4.2 Emotional literacy for wellbeing
There has been ongoing interest, in both academic and policy circles, in emotional literacy and what some have termed ‘emotional intelligence’ (Merchán-Clavellino et al., 2020), and much of this attention has been focused on children and young people. There have been a number of programmes in UK schools aimed at helping children and young people to develop skills in dealing with and expressing emotions. Initiatives of this kind can be seen as reflecting the ‘new emotionality’ of contemporary culture analysed by many commentators.
In their different ways, writers such as Sanford (2017) and Watson (2008) have analysed late modern society's growing concern with the cultivation of the self, which is seen as something that needs to be worked on and developed, rather than simply as a ‘given’. (Comparisons can be made with the notion of the body as unfinished noted by Evans et al., 2004, and discussed in Section 2.) From this perspective, learning how to handle one's emotions is essential for success in learning and employment, and for achieving fulfilling personal relationships. Educational programmes designed to assist boys often target the development of their social, emotional and communication skills (McLeod, 2002, p. 213).
One of the organisations working with the UK government to improve young people's emotional literacy is Antidote, which works with schools and other organisations ‘to help shape learning environments that give young people the best possible opportunity to achieve and make a positive contribution’ (Antidote, 2005).
It is noticeable (and no accident) that Antidote's aims echo the language of the government's declared aim of helping young people to ‘achieve’ and ‘make a positive contribution’ as stated in the outcomes in Positive for Youth (HM Government, 2013). Arguably, the government's encouragement of ‘emotional literacy’ programmes for children and young people is part of the new model of the healthy young person as a skilful, coping and enterprising individual that you analysed in Section 2.
Clearly, programmes that encourage young people to cope with their emotions more effectively are of value in promoting their emotional wellbeing. However, it can be argued that an exclusive emphasis on such programmes risks returning to a model that individualises mental health, locating the ‘problem’ and its solution in the individual young person's personal skills or lack of them, and drawing attention away from the social and contextual factors which require strategies and solutions at a societal level (as discussed in Section 2).