Nurturing Social and Emotional Literacy in Youth

What supports could have helped you while you were growing up?

Growing up is hard. The transition from youth to adulthood is filled with expectations and judgments that are often under the surface, and how they act in these scenarios can greatly impact how they are seen throughout their early years.

Debra Giunta is an entrepreneur and social and emotional learning (SEL) leader and program developer whose projects, primarily in the realm of secondary education, aim to set young people up for managing what they will need all throughout their adult lives. Much of her work takes into consideration what we expect of our youth and what supports we can put in place to get them there.

Recognizing that youth aren’t adults

Adults have a tendency to seek contradictory traits in young people. As Debra points out,  adults strive to preserve children’s innocence while also becoming frustrated when they don’t grasp concepts beyond their experience or maturity.

These unrealistic expectations can also supersede the understanding that children and teens are still developing. On a physiological level, we’re well aware that the brain continues to evolve until the mid-twenties. At the same time, we can attach a single behavior at a pivotal moment to the full length of a young person’s adolescence. This is how a freshman who gets in trouble shoplifting, for instance, winds up flagged as a “bad kid” for the duration of their high school career. It’s undeniable that such labels raise significant barriers around progress and confidence.

Debra explains that addressing this isn’t a matter of not holding kids accountable for their behavior. Rather, it calls for remaining hopeful and supportive of young people in all the moments surrounding the events that require discipline.

Building Prismatic to fill a gap in social education

In 2016, Debra founded Prismatic, which centers “career development [that helps] young people rise and thrive as leaders”. She had spotted some disparities between the offerings in available college readiness programs—largely focused on academic achievement—and the questions teens were asking her in the classroom. 

When she was presented to students as an entrepreneur, they had countless questions, but instead of inquiries about courses to take or how to create a business plan, they wanted to hear about where she found the confidence to start her business and how she had known she could accomplish it.

Listening to students led to the development of Prismatic, which explores three primary aspects:

  1. What is your mission? What do you care about and want to change? What are you uniquely positioned to do?
  2. What are your interests? Beyond the school subjects at which you excel, what do you love to do?
  3. What are you good at? Everyone is good at something, whether it’s math or doodling, chemistry or playing video games.

Not only does a framework like this serve teens heading into the “real” world, but it can also be applied, over and over throughout their lives, as they grow and change.

In this episode of the podcast, Debra is generous with her stories and inspiration. Her insights can help us all discover a new way to view the vital nature of social and emotional learning in every young person’s life.

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