectrum. If you think: “Oh well, I don’t mind canceling something out as long as it makes me feel good”, think again. It is practically impossible to live without any distress, so when we think we’re canceling emotions out we are more likely just suppressing them, and it has been proven that when we conceal distress we feel emotionally worse in the long run and end up being less effective and productive [4]. Conversely, accepting and acknowledging the intricacy and complexity of our emotions can prove to be a path to good mental health [7].

So far we’ve established that unpleasant emotions are a natural part of human experience and had an important evolutionary function, but you may still be wondering how useful they are now. It is important to understand that unpleasant emotions coexist with pleasant ones, and both serve as signals of where we are in life and where we should be headed [7]. They are also the principal motivators for change. If we work hard enough to suppress these emotions, we’ll never do anything to rectify the very situation that is causing our dissatisfaction, because we rationalize “why to mess with a winning formula?” or we are actually too scared to change the status quo [2]. This doesn’t only apply to individuals – emotions can be incentives for much bigger changes. Just think of all the people protesting around the world because of various injustices and how they probably felt before they decided to take action.

There are also more specific ways in which unpleasant emotions can be useful. For instance, anxiety can make us problem-solve more quickly in situations where there is a risk of danger and guilt can make us more responsible and help build our moral values [4]. Of course, the key is not to get too carried away with these emotions, since that is when they can become unhealthy. The same goes for sadness: it is natural to feel sad about all sorts of things or to grieve after a loss, but it is when sadness becomes a permanent state of mind without any apparent cause, that it can become harmful.

WHAT TO DO WITH ALL THESE FEELINGS

Instead of always bottling up and trying to ignore unpleasant feelings, it would be smart to first try to acknowledge how you feel without trying to rectify things instantly and stay positive. This isn’t only a useful way to evaluate where you are emotionally, but it will prevent those unpleasant emotions from intensifying. Trying to suppress emotions forcefully can exacerbate and complicate them in the long run [6]. While working on this step, keep in mind that these feelings are natural and nothing to be ashamed of.

While being aware of unpleasant emotions is a great start and it is sometimes enough to acknowledge it and let it pass, it is also important not to fall into the trap of dwelling on these feelings and drowning in those thoughts without trying to solve the cause of the problem [3]. In order to detangle your emotions, it can be helpful to start journaling. It’s a great way to self-reflect and gain some insight into your problem from a different perspective, as things often seem different when they are put down on paper [7]. Another way to shift your perspective is by confiding in someone else, whether it be your partner or a close friend.

If you still feel down and aren’t sure how to deal with your emotions or the circumstances that are causing them, keep in mind that there is no shame in asking for professional help and that by doing so you are actually helping yourself and making a huge step in the right direction. Talking with someone we trust can help us learn how to acknowledge and express all of our emotions without feeling like the world around us is crumbling and it can be a great way to learn how to cope with all our emotions, as we’ve learned it is impossible to avoid them altogether.

References:

  1. Burton, N. (January 7, 2016). What Are Basic Emotions.
  2. Costa, D. (September 28, 2017). The Benefits of Negative Emotions: 3 Keys to Wellbeing.
  3. David, S. (September 6, 2016). Why You Should Embrace Your Darker Emotions.
  4. Gregoire, C. (November 11, 2014). The Importance of Negative Emotions.
  5. Hwang, H. & Matsumoto, D. (2017). Functions of Emotions. In R. Biswas-Diener & E. Diener (Eds), Noba textbook series: Psychology. Champaign, IL: DEF publishers. DOI:nobaproject.com
  6. Newcomer, L. (March 27, 2015). Why Positive Thinking Doesn’t Always Work.
  7. Rodriguez, T. (May 1, 2013). Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being.
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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.