Academic journal article The Future of Children

Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Adolescents

Academic journal article The Future of Children

Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Adolescents

Article excerpt

Summary

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.

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Adolescence is a period of tremendous learning, exploration, and opportunity. Yet it's also a time when behavioral and health problems can emerge or worsen, with negative consequences that last long into adulthood. For instance, people who are victimized or bullied during adolescence can later become more aggressive and more depressed. (1) Extreme school-discipline policies can push young people toward delinquency as adolescents and toward criminal behavior as young adults, even if they weren't inclined to be delinquent before (a phenomenon called the school-to-prison pipeline). (2) And failing to complete high school on time predicts lower health, wealth, and happiness over the lifespan, even for people who later earn a GED. (3)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs for adolescents are appealing in part because they may prevent such problems. 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.

Adolescents may especially need this kind of social and emotional help, fust when academic work becomes more difficult and friendships become less stable, the brain's method of processing emotions undergoes a dramatic transformation. (4) The onset of puberty--which marks the beginning of adolescence--causes changes in brain structure and hormone activity that can make even minor social difficulties like peer rejection extremely painful and hard to deal with. (5) Those biological changes also create a more intense thrill from risky behavior, especially when it may win peers' admiration. (6) Last, adolescents expect more autonomy and independence in personal choices such as whom to be friends with. (7) In sum, adolescents are learning how to handle new demands in school and social life while learning to deal with new, intense emotions, and increasingly feeling like they should do so without adult guidance. SEL programs are one way to help them navigate these difficulties.

But do SEL programs work for adolescents? If so, how well and under what conditions? And how can they be improved? This article reviews these questions. …

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