Image of young smiling african woman student studying outdoors. Looking aside.

Programs that teach Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills are usually designed for younger students, but there are SEL topics for high school students too. High school is a time of major transition and heightened emotions—and it’s essential to provide tools that help teenagers learn how to manage their feelings and behavior in healthy ways. 

However, SEL topics and activities should be more than just rehashes of those used for elementary and middle school students. They should be tailored to the real-life experiences of high schoolers. At a time when teenagers find plenty of things “lame,” it’s crucial to develop engaging activities that capture their interest and teach them practical, useful skills.

Here are some SEL topics that high school students can benefit from.

Developing Self-Awareness and Confidence

High school is a time when teens start to explore their identities and build their self-confidence. It is a crucial period for developing a sense of self-worth and the courage to take risks. A great way to help them do this is through activities that encourage self-reflection and exploration of their interests, strengths, and values. 

A simple exercise to start with is positive affirmations. Encourage students to write down a few positive qualities they possess and read them aloud to themselves (and others, if they’re comfortable) at the start of the day.

Another hobby to introduce to high schoolers is journaling. Through this, students are encouraged to write down their thoughts and feelings. It can help them become more aware of their emotions and better understand how they react in different situations. 

One fun activity is to have students make a “confidence board,” which they can decorate with quotes, photos, and other items that remind them of their strengths and accomplishments. This helps young adults recognize the qualities they bring to the table while also serving as a source of motivation when they feel uncertain or unsure of themselves. 

Lastly, a fun project for them to do is to create a self-portrait. Not only does it encourage self-expression, but it also develops their creative skills and helps them learn to appreciate their unique features. 

Setting Goals

Teenagers are uniquely positioned to set goals and plan for their future. Workshops that help them think through and articulate what they want in their lives can be very beneficial.

In these workshops, students brainstorm short-term and long-term goals they’d like to achieve—either related to their academic performance or personal development—and then devise action plans for reaching them. It’s also an excellent opportunity for teachers and mentors to provide guidance on setting realistic objectives that are attainable within a specific timeframe.

In relation to setting goals, an important topic to discuss with students is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. Teens can be incredibly hard on themselves and have difficulty seeing failure as an opportunity to grow. Working with them to recognize that setbacks are part of the learning process can be a powerful experience.

Building Relationships

It’s crucial for high schoolers to develop and maintain healthy relationships. But it can be difficult to navigate all the different dynamics of friendships, romantic partnerships, and family relationships.

A mentoring program is a good start for teaching teens how to build and maintain relationships. This could involve pairing up students with adult mentors or having older students mentor younger ones. 

Mentoring programs help foster understanding, trust, and respect between participants while also creating an environment where they can practice problem-solving skills in real-life situations. 

Sports activities are another effective way to foster relationships. Not only do they promote physical and mental well-being, but they also teach teamwork, cooperation, and communication.

Whether it’s a traditional team sport or an activity such as yoga or rock climbing, these activities can be extremely valuable for helping young adults develop the skills necessary for healthy relationships. 

Managing Stress

High school can be very stressful—from tests and assignments to extracurricular activities and social pressures. Teaching young students how to manage stress effectively will prepare them for heavier responsibilities in college and beyond. 

A technique that both teens and adults can benefit from is mindfulness. Teaching high schoolers how to practice mindfulness—which is simply the act of being present in the moment without judgment—can help them stay grounded and focused when life gets overwhelming.

Another helpful exercise is to have students create a “stress map,” in which they identify the sources of their stress and brainstorm ways to cope. This helps young adults become more aware of the factors contributing to their stress levels while also giving them tools to manage it. 

Making Decisions

Teens have to make many decisions, from how to spend their free time to which college they want to attend or job they want to pursue. Decision-making is a valuable skill that can help them become more independent and successful in the future.

One way to teach young adults how to make decisions is through “decision-making simulations.” In these activities, students are presented with a scenario and must come up with the best solution by considering the pros and cons of each option. They can practice making decisions in a low-stakes environment without fear of failure or judgment—and learn to think critically about their choices.

It’s helpful to discuss current events and real-life examples with teens to illustrate the importance of decision-making. This can help young adults understand how their decisions can have an effect on their lives and the lives of others. Topics like the College Admissions Scandal, the Black Lives Matter movement, or the criminal justice system can be used to illustrate the power of decision-making.

Bottom Line

Teaching SEL to high schoolers is just as crucial as teaching it to younger students. But the approach must be tailored to the unique developmental needs of this age group. Often, it involves one-on-one conversations, group activities, and simulations that help teens develop self-awareness and confidence, make decisions, set goals, and build other important life skills.

By providing high school students with the right SEL topics and activities—and making them as engaging as possible—educators can give young adults the tools they need to succeed in their academic endeavors and beyond.

References:

Why High School SEL Programs Feel Lame and How to Fix Them: https://www.edweek.org/leadership/why-high-school-sel-programs-feel-lame-and-how-to-fix-them/2021/10

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Noah Edis

Noah Edis

Noah is a freelance writer and systems engineer with an interest in behavioral psychology. When he's not working on his latest project, you can find him playing competitive dodgeball.

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