Let’s Start Calling Social & Emotional Skills What They Are—Essential Skills

Social and emotional skills help us move toward the unity we're yearning for. They are not 'soft'; they are essential.

By iThrive Games
November 19, 2021

Before you read this article, take a look at your news feed.

You are more than likely to encounter an event or sentiment that attests to the increasingly polarizing and often unsettling world we live in and navigate. A recent survey published by USA Today shows that roughly half of Americans (48%) predict more destructive disagreements over the next ten years, but 93% say it's vital to reduce the country's current divides. How can we move toward realizing this unity amidst enduring divisiveness? We must build social and emotional skills. Social and emotional skills help us get better at togetherness. They are not 'soft'; they are essential, and nurturing them supports us in moving toward the more harmonious, just, and loving future we crave.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) refers to social and emotional skills as "weapons against the greatest threats of our time: ignorance - the closed mind; hate - the closed heart; and fear - the enemy of agency." Social and emotional skills support us in taking an honest look at ourselves, really seeing each other, working together to find solutions to the complex challenges we face, and then persevering in enacting those solutions. Within education, thoughtful and equitable attention to social and emotional skills demonstrates a real commitment to equity more broadly; we can't expect equal outcomes unless we ensure all students are equally ready to learn in the first place. Social and emotional skills are undoubtedly critical to this readiness.

For this generation of teens especially, social and emotional skills are not just important; they are necessary. Social and emotional learning is the process of building and practicing social and emotional skills in schools. At iThrive, we embed this process in the game-based tools we create for and with teens, and use the connective and reflection-prompting power of play to build their social and emotional skills. Our iThrive Curriculum units, Museum of Me, Sam's Journey, and A Moment in Time, pair standard-aligned lesson plans with immersive video games to create learning experiences relevant to teens in high school English classes. These game-based learning experiences use digital media to encourage them to explore their identity, their emotional landscape, and how they navigate social relationships. Our civics-centered iThrive Sim games, Lives in Balance, Leading Through Crisis, and Follow the Facts, engage teens not just by supporting their understanding of the mechanics of government but of themselves, their identities, values, and communities. Each of these online simulations presents an opportunity to try on new perspectives, embody constructive decision-making techniques through role-play, and reflect deeply on how decision-making affects others.

These offerings for high school classrooms and youth-centered spaces were designed to encourage teens to develop the social and emotional resources that enable them to think for themselves and join others, with both empathy and curiosity, in learning, building, and imagining a better world. They also support teens and the adults they share space with in understanding that social and emotional skills are relevant to all subjects and aspects of life. The language we use to describe and advocate for social and emotional learning should reflect its standing as an essential part of the future we're all striving to attain—one that empowers us to live, work and thrive collaboratively, resiliently, and productively. Raising SEL's profile from that of a 'soft skill' to an educational and humanistic priority helps get us there.