Resilience in young people

Where has it gone and how do we get it back?

Bouncing Back

I attended the Ealing Young People's Health Conference this week, which focused on teaching and learning resilience - a skill that is crucial to succeed in our society today. Resilience is that ability to bounce back from challenges, catastrophes and stressful situations we will face in life. In simple terms it is 'coping', which is sometimes easier to say than do. But it is not only something that we need in adolescence but rather a skill which we will require at many stages as we progress through life and so a lot of what I took away from this conference made me also think about how I can develop my resilience skills and how colleagues, friends and family may develop theirs too.

1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year....

These problems range from depression to anxiety to eating disorders, andtend to arise due to family difficulties, negative body image and work or school pressures. Without resilience we find it harder to cope in these situations. The average age of onset is now 14.5 years compared to 29.5 years in 1960. That statistic alone scared me. But before thinking about the solution to building resilience, it is important to establish the factors which have eroded it.

I will act as I am treated

If we treat young people like infants and wrap them up in cotton wool, they will not be able to act responsibly and think for themselves. We need to empower them to think for themselves and to face life's knocks and blows so that they can pick themselves back up and realise that everything is not perfect, nor does it need to be. In my opinion the media is hugely to blame for those feelings of inadequacy, vulnerability and self-consciousness we can feel because we are not a certain 'ideal'. And I highlight the word ideal because it does not exist, nor should it. In fact it is defined as 'existing only in the imagination; desirable or perfect but not likely to become a reality.'

It's all about me

By focusing too much on the individual and how they feel, we encourage young people to think that they are the centre of attention and this results in self obsession, and may possibly have led to the creation of the 'selfie'. When in fact we should be placing importance on doing things for other people and the feeling of satisfaction we gain by doing things for others - random acts of kindness.

But I want it

Acquisition has come to precede appreciation. Society, and in particular celebrity culture, implies that we are entitled to money, success and fame immediately and the hard work, effort and determination required to achieve this are often overlooked. Successful people do have to work hard and results are not always instantaneous.

That's just the way it is

Possessing a fixed mindset and being set in our ways is such a downfall of our society today. Call it pigeon holing, stereotyping or branding but viewing people as unchangeable or fixed entities immediately creates a barrier between them and resilience. It exaggerates the significance of failures or difficulties and implies they cannot be any other way than the way you stereotype them to be. Equally, a person's past does not have to dictate their future and people can learn from their mistakes. The only bad mistake is the one we don't learn from.

What resilience looks like

As our society becomes more challenging and throws more problems, issues and stresses in our paths, resilience becomes an ever more important skill to have and is evidenced in several ways:

  • Competence - when we recognise that people are doing things right and give them opportunities to develop important skills, they feel competent.
  • Confidence - is crucial to think outside the box, to face and to recover from challenges.
  • Connection - interaction with others gives us a sense of security and moral responsibility
  • Character - we need a clear sense of right and wrong and a commitment to integrity.
  • Contribution - knowing we are here for a reason and we have a sense of purpose.
  • Coping - with a range of healthy coping strategies, we will be less likely to turn to an easy, quick fix solution but rather we will make a rational, well thought out decision.
  • Control - when we understand that privileges and respect are earned through showing responsibility we are more likely to make wise choices and feel a sense of control.

A resilience tool kit

Having a little 'box of magic tricks' that we can turn to and use with our students or for ourselves is so important to build resilience and help us remember how great we are. Little steps and strategies can lead to big, long term gains.

  • Aim high - have high, yet realistic, expectations and set goals. We are all here for a purpose and our passion should be to reach this goal. No one else matters.
  • Focus on others - shift the focus away from the self. Volunteer and help others and regain that feeling you get when you give. I love giving gifts on Christmas morning and seeing the smile it brings to others. Receiving doesn't make me feel as good. Think about it!
  • Brains develop - people are not born smart and intelligence needs to be worked at. There are so many role models to look at who have overcome challenges to become successful. Hard work cannot be avoided.
  • Fail - failure is a learning opportunity and it is normal. Accept it, learn from it and move on.
  • Normalise - when bad things happen we sometimes see ourselves in a solitary bubble and fail to see that setbacks are normal and happen to everybody.
  • Feeling bad - this is OK. Negative feelings are normal and are not permanent.
  • Risk - take them so you can assess them and make mistakes which you can learn from.
  • Perfection - does not exist and everyone and everything is flawed. It is more important to do your best than be the best.

Resilience in schools

In our role as educators how can we build resilience skills in our students and what steps can we start to take to empower our young people with coping skills and strategies. Some ideas to get started with:

  1. CBT techniques :
  2. Positive Psychology:
  3. Mindfulness:
  4. Moods/feelings questionnaires
  5. Build resiliency skills into the curriculum
  6. Resiliency in school systems
  7. Peer support systems / Peer mentoring
  8. Volunteering opportunities
  9. Mental health training and awareness