In this article, Rhona Philp, Lifelink’s Training and Enterprise Officer, writes for the Scottish Recovery Network’s December update on how the emotional literacy programme is improving the lives of young people.
If someone were to ask you to define the term “emotional literacy”, would this pose a challenge? It’s an uncommon phrase for many, but the basic idea makes a lot of sense. It makes even more sense for us to grasp the concept from a young age. To be emotionally literate is to recognise, understand and effectively communicate the feelings you experience and to be aware of the impact these can have on your own life and on the lives of those around you. The last part is the most crucial, too many people grow up not knowing the potentially harmful effects unchecked emotions can have on their lives.
Compounding this gap between perception and reality, young people today have the added pressure of social media. While we recognise the benefits social media can reap in terms of helping young people stay connected, it is vital to remember it can bring many issues with potentially damaging consequences. According to a study conducted by the BBC in February of this year 96% of young people (aged 13-18) are signed up to at least one social media platform. Every day young people will measure themselves through their social media pages. They’re motivated to check-in with what their friends are up to for Fear Of Missing Out (known as “FOMO”), upload photos of new outfits, purchases and haircuts and then leave themselves open to scrutiny, good or bad.
Young people’s minds are constantly active with connections, statements, conflict and provocation, leaving very little time to connect with themselves, be mindful of their own mental state and consider their emotional wellbeing. The constant pressure to keep up and tune in coupled with a lack of understanding of what emotions and feelings mean result in a life crammed full of challenges and recovery from even the most minor of issues can feel totally out of control. This is where Lifelink steps in.
Lifelink Youth’s training programme, “Young People and Emotional Literacy” works to improve existing skills and knowledge and to teach young people the principles of becoming emotionally literate. Lifelink’s work is an experiential, client-centred, whole-person approach with the aim that any young person can benefit and take these skills with them, whether they are currently experiencing problems or not.
How does it work?
Lifelink’s emotional literacy course is based around four main areas: self-awareness, self-management (e.g. motivation, planning, self-appraisal and relaxation skills), other awareness and relationship management. We use fun exercises to encourage movement; group exercises to discuss issues and drama exercises to explore difficult emotions – all in a way and at a pace that suits those taking part.
Although mostly done in a group setting, there is a chance to tailor the work to a specific situation if required. For example, skill rehearsal can help identify potentially difficult situations and the emotions that might arise, while practising responses in a safe space. Young people learn to understand “emotional hijacking” and how to regain control using emotions to make better choices. By using these techniques the young person is allowed the space to explore real versus ideal self-images and prepare for future real-life scenarios.
The Emotional Literacy programme encourages young people to use movement as well as their minds. Research has found bodily movement stimulates neural network development in the brain which helps learning and the development of stronger emotional intelligence. Breathing and relaxation exercises along with creative exploration and discussion are also used within the groups. By engaging with their logical and creative brain, they can raise self-esteem and learn new coping techniques that last a lifetime. Working both sides of the brain simultaneously creates a richer learning experience, allows those taking part to reach their full potential and boosts stronger memory retention.
Why is this so beneficial?
Lifelink’s group work communicates responsibility and empowers young people to be in control of their actions, behaviours and attitudes. It teaches them that thinking differently while being aware of how they feel results in a different – and better – outcome. They learn that they’re in charge of their emotions, no-one else can control how they feel. They learn acceptance: that everyone is different in their feelings and experiences and that’s okay. Lifelink reminds young people that feelings and behaviour are completely separate, and that all feelings are justified and important. We also highlight that change is possible and in fact humans have a natural tendency towards growth and health. By taking control and responsibility for our actions we can manifest this in a positive, healthy way, which is enormously empowering for young people to learn.
How does emotional literacy link to recovery?
The main aim of Lifelink Youth is to support empowerment, build resilience and improve the mental health of young people. By providing a high-quality service that’s focussed on the individual, we support positive mental wellbeing and, to quote our vision, make people “healthier and happier wherever they live, work or learn”. Having strong emotional resilience, the ability to adapt to stressful situations and crises without experiencing lasting difficulties, emotional awareness creates, quite simply, an individual who is more content and resilient to life’s challenges. Having the space to deal with previous issues and better understanding of new situations or people allows for both recovery and “buffer-space” against future challenges. Generating awareness of this control allows the young person to recognise the power they have in their own lives. Rather than being at the mercy of outside forces, they have the skills and ability to take action and aid their own recovery.
To be emotionally literate is to believe in your own strength and see positive possibilities as well as understand and accept support when it’s offered. Problems are no longer seen as obstacles but as challenges, feelings of victimisation are decreased and the individual can use thinking and behaviour to guide their emotions – rather than the other way around. Ultimately high emotional intelligence, means high emotional resilience.
Strong, positive mental health and wellbeing is at the core of children and young people’s ability to develop, learn and progress through life. After completing the emotional literacy course young people have reduced levels of stress and are at a point where they have acquired the emotional tools and capabilities required to better handle life’s challenges.
Lifelink Youth currently delivers its emotional literacy programme in 43 secondary schools across Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire, we work with 1200+ young people aged 11-18 every year.
For more information contact Training and Enterprise Officer Rhona Philp on: 0141 559 6714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.