Editorial: A lesson in the need for emotional wellbeing

Ravi Chandiramani
Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The RSA in London was last week the scene of a fiery debate co-hosted by CYP Now and Channel 4 about today's teenagers.

Provocatively entitled Teen Rage - Anarchy in the UK, the event sparked plenty of strong views from the panellists and audience, as they attempted to make sense of what's happening to our teenagers.

From the discussion emerged a strong emphasis on emotional wellbeing. Anthony Seldon, biographer of Tony Blair and headmaster of independent school Wellington College, said he has "a vision of a school where there are no punishments" and rules are devised by pupils. His is the school that last year introduced classes in positive psychology, dubbed "happiness lessons". Pupils learn how to relax when they are worried, make good decisions and manage themselves when they feel lonely or low - in essence, they learn to develop personal responsibility. A Wellington pupil at the debate testified to the effectiveness of the classes on his own wellbeing.

At the other end of the spectrum, Kids Company founder Camila Batmanghelidjh recounted the "sense of relentless terror" of the abused and neglected children her charity comes into contact with. They cope with their pain by shutting down their capacity to feel but in doing so can't experience positive emotions. She expounded the "therapeutic care" it gives these children, who lack a loving attachment to a grown-up. Kids Company applies neurophysiological thinking to foster relationships between children and trusted adults to gradually restore their capacity for happiness.

It is worth noting that Seldon and Batmanghelidjh work respectively with some of society's most privileged and disadvantaged young people. Happiness lessons are all very well in a £20,000-a-year school, but they might be harder to establish in a tough inner-city comprehensive. And most children receive some amount of love, unlike those that enter Kids Company's doors. Yet there is plenty from both their practices to think about for professionals who serve the mainstream - whether this be expressed through a risk-embracing, developmental approach to children's play, or through youth workers developing teenagers' self-awareness outside of the classroom.

Emotional wellbeing is built into Every Child Matters but it ought to be clearly articulated and sought if the happiness of children and young people isn't to be lost in the mix of outcomes and targets.

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