Learning life skills helps secondary students adapt to wellbeing challenges

Research by life skills e-learning provider Persona Education shows how teenagers can consciously adapt to achieve positive outcomes, says Pete Read, founder CEO

We hear more and more about wellbeing in the education world – especially now, with the additional pressures COVID-19 has piled on our young people. The PERMAH model suggests wellbeing is cultivated by the presence of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment and health.

The PERMAH wellbeing concept

Source: Prof Martin Seligman and The Wellbeing Lab

The long-term benefits of mental and social wellbeing among teens include higher educational attainment, more success in competitive situations such as job interviews or university applications, better life choices, higher productivity in work, and greater life satisfaction.

The challenge for teenagers

But wellbeing needs work, and for teenagers in secondary school or college, the mental and social aspects of wellbeing are often the most challenging.

The brain’s pre-frontal cortex continues to develop until the early- to mid-20s, so the processes that this area of the brain handles can change dramatically during the teenage years. These include social cognition, self-regulation, cognitive control and emotional regulation.

Fortunately these processes are potentially open to conscious adaptation. Understanding, trying out and practising this adaptability can help teenagers achieve more positive outcomes in the day-to-day challenges they face.

Developing life skills

Social contact is the number one topic of interest for most teens – including relationships with friends, boy/girlfriends, teachers, classmates, parents, siblings, sports teammates and more. These all have a huge impact on wellbeing and they all depend heavily on effective communication and appropriate behaviour in different situations.

Developing an awareness and understanding of their own mix of personality and communication styles, and other people’s, helps young people improve the life skills that can make or break the success of their relationships. These essential skill sets include capabilities such as being realistic, communication skills, being open-minded, problem solving, being resilient and practising self-control.

Learning to recognise and use these skills is a route to the conscious adaptability that can help teens achieve positive outcomes in relationships of all kinds; from friendship groups to teachers to interviews.

Practical thinking

Thinking frameworks such as the personality and communication styles concept developed by e-learning provider Persona Education offer young people an approach they can use to develop these types of life skills.

“A useful thinking framework has to be easily internalised and able to become part of the student lexicon rapidly”Dr Leila Walker, CPO and co-founder, Persona Education

Such a framework must be practical, focusing on the student’s strengths of course, but also pointing out growth areas to bear in mind. For example, someone who loves building relationships – a positive characteristic – may also fear having disagreements, which could hold them back. They need to be aware of both sides of the coin.

Crucially, a thinking framework must also be easy to remember to be of any use in practice. Persona Education’s approach, the Persona Life Skills e-learning web app for schools, uses memorable adjectives – animated, decisive, rational and sociable – to describe different personality and communication styles.

Persona Life Skills personality & communication styles

Source: Persona Education Ltd

Students start adopting these terms naturally after only one or two e-learning modules.

Room to grow

One of the most attractive aspects of the personality insights approach to developing life skills is that there is no attainment ladder, no good or bad. Regardless of who they are, every student is equal, because none of the styles is any better or worse than the others. In fact everyone has a unique mix of styles.

Many younger secondary school-aged children have a mix of personality and communication styles that is focused around the animated style, with some rational characteristics which come into play when they’re more relaxed.

Animated style characteristics include being imaginative, talking about ideas and feelings, and relishing experiences. Rational characteristics include information gathering, analysing factual evidence, and reflecting upon it.

Some of the adaptations young people with this combination of styles might consider employing to improve their communication and relationships include more active listening, trying not to interrupt, being realistic with ideas and tasks, not overbearing others who may be less confident, and trying to be more patient, organised and disciplined.

Persona Education is offering a three-month free trial of its Persona Life Skills e-learning platform for secondary schools and colleges interested in helping their pupils develop useful life skills and boost wellbeing long-term.

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