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Avatar: The Last Airbender and Social-Emotional Learning (SEL)

Written by Grey Anstiss, CCPRD Project Associate

Warning: Big Avatar: The Last Airbender spoilers ahead!

When it comes to social-emotional learning (SEL), there are five main points to understand:

  • Self-Management 

  • Self-Awareness

  • Social Awareness 

  • Relationship Skills, and

  • Responsible Decision-Making 

Avatar: The Last Airbender, is about a world where people are born with the ability to manipulate one of the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. And, how every century, there is a person who has the ability to manipulate all four. That is the Avatar. We follow the Avatar, Aang, in his journey to restore peace to his world, along with his friends. It is available on Netflix, and DVDs of the series are still available at stores like Target.

The producers of Avatar: The Last Airbender used it as a great tool to teach social-emotional learning skills. While the show is targeted towards youth, it is loved by many generations, and can still be a great learning tool for children, as well as adults. It is important to teach SEL to children as they grow into adults, to make sure they are healthy and happy, although it is never too late to teach your older kids or to learn for yourself. When it comes to the main points of SEL, Avatar hits all of them.

Self-Management: “Katara," the water bender, is a great example to show how not to let emotions affect the journey to her goals. With the death of her mother on her mind and the lack of mentorship from water benders, you can easily see how she lets her emotions get the best of her. But, by building resiliency and learning to cope with these emotions, she ends up making a successful journey to being a stronger water bender.

Self-Awareness: “Sokka," Katara’s brother, is a wonderful example of self-awareness, as he is the only person in their "gang” who doesn’t have the power to manipulate (bend) elements. This makes Sokka feel inferior for much of the show, but when he finally realizes that he has talents and skills too, he flourishes.

Social Awareness: The Fire Lord’s son, “Zuko," exemplifies how having a lack of social awareness can really affect your wellbeing and character. His lack of empathy and cold demeanor causes a lot of trouble for him when it comes to his goals and his relationships. Once he truly looks at himself and notices how he has to work on being a better person, he really blossoms, and goes from an enemy to a friend. Showing how people can change for the better, and how his past actions were not in the best interest of him, or his friends. 

Relationship Skills: When we meet the blind earth bender, “Toph," in the show, we instantly see how alone she is though she is very powerful and talented when it comes to using her powers. She doesn’t make friends easily and avoids relationships with really anyone. But, no matter how powerful you are, working in a team will almost always help. Once she is able to overcome her discomfort with teamwork, she is able to become a much better bender and a much warmer and happier loved friend. 

Responsible Decision-Making: The main character, “Aang,” has extremely important goals and choices, as the fate of the world sits on his shoulders. He often has to be able to make decisions quickly, as things are thrown at him rapidly and he only has so little time to master all 4 elements. In the beginning, Aang makes almost all of his decisions without a second thought, causing massive problems in the long run, or even sometimes short-term. Once he matures and learns better, planning becomes a massive asset when it comes to saving the world.

While Avatar: The Last Airbender might not be the only series showing social-emotional learning, it is a great option to add to your family’s watch list to open up conversations about social and emotional wellbeing.

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