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Sreemoyee Sen Ram, Consultant in Social Care and Co-Founder and Joint Director, MHF, Kolkata shares some insights on choices and decision making for adolescents

‘Determining Choices- your life, your pathways’

I was recently present in a conversation with few young adults, in the age group of 18-19 years. They were discussing about their career goals, their perspectives of life, their choices and challenges. It transported me to my days …..after I completed my high school. I found this group so focused and with so much of clarity, at this age. I was so confused then, I thought! They were kind enough to allow a middle aged (and may be still confused) lady to participate in their discussions.

The context & the situation was like this- three of them had got admission in few colleges of their choice. They even managed a bursary in one. The sanction for hostel accommodation and partial reimbursement of another component of a tuition fee were pending due to some internal procedures, in one college. They knew what they wanted as a choice of courses but didn’t know which to opt for. They didn’t know how to sort the choices out in terms of suitability. The facilities available in the colleges were tempting and conducive for future learnings and lucrative career opportunities. But what to do next? To narrow down to 1-2 college/s---those decisions seemed to make them anxious and irritable. My mind drifted to the importance of life-skills teachings in solving problems and dilemmas.

Adolescents face multiple challenges as they grow older in this changing world. In a constantly changing environment, using life skills knowledge becomes an essential part of being able to meet the challenges of everyday life. The dramatic changes in global economies over the past five to ten years have been matched with the transformation in technology and these are all impacting on education, the workplace and our home life. To cope with the increasing pace and change of modern life, students need new life skills such as the ability to deal with stress and frustration. Today’s students will have many new jobs over the course of their lives, with associated pressures and the need for flexibility.

Life skills are those abilities that help promote mental well-being and competence in young people as they face the realities of life. Life skills empower young people to take positive action, to protect themselves and promote health and positive social relationships. Developing life skills helps adolescents translate knowledge, attitudes and values into healthy behaviour, such as acquiring the ability to reduce health risks and adopt the kind of behaviour that improves their lives.

Components:

Critical thinking skills/ decision making

  • Encourage information gathering,
  • Promote evaluation with future consequences with present actions (of self & others);
  • Allows consideration of alternative solutions;
  • Analyse the value system (of self & others);
  • Enable problem solving capacities and build confidence to take decisions.

Interpersonal Communication skills-

  • Distinguish and promote verbal& non-verbal skills,
  • Encourage active listening;
  • Guide adolescents on negotiating skills and ability to manage conflicts;
  • Promote values like empathy;
  • Allow them to work through team building and team work.

Coping and Self- management skills-

  • Building self- esteem, self-awareness, self- evaluation and ability to set goals;
  • Handling anger, disappointments, anxiety and coping with loss or trauma

A sample of the life skills classes would include:

Lesson Lesson Goals Key Skills
Self-Esteem To teach students about self-esteem and how it is developed. Sharing thoughts and feelings; reframing thoughts on personal abilities; demonstrating a personal skill to peers.
Decision-Making To teach students a simple step-by-step process for making decisions. Group decision-making; sharing ideas in a small group.
Smoking Information To introduce reasons some people smoke. Practicing pulse taking and exercising; small group discussion; questioning; cause and effect reasoning.
Advertising To develop an awareness of how tobacco advertisers manipulate advertisements to entice people to smoke. Analyzing ad techniques; creating counter advertisements.
Dealing with Stress To teach students to recognize stress and to practice techniques to deal with stress. Practicing stretching and deep breathing; finding what works.
Communication Skills To teach students how feelings are communicated. Group discussion of feeling words and verbal communication; practicing non-verbal communication; practicing “body language.”
Social Skills To help students learn ways of building and maintaining friendships. Brainstorming /discussion; analysis of terms; sharing perceptions about friendship.
Assertiveness To teach students refusal skills. Practicing & analyzing different ways to say, "No"; practicing refusal skills in pairs; practicing in small groups or in front of the class

I hope the framework helps. It can however be adapted to situations and contexts.

Sreemoyee Sen Ram.
Consultant in Social Care.

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