Life Choices: Teaching Adolescents to Make Positive Decisions about Their Own Lives

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Phil Carradice

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    How to Use the CD-ROM

    The CD-ROM contains a PDF file labelled ‘Colour illustrations.pdf’ which consists of posters for each lesson in this resource. You will need Acrobat Reader version 3 or higher to view and print these resources.

    The documents are set up to print to A4 but you can enlarge them to A3 by increasing the output percentage at the point of printing using the page setup settings for your printer.

    The CD-Rom content can be found at the beginning of each chapter

    Preface

    Making choices is central to the human condition. From the moment we become conscious human beings we can begin to choose how we respond and with whom we interact in the social world. The ability to choose increases through time. The individual's self-awareness, self-esteem, locus of control (that is, the ability to gain internal control) all impact upon these choices and the ways in which they are made.

    The stories in this series are based around the problems and joys of living as a child and young person within the twenty first century. They highlight the essential choices that people have to make in order to survive and function in a world that can seem complex and, at times, difficult to understand.

    This series consists of three books which aim to help children and young people to make the kinds of choices that will achieve the best possible outcomes. There is consequently a focus throughout on the ways in which both feelings and the brain inform behaviour and our capacity to influence and make good life choices. The intention is to encourage the listener to become aware of the differences between thinking, feeling and behaving and the ways in which they can distinguish between responses based on thoughts or feelings and the majority of responses which are based on both. The aim is to encourage them to distinguish between impulsive or well thought out responses which allow for good and positive outcomes.

    The series provides a ‘safe’ medium, the story, in which children can both identify and reflect upon good and negative choices and the outcomes that will ensue from both. Each book is designed to target a specific age range from early years to late adolescence. There are themes that are common to all three books. These include issues such as bullying, racism, inclusion, peer pressure, grief, loss, separation and coping with change among others which are pertinent to young people's lives and experiences.

    Each book contains a series of stories which include opportunities for discussion, reflection and a range of follow on and reinforcement activities. There is a focus throughout on creativity and problem-solving which can be undertaken within a climate of empathy, tolerance and mutual support. The stories in the series would fulfil many of the PSHE/Citizenship requirements. Although the primary aim of the stories is to help children to make good choices and to become good citizens, we would emphasise the importance of the stories themselves. They are not merely didactic tools. They are meant to be read or listened to and enjoyed in their own right.

    MargaretCollins, TinaRae and PhilCarradice

    Introduction and Background

    The ability to make choices is an essential element of the human condition. From the first moment we become conscious human beings we begin to make choices about how we respond to situations and stimuli. Equally as important, we begin to decide with whom we will interact in the social world.

    This ability to make logical and rational choices increases as we grow and develop. This involves concepts such as self-awareness and the gaining of internal controls. Each individual's self-awareness and ability to sustain these vitally important internal controls will impact both upon the choices that are made and the ways in which they are then implemented.

    There are many ways of looking at behaviour. Traditional behaviourists view it as a product of the environment. On the other hand the cognitive view is that behaviour is the product of person variables. The cognitive behavioural model takes the view that individual thoughts and feelings work with the environment to form a ‘mutual influence system’, focusing on how people respond to their interpretations of experiences rather than just the experience itself or the environment. (Kendall 1993)

    Clearly, then, thoughts and emotions are related or linked. The cognitive behaviour model is based on the premise that personal problems often occur because of irrational thinking. The main cause of unwanted or undesirable behaviour is therefore the connection between thoughts and emotions. (Ronen 1997)

    Cognitive and Affective Domains

    In order to make effective choices in our lives we need to be aware that feelings and logical thinking inform our behaviours. The purpose behind this book is to help students become aware of the differences between well thought out choices and emotional responses – and to gain an understanding that behaviour is often a combination of both. It presents them with a wide range of options, helping them to understand the difference between well thought out reactions and impulsive ones, hopefully helping them to gain the best possible outcomes when they are faced with ‘choice situations’ in real life.

    The medium of the short story provides students with a safe situation within which they can explore, identify and reflect upon the choices characters have made. The twelve stories are all based around the problems (and joys) of living as an adolescent in the twenty first century.

    Locus of Control

    The stories in this book show children and adults reacting to certain situations where they either have or do not have internal controls. Internal control comes when individuals feel that they are in control of and are responsible for their own behaviours. The issue of external controls, where an individual feels that he or she is being controlled or that their behaviours are the direct result of the behaviour of others, is also explored.

    The stories contain a strong emphasis on the need to develop internal control in order to make appropriate choices that will help develop positive behaviours. The concept of living with the consequences of choices or decisions – for good or for bad – is also explored in the stories.

    Emotional Literacy

    The characters in these stories have to deal with a wide range of problems. They have to make choices about how they can (and, ultimately, do) respond to the situations in which they find themselves. Their choices involve and hinge upon their ability to engage both their brains and their emotions. How they manage their feelings and cope with the effects of their decisions is central to the purpose of the book.

    Students are asked to reflect upon their own feelings and behaviours – through the personas of the characters involved – so that they, in turn, can successfully recognise and work with the wide range of problems and dilemmas that they face each day. Surviving in a world that can, sometimes, seem increasingly hostile and unwelcoming requires significant emotional sophistication.

    Peter Sharp (2001) suggests four main reasons why emotional literacy should be promoted in children:

    • We need to recognise our emotions in order to label and define them.
    • We need to understand our emotions in order to become effective learners.
    • We need to manage our emotions in order to develop/sustain positive relationships.
    • We need to appropriately express emotions to develop as fully rounded people who can help both those around us and ourselves.

    In order to express emotion appropriately people have to develop internal controls, using both the brain and emotion in order to make choices. Recognising and preventing impulsive responses when they are not helpful is part of the concept of developing positive internal controls.

    Aim of the Stories

    The overall aim of the stories in this book is to help students make good choices that will affect their lives. Making these choices involves using both the brain and the emotions. The aims of this book are:

    • to enable students to understand how thoughts, feelings and behaviours are related
    • to encourage students to develop internal controls
    • to enable students to reflect and develop strategies that will modify and inform behaviours
    • to help students recognise impulsive responses and learn how to inhibit these.
    • to help students become aware of the intentions of others
    • to help students become aware of the responses of other people to their behaviours
    • to assist students in becoming aware of the consequences of their actions
    • to encourage students to identify good solutions to problems and then to make appropriate choices of action
    • to help students develop a wide range of alternative solutions to problems
    • to develop understanding of self, self-esteem and self-worth, including issues such as tolerance and diversity
    • to assist students in gaining an understanding of the worth and value of other people and to develop an understanding of the validity of different positions or stances
    • to encourage problem-solving skills.

    The Story Topics

    These twelve stories all involve making choices, of one sort or another. Whether they are the correct choices is another matter. The following topics have been highlighted in the stories, sometimes as a specific theme, sometimes as one of several overlapping themes or ideas that run through several of the stories:

    • bullying
    • friendship groups and inclusion
    • vandalism
    • delinquent behaviour
    • disability issues
    • being different
    • running away from home
    • race and prejudice
    • cheating
    • acceptance by the group
    • teenage pregnancy
    • alcohol abuse
    • first love
    • lying
    • problem relatives
    • getting your own back
    • drug abuse
    • loneliness and vulnerability
    • shielding others from retribution
    • the search for fame
    • using others
    • antisocial behaviour.

    Using the Stories

    There are several ways of using the stories. At the most basic level pupils can simply read them and give consideration to the issues involved. Reflection is a hugely valuable process and will take pupils outside the classroom environment, offering them ideas and concepts that may take days or weeks to come to fruition.

    However, perhaps a more immediately effective way of tackling the concerns that are addressed in the stories is to read them together, as a class exercise. The stories are designed and have been written with the express purpose of being read aloud. They are intended for teachers to present, almost as a dramatic exercise, and then discuss the contents, either with the full class or on an individual basis, analysing the choices that each of the characters has to make.

    There are several points in each story where the reading can be stopped and discussion around the issues – and the all-important choices that characters make – can take place. Similarly, at the end of each story there is ample opportunity to debate and discuss the events and the moral issues behind them. Some teachers might prefer to curtail all discussion until the end of the reading. It does not matter which way it is done, as long as debate or discussion does actually take place. Discussion is perhaps the most valuable of all exercises that can come out of these stories.

    However, there are also a number of written exercises that can be particularly useful and these are outlined at the end of each specific story. These are, effectively, structures or formulas for pieces of creative writing. They are guidelines only and do not, in any way, preclude other pieces of creative writing – as decided by the teacher and/or pupils – emerging from the stories.

    The issue of choice remains. As each story presents the characters, main or minor ones alike, with a number of choices one of the most useful tactics is to debate – either orally or in writing – the ‘rightness’ of the choice made. Did the character make the correct decision? What other way could they have gone?

    References

    Carradice, P. (1994) Borderlines. Moral Dilemmas for Secondary Pupils. Bristol. Lucky Duck Publishing. (Out of print.)
    Kendal, P. C. (1993) Cognitive-behavioural Therapies with Youth: Guiding Theory. Current Status and Emerging Development. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology61 (2) 235–247http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.61.2.235
    Sharp, P. (2001) Nurturing Emotional Literacy: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Parents and Those in the Caring Professions. London. David Fulton Publishers.
    Ronen, T. (1997) Cognitive Developmental Therapy with Young Children. England. Wiley.

    The Stories and Activities

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