The world around us is undergoing a huge change, and ours is a society in the midst of a transition. With the proliferation of information technology and changing social structures, the youth today has to grapple with concerns that the generation before had probably never even heard of. Unfortunately, while we have made all these changes in society, we haven’t imparted the youth with the skills necessary to be able to deal with the challenges that come their way. It is perhaps for this reason that there is now a growing recognition of the emotional and behavioural problems that children face, as well as the multitude of psychosocial factors that influence their actions and world-views. After all, students are not impervious to the world around them. Everything from family dynamics to media to peers and school environment impact their lives. Unfortunately, while teachers today are bound by their coursework and struggling to complete syllabi to prepare students in time for their examinations, life skills education – perhaps the most crucial aspect of education, is taking a hit. When it comes to life skills education for teenagers, assertiveness, critical thinking, effective decision making and empathy are perhaps the most important. The Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Fortis Healthcare has developed a peer training based life skills program to address precisely this lacuna within our education system. The program has now been running successfully for a decade in Delhi-NCR and has recently been launched in other parts of India as well. We all know that through the teenage years, peers gain utmost importance. The Pro- Social Peer Program, is based on social learning theories in psychology, where there is an attempt to channelize the influence that peers exude. This initiative endeavours utilize the influence of peers to teach adaptive life skills for healthy all round personality development and to reduce and prevent the occurrence of problems such as aggression and violence, substance abuse and delinquency. The primary emphasis is on learning through observation, wherein, the students who are trained become role models for their peers and help other children in learning more adaptive forms of behaviour. There are two salient aspects to this model of life-skills training. For one, rather than following a textbook mode of teaching, the)Prosocial Peer Moderator Program looks at application based life skills education. What this means is that rather than teaching assertiveness or critical thinking in itself, the focus is on how each of these life skills can help students deal with their day to day life in a more effective manner. Life skills are therefore imparted along the following five topics (1) The session on study and exam skills enables students to cope with the social, institutional and personal demands related to academics. At the same time, it is designed to impact skills and strategies to inculcate effective studying practices. (2) The module on aggression management enables students to understand the reasons for their anger and to learn effective techniques to manage and constructively channelize their energies, without being a threat to themselves or others. This module lays emphasis to assertiveness training as an alternative to aggression. (3) The workshop on media literacy is designed to enable students to filter information – to differentiate between more legitimate and reliable sources of information and entertainment, to learn specific skills of critical viewing and decision making and to follow safe media practices. (4) The module on risk behavior management is designed to impart skills and strategies to engage in healthy risk taking alternatives – to identify, analyze, manage and review risks in a way that prevents and reduces the negative consequences of risky behavior such as drug use, unhealthy lifestlyle patterns, roadrage and defiance to name a few. (5) The session on gender sensitization, recently introduced within the scope of the program, given what’s going on in society is designed to empower students with the ability to think critically in order to challenge widely held gender stereotypes and to foster positive attitudes and empathy towards others. The second salient aspect of this program is that this model of training allows students to become directly responsible for their own growth and development, passing the baton to student peer trainers. It is our endeavor to create a community of positive and pro social role models who can, through a ripple effect, impact generations to come. Given the acute shortage of mental healthcare workers in India, peer training is definitely the future of preventive mental health care in the country.

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