Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 September 2020

Identity, grit and tech: three workshops for teens coming to Dubai

The sessions will be led by psychologist Ola Pykhtina of Thrive Wellbeing Centre

The workshops aim to cut through the drama that is the life of a teenager. Illustration by Mathew Kurien / The National 
The workshops aim to cut through the drama that is the life of a teenager. Illustration by Mathew Kurien / The National 

The slogan “girl power”, credited to an American punk band called Bikini Kill, is almost 30 years old. Yet, in the wake of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements, the focus on raising young women who know their worth, and have the savvy and confidence needed to navigate a still-tricky social landscape, has never been stronger.

After noticing recurring themes when interacting with teenage girls in Dubai over the past year, psychologists at Thrive Wellbeing Centre have created two workshops to further support this group through the vital transition to adulthood. Me, Myself and I will help engage teens in self-exploration in a safe space, free from external expectations, while Girls with Grit is designed to address the importance of building resilience and confidence. Both sessions will be made up of a small group of teens – just eight per session.

Me, myself and I

“Adolescence is a time of rapid identity formation,” says psychologist and Thrive’s managing director, Dr Sarah Rasmi. “A big part of the workshops, as a first step of self-esteem building, is to help them through that process, to really think about who they are and how they talk to themselves.”

The Me, Myself and I workshop, led by psychologist Ola Pykhtina, will incorporate art and mindfulness techniques to address some of the particular issues teens face in the UAE. “I’ve had quite a few female clients who moved to Dubai or were born here, who have parents of different nationalities,” Pykhtina explains. “So on top of the stress that teenagers go through trying to find themselves, there’s that cultural background that they didn’t quite know who to relate to, what country they are coming from and what it means to them.” The idea is to address the issue early on, before teenagers hit the point where they are experiencing so much anxiety over identity, that they need to seek professional help, she adds.

Thrive psychologist Ola Pykhtina will conduct both sessions 
Thrive psychologist Ola Pykhtina will base the sessions on first-hand observations

Girls with grit

The second workshop, meanwhile, hones in on “grit” – a term popularised by American academic and psychologist Angela Duckworth in a 2013 Ted Talk and 2016 book titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “One of the things we’re noticing in the literature is the importance of focusing more on process, rather than outcome,” says Rasmi. “A lot of parents are focused on results, and what teenagers or children are able to achieve or accomplish in various domains. What we know is that the most important thing is the amount of passion and perseverance that you’re putting into it. Those are the skills we want to hone in on.”

Parents can help their girls – and boys – develop grit by focusing on a growth versus fixed mindset, she explains. “Moving away from complimenting and praising our children as being innately intelligent or talented, and really trying to, again, cultivate this idea that hard work, passion and perseverance are really, really important to move forward,” she says.

An essential piece of this is recognising failure as a fact of life – and as a teachable moment. “It’s how we navigate that failure that’s important, reflecting on what went wrong, regrouping and then trying again,” says Rasmi. “This is what helps cultivate that sense of resilience and that thicker skin in our kids.”

We want to maintain an open line of communication, so that if something does arise, the child feels comfortable reaching out

Ola Pykhtina

Girls with Grit, too, was built around what Pykhtina noticed among the teens she works with in her clinical practice. “Many of them want things to be done in the first attempt, and [set] very high standards for themselves and unrealistic expectations, both their parents and their own, based on the pressure of society,” she explains. “I felt they need some more knowledge and support about how to actually enjoy the journey.”

Of course the outcome is important, as are achievements, she says, but so are “resilience, assertiveness and joy, just giving yourself the chance to do things twice, three times, and looking at the process, rather than the outcome”. The group will also focus on building assertiveness skills in everyday life, including help with learning to speak up, say no in a polite and reasonable way, and deal with conflict.

Cyber Smart

A third workshop by Thrive aims to help girls and boys between 9 and 12 years old – and their parents – navigate the minefield that is social media. Rasmi says technology is a topic most schools want covered as part of the centre’s community engagement work. “Obviously, teenagers are growing up in a very different world than the one we did,” she says, “so it’s challenging to navigate that space.”

It’s important to support children, give them a safe space to speak about their experiences and validate them. But the UAE poses particular challenges in this area, with different laws about what is permissible, so it’s tricky for parents, too, and hard to know what steps to take to protect their child’s physical safety, as well as emotional well-being, adds Rasmi.

“We want to maintain that open line of communication, so that if something does arise, whether it’s bullying or some other important life event or change, the child feels comfortable reaching out,” she says. “That being said, we don’t want to completely take over. We also need to empower our children, so they can stand up for themselves. It is a delicate balance, but it is possible to support them while helping them navigate individually.”

Cyber Smart will be led by Thrive’s licensed psychologist Pykhtina, and is drawn directly from her experience working with young people in Dubai. Many children simply have no idea of the consequences of their actions online, and no idea how to handle situations that may arise, she notes.

“If they send a friend request on Facebook, or even if they accept a friend request from someone they don’t know, and during their interaction, they send a text that is bullying in nature … how do you deal with that? Do you delete this text? Do you answer it? If someone swears at you in the messages, what do you do?”

Even with a trusted adult in their life, Pykhtina says there are “huge complications” for the child’s well-being. The course is based on real-world examples. “It’s very practical, I’ll have a lot of real-life situations and we’ll be brainstorming: what is the way to deal with this and what is going to happen if you do that,” she says. In addition to completing several projects, the course includes a session for parents.

“I’ll help them reflect on their own use of social media, the necessity of it,” she says. “And we’ll give some practical tips on how to manage and help their children and how to use technology at home.”

The workshops run on Saturdays and cost Dh3,200: Me, Myself I and Cyber Smart is from February 1 March 7, and Girls with Grit is from April 11 to May 16

Updated: February 2, 2020 11:11 AM

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