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Empowering Young People

Adolescence has often been defined as a period within the life span when most of the person’s physical, psychological and social characteristics are in a state of transition from childhood to adulthood. This adolescence stage can be described as ‘Identity versus Identity Confusion’. While the adolescent’s sense of identity begins to emerge, he may suffer more deeply than at any other time in his life from a confusion of roles. Characteristic of this stage of adolescence is increased risk-taking behaviour along with exploratory behaviour and experimentation with a wide range of new and different behaviours. This is recognised as normal adolescent development. Central to our role as educators is the question, ‘How do we best protect our young people during adolescence to facilitate their development and engage them in the learning process?’ To achieve this we must arrive at a closer understanding and articulation of the links between emotional literacy, thinking skills and values education.

Clearly, emotional processes have a significant impact upon an ability to learn, to think and to make decisions. Self-awareness; expressing and managing feelings; impulse control; handling stress; empathy and understanding are vital. The emotionally intelligent adolescent confronted with risk-taking dilemmas and temptations will acknowledge initial reactions and impulses and challenge automatic impulses. He will understand that while it is one thing to have initial thoughts and reactions it is quite another to act on them.

Teaching students to become effective thinkers is increasingly recognised as an immediate goal of education. As a critical thinker, the adolescent will recognise the negative consequences of making hasty, unplanned decisions. Having rehearsed techniques and strategies of reasoning, problem solving and decision making, the adolescent will be better prepared to challenge self-destructive activities.

Underpinning the development of autonomous young people is the need for them to formulate a set of values. In a culture of ‘anything goes’ educators have been challenged or completely rejected as didactic teachers of moral values. It is important that young people do not see morality as a system imposed on them. Rather we need to allow them the opportunity to explore, discuss and validate or confirm their own moral code in a safe and supportive environment. Regardless of their experiences outside of the classroom it is incumbent on teachers to promote opportunities for adolescents to apply moral principles in their thinking, and clarify their own value systems. Supporting young people through the adolescent years is a huge responsibility. Only by facilitating them to develop emotionally, to become constructive, creative and critical thinkers and to establish a values system for themselves are they equipped to deal with the personal issues they face growing up.

Eileen Donnelly

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