GOVERNMENT ministers have been learning how to put a smile on children's faces – thanks to a scheme piloted in South Tyneside.
Speaking at a conference on wellbeing in London, US psychologist Dr Martin Seligman says lessons in happiness should be on the school curriculum to try to improve young people's mental health.
Ministers and psychologists have yet to decide whether to bring in the scheme nationwide, but South Tyneside council chief executive Irene Lucas told the conference the wellbeing project has had a positive impact on borough youngsters.
She added that it was as though "pixie dust and magic" had been sprinkled on South Tyneside.
She attended the conference with Coun Jim Foreman, the council's lead member for children and young people, to give a speech on young people's progress between the ages of 16 and 19 and guaranteed apprenticeships.
The Penn Resiliency Programme is the brainchild of Dr Seligman, a US expert in positive psychology.
In the lessons, 11-year-olds are taught how to cope with difficult situations and emotions, and to develop positive attitudes. It is hoped that the classes will equip youngsters to cope with adulthood. Those in favour of the programme say it has been shown to reduce rates of anxiety and depression in the young.
But critics say the classes just state the obvious and waste timetable space.
Dr Seligman, of Pennsylvania Univer-sity, said the pilot, run in Hertfordshire and Manchester as well as South Tyne-side, was the largest of its kind.
He said: "Much of what is taught in this area is based on sentiment. It seems like a good idea. Depression leads to low productivity and poor physical health. Multiply that by a lot of people, and that affects a whole country."
Deborah Wilson, who teaches the programme at Epinay School in Jarrow, believes two thirds of her Year Seven pupils have benefited from it.
She said: "We've got a culture of pessimism. A lot of our problems today are because a lot of parents are like overgrown children."
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