Developing Emotional Intelligence through Youth Mentoring in Israel
Emotional Intelligence: What is it and why is it important?
We have all known kids who are very bright, yet they have difficulty connecting with peers and consequently have few if any friends. They are not good team players, respond inappropriately to authority figures, and are unable to articulate their needs and desires. These children could be shy and withdrawn, or overly aggressive. They could be the victims or the bully. Developing emotional intelligence is an important goal for every child.
Children with emotional intelligence deficits do not do well in group settings despite their intellectual gifts. Conversely, we have all known the opposite – that child who is not gifted intellectually, but achieves success beyond what we would expect. How do we explain this?
Over the last 20 years, we have come to realize that intellectual intelligence is only part of the story. While a high IQ is definitely helpful, by itself, it does not predict success in life. Daniel Goleman, a Harvard trained psychologist and science writer for the New York Times, introduced the concept of Emotional Intelligence in 1995 with his popular book “Emotional Intelligence: Why it may matter more than IQ.” He noted that people with high emotional intelligence tend to be more successful in life than those with lower EI, even if their intellectual ability is average.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize one’s own emotions and those of others, to be able to discriminate between different feelings and to label them appropriately. It is also the ability to use that emotional information to guide one’s thinking and behavior. Self-awareness coupled with being able to “read” social cues and respond appropriately not only helps us get along better with others, it also leads to more success in problem solving, better stress tolerance and better impulse control. These are necessary character traits for success in any environment and lead to something we refer to as “social competence.”
How do we develop emotional intelligence and social competence?
For many kids it is something that happens naturally in the process of growing up and relating to others. It involves being in environments where the child has the opportunity to express himself and to get feedback from others. Through trial and error, children learn to associate certain feelings with specific facial expressions and other non-verbal cues – and to adapt their behavior accordingly. Unfortunately, not all children are equally adept at developing social competence and suffer rejection, isolation and low self-esteem as a result.
For the child who is struggling in this area, whose emotions are overwhelming him and creating havoc at home or in the class room, social competency skills can be taught. One of the most successful methods for doing this is through mentoring. Within the mentoring relationship, which is private and confidential, the child is encouraged to express himself and get feedback from the mentor on how his behavior comes across. He learns how his facial expressions appear to another person, and equally important, how to interpret the non-verbal cues of the mentor. Within the safety of this relationship, the child is able to learn to communicate, how to cooperate, and how to solve conflicts. While there may be many differing activities involved in mentoring, the primary goal and focus is to develop the child’s emotional intelligence and social competence.
Why is this especially relevant today?
The typical adolescent today spends 7 hours/day involved in social media. That means they are missing 7 hours from their lives for face-to-face interactions which are vital for learning to read and express emotions. Adolescence is a natural time when kids are struggling to recognize their own emotions and others. Various studies indicate that the development of empathy takes place in adolescence, between the ages of 13 and 15, the very years that kids are heavy social media users. We know that people need to be able to maintain eye contact to notice subtle non-verbal cues and thus, for the development of empathy. Combine this lack of eye-contact time with the desensitization that occurs when repeatedly exposed to screen violence, and we seem to be in an era which discourages the development of interpersonal connection and empathy. In fact, Jennifer, Aaker, reviewing multiple studies involving 14,000 college students demonstrated a sharp decline in the empathy trait over the last 10 years.
Technology is here to stay, and if anything, becoming more pervasive. This means that if we want to raise children who understand themselves and are able to relate successfully to others, we have to make a conscious effort to teach these skills in our homes and our institutions. Kav L’Noar is doing that on an individual level by providing community based mentoring to children ages 10-18. In addition, we are providing group mentoring in 20 Israeli schools where the curriculum of the groups is the development of social competence and emotional intelligence. If we want our kids to be successful in life, we have to provide them the tools to make that happen and one of the most important tools we can provide is the ability to function in a social setting.
This article is the first in a series on Emotional Intelligence. Future articles will cover specific examples of how children can be helped to develop their potential in emotional intelligence, and how parents can assist them.
Rina Berkus, Clinical Supervisor, Kav L’noar