In the midst of all the alarming statistics surrounding the mental health crisis sweeping through our teens and young adults, there is a very bright and promising light at the end of the tunnel:
Helping them build their resilience.
Resilience is at the heart of your child’s ability to cope and thrive.
It’s also the greatest predictor of their success later in life. More so than their talents and IQ1.
Something they’ll never learn about in school.
Furthermore, it’s perhaps the closest thing to a silver bullet when it comes to mental health and wellbeing.
Given the turmoil of the last few years and its impact on mental health across the world, it’s made resilience a highly sought-after quality.
And when it comes to teens and young adults…
The pandemic has really tested their ability to cope with and adapt to change. It’s created an environment of uncertainty that has been incredibly difficult – even for the most resilient of us.
How well your child faired these past couple of years is a reliable indicator of their current levels of resilience and how well they’ll cope with challenges in the future.
It’s also telling of the quality of life they’re likely to experience and their level of physical, emotional and mental health as they get older.
Right now, this has either left you feeling pretty confident about your kid’s future or wondering how on earth they’re going to survive.
Regardless, what I’m about to share has never been more relevant to the trajectory of their life and your peace of mind.
If you want to...
- Better your child’s shot at living a successful and fulfilling life,
- Fuel the optimal development of their brain,
- Protect them from depression, anxiety and addiction,
- Build their confidence and self-esteem,
- Help them improve their academic performance,
- And even dodge chronic diseases and a premature death later in life…
Read this article right to the end to find out how you can best prepare your teen or young adult to face the ‘real world’. Not to merely survive it but to actually excel in its chaos and uncertainty!
I’ll share what resilience is, the benefits of high resiliency for your child and 11 practical tips to improve your child’s resilience now.
What Is Resilience?
The American Psychological Association describes Resilience as:
“The process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
Dr Sood, executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being, simply refers to it as “the core strength to lift the load of life”.
Why Is Resilience Important For Your Child?
The short answer…
Physical well-being, mental health and academic aspirations are all correlated to personal resilience.3
It’s the difference between your child walking through life along a path of thorns and stones with shoes vs. going at it barefoot.
And as much as a parent’s instinct is to want to cover the path with leather to protect their child, it’s just not possible. (It’s also not advisable, because a healthy amount of struggle is necessary for strength to develop.)
Some of life’s tragedies, heartbreaks, challenges, rejections and adversities are unavoidable no matter how hard we try hide or protect those we love most from them.
The Cost Of Low Resilience
According to the Cigna Resilience Index 2020, children with lower resilience are more likely to perform worse in the classroom, suffer from anxiety and depression and need treatment for a mental or behavioral health issue.3
Here’s a quick glance at the current state of mental health and how well we’re managing stress:
- Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents.4
- Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds.4 And patients in a study who had attempted suicide had significantly lower resilience scale scores than patients who never attempted suicide.5
- 20% of teens in South Africa aged 13–18 years live with a mental health condition.6
- 75% of mental health conditions start by age 20, most undetected and untreated. 6
- Stress is the leading cause of premature death and contributor to 6 of the top 10 leading causes of death.7
- Low resilience increases risk-taking behaviour among teens and young adults as a means to cope with stress e.g. drug, alcohol and nicotine abuse, fighting with others and committing crimes. 4
- It’s also associated with more Eating Disorder symptoms and a lower chance of recovery.8
- In a school environment, teens who struggle to fit in with others are 20 times less likely to be as resilient as the other students.3
How’s that for a little light reading?
The point of sharing this is not to overwhelm you with some dire and depressing news. Although if you’re anything like me, you’re probably finding it hard not to feel affected by what you’ve just read.
It’s merely to point out that if resilience refers to our ability to manage the load of life, many of us and our youth are crumbling under its weight.
However, there is a silver-lining to all this suffering.
And now, more than ever before, is a time for optimism and hope.
The Benefits Of High Resilience
Higher levels of resilience are directly related to better outcomes when living through a crisis, managing chronic disease and chronic pain, and improving emotional and physical health.
Meetu Khosla, a psychology professor, suggests that resilience leads or contributes to many different positive health outcomes.9 Some of these include:
- The experience of more positive emotions and better regulation of negative emotions
- Less depressive symptoms
- Greater resistance to stress and its effects
- Better management of PTSD symptoms and higher likelihood of experiencing Post Traumatic Growth (PTG).
- Better coping with stress through enhanced problem-solving
- Successful aging and improved sense of well-being despite age-related challenges
Furthermore, therapist and counselor, Joshua Miles, adds to this rich list of benefits associated with resilience:
- Greater resilience leads to improved learning and academic achievement.
- Resilience is related to lower absences from work or school due to sickness.
- It contributes to reduced risk-taking behaviors including excessive drinking, smoking, and use of drugs.
- Those with greater resilience tend to be more involved in family activities.
- Having more resilience is related to a lower rate of mortality and increased physical health.10
It gets better though…
Can Resilience Be Developed?
Resilience is a quality every single one of us possesses to a varying degree. However, it is also one that can be developed and not just a super power reserved for a genetically lucky few.
Learning about this literally saved my life.
It gave me the understanding, hope, willingness and tools to lift myself up from the deep pits of a very dark and destructive depression in my early twenties.
And experiencing these benefits first hand is the very reason I left a promising career in film and advertising to become a resilience coach for other teens and young adults. (Something I could’ve benefited tremendously from had there been any at that time.)
So regardless of your child’s current capacity to withstand the “load of life”, they can actually develop it. In doing so, they’ll be able to withstand an even heavier load making the once unbearable load relatively comfortable. And dare I say it, even enjoyable.
They can set bigger, more fulfilling goals to help them prosper in life. They can also learn to utilize their resources, skills and strengths to better overcome and recover from setbacks. And they can even leverage these setbacks for the growth opportunities inherent in them.
This may seem obvious.
But if you’ve ever been depressed, lost someone you’ve loved, experienced extreme violence or suffered any other form adversity, this “wonderful growth opportunity” isn’t always so easy to see. Never mind to act on. (Shout out to everyone fighting their battles!)
The Benefits Of Building Resilience In Your Child
At a time when teens and young adults are facing unprecedented change and struggle, it is critical to understand how to help them build and maintain resilience.
The Global Resilience Diagnostic Report analysed the resilience ratio difference in over 26,000 individuals who received resilience training.
The results were clear.
The intentional development of resilience has a particularly strong effect on:
- Reducing depression
- Improving physical wellbeing
- Improving cognitive functioning
- Reducing the effects of stress11
The following image shows the results of a pre and post resilience training study that measured practical changes 1,788 people achieved through resilience training over a 6-month period.12
There is a powerful, consistent reduction in fragility, distress and depression signals.
Just imagine those improvements in your child!
And how much better their lives would be.
At a time when teens and young adults are facing unprecedented change and struggle, it is critical to understand how to help them build and maintain resilience.
Here’s how you can do that.
11 Practical Tips to Improve Your Teen or Young Adult’s Resilience Now
If you’d like to give your child one of the most powerful advantages in life as they transition to adulthood, here are some tips you can follow:
1. Get them a coach
Research shows that young adults who’ve been taught and regularly practice stress reduction activities are significantly more likely to be resilient. And children who have a mentor figure in their life are also more resilient in comparison to those who don’t.3
Having a safe space to explore their inner world, process and deal with the impact of stress and difficult memories with someone they trust can help your teen or young adult significantly develop their resilience.
Especially if that person can help them develop the critical skills and habits needed to overcome challenges and live happy, successful and fulfilling lives.
2. Teach them to believe in themselves
How your child approaches achieving goals, performing tasks and overcoming challenges is largely due to their levels of self-efficacy. This is their belief in their ability to succeed at something and influences how they think, feel, motivate themselves and behave. It also determines the depth of potential they tap into.
You can help them to develop self-efficacy and unlock their potential by asking:
- What three things have you done in the past week that you did well?
- How did these make you feel?
- What three things have you completed in the past few months that other people have noticed?
- How did these make you feel?
You can also acknowledge their strengths, the brave things they do, their effort when they do something difficult; and when you encourage them to make their own decisions.
3. Promote connection vs. isolation
One of the core pillars of resilience is strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends. And for a kid, all it takes is one or two quality relationships to create a feeling of connection to the world at large.
Furthermore, friendships can provide them with needed support and acceptance in good and bad times. Can you help your child see their friends more often if necessary? If they’re struggling to connect with the others at school, how can you support them in cultivating new connections?
Can you encourage them to volunteer locally or abroad, attend summer camps, do a team sport, join one of the “societies” at school or university, find a mentor or even join a faith-based program.
4. Get them to step out of their comfort zones
The comfort zone – a great place to be but nothing grows there.
We need to face discomfort in order to develop confidence, build coping skills, and bolster our resilience. But if we spend all our time avoiding discomfort, stress and challenges we rob ourselves of the growth and learning that comes from overcoming, enduring and making mistakes.
So share with your kid the value of stepping out of their comfort zone and help them begin the process of facing their fears one small step at a time.
There’s very little that’ll accelerate their personal growth and development as much as this!
5. Help develop their emotional awareness and ability to self-regulate
A large of your child’s resilience journey is about them becoming comfortable with their feelings and learning how to express them appropriately.
So help them understand that they are responsible for their emotions and thoughts – no one else. And that they can learn to gain more control over them instead of them having total control over your child and how they feel. Here are some helpful tips:
- Naming without blaming – saying ‘I feel really frustrated or sad’ but not blaming the emotion on someone or something. By owning the emotion, this can lessen that emotion’s intensity.
- Accepting that emotions aren’t good or bad – they just are.
- When they’re struggling with a difficult emotion, ask them what they can learn from it. What is this emotion trying to tell you? This fosters curiosity and learning vs. avoidance and repetition of unhelpful patterns.
6. Encourage them to seek support when they need it
Resilient people know when to ask for help and will reach out to others when they’re going through a tough time. And we can all do with a bit of help from time to time. You can encourage your child to ask for support when they need it. And when they do, acknowledge and reward them for it.
- Assure your teen or young adult that seeking help is a sign of strength.
- Keep an open dialogue with them, come from a place of understanding and don’t use it as an opportunity to be critical. This will make it easier for them to bring things up.
- Remind them of positive experiences when they or their friends got help in the past.
7. Teach them to be more self-compassionate
Compassion and empathy toward others are not always naturally occurring traits in teens and can be quite difficult to learn. However, the good news is that most teens tend to be able to demonstrate compassion for others on some level.
Self-compassion means extending the same compassion and forgiveness to oneself as we would to a friend or loved one. Growing research shows that people who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, and stressed, and much more likely to be happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.
The best way to teach self-compassion to your kid is to lead the way for them. There are no better teachers than parents who are loving and compassionate to themselves, as well as supportive and loving to their children.
One additional way to promote self-compassion for your child is to ask them next time they’re facing a challenge: What advice would you give your (or a) best friend who’s going through something similar? Help them recognize the wisdom in their answer, the gentleness in their tone and the lack of criticism used. Then encourage them to speak to themselves in the same way.
8. Promote better impulse control & delayed gratification
The more resilient a person becomes the more control they have over their impulses. And the less reactive they become too.
So in this age of instant gratification, part of the process is about learning not to act on the unhelpful impulses that cause greater stress or turmoil in our lives e.g. lashing out when feeling frustrated, binging on sweet things to feel good, watching episode after episode of a series late into the night.
Share this four-step process with your teen or young adult to help them become more intentional when they’re being challenged by a particular impulse such as wanting to lash out:
- Stop and think – delay your response and break the habit of reactivity.
- Deep breaths – it calms and gives them the opportunity to take back control.
- Before saying anything, think of three possible responses – choose the most constructive one.
- Respond politely and respectfully – it gets you heard and improves the chances of your needs being fulfilled.
Other powerful ways you can nurture their ability to delay gratification is to enroll them in a sport or martial arts or get them to learn a musical instrument.
9. Place value on self-care
Encourage your teen or young adult to set aside time to tend to their own needs and feelings. And create a home that places value on looking after mental and physical health.
What activities and hobbies do they enjoy and can they engage in them more often? How can you include more physical activity in their routine? Are they getting healthy amounts of sleep? Where can you improve their diet? How could your child benefit from practicing stress management and relaxation techniques?
10. Help them become more proactive
Teach them not to ignore their problems. When your teen or young adult is struggling with a problem encourage them to figure out what needs to be done, make a plan, and then take action. If they’d like help with this, ask them to first give it a shot on their own. And if they’re still unable to come up with a promising plan, guide them to one by asking questions that’ll help them get there.
Once they’ve come up with a plan, gently hold them accountable to it. This helps to break the cycle of overthinking and learned helplessness that many people with depression and anxiety struggle with.
11. Support their development of an optimistic mindset
Optimism is a common trait among the resilient. But it isn’t about your child seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. Or falling into the trap of toxic positivity and denial. It’s about them feeling confident that, whatever comes their way, they’ll be able to cope.
People high in optimism experience less depression and anxiety, better health, more happiness, greater satisfaction in life, greater achievement and live longer too.13
Here are some helpful exercises:
- Teach them to say, ‘I can’t do it … yet.’ The way we talk to ourselves affects us. If your child tells themselves they can master something, they are more likely to.
- Embrace challenges as a means of learning. Help them find the learning and growth opportunity in overcoming obstacles and moving through setbacks.
- Focus on progress over perfection. Giving your best and getting it done is what matters most not perfection.
A word from Flourish & Thrive
Regardless of your child’s current level of resilience, it can be further developed! Given the depth of its benefits and the impact it can have on the trajectory of their life, it’s also an infinitely worthwhile journey.
According to UNICEF, the consequences of failing to address your child’s vulnerabilities now extend to adulthood, impairing both physical and mental health and limiting opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as adults.14
But it takes time and consistent practice.
That’s why it can be helpful to partner with someone who’s gone down that road already. Someone who can empower them with the best tools and strategies to build their resilience and hold your child accountable along the way – saving you the hassle, fights and all the drama.
So if you feel like your teen or young adult could do with a little support, see how we can help out below. And remember, you’re not alone on this journey!
To happier, healthier and more resilient families.
Flourish and Thrive’s Ultimate Resilience Program
Prepare your teen or young adult for a life of success and fulfillment by empowering them with the best research-based tools and strategies to thrive.
Ultimate Resilience is for your teen or young adult if they:
- Feel drained, overwhelmed by stress and anxiety and struggle to feel joy and vitality.
- Are easily knocked over by the storms in their life.
- Would like to better understand themselves, their signature character strengths and their unique winning formula.
- Would like to build their confidence, self worth and self esteem and ultimately feel comfortable in their own skin.
- Want to better understand their purpose in life and find direction that is meaningful to them.
- Want more control over their thoughts, emotions and reactions.
- Duckworth, A., 2022. Angela Lee Duckworth | Speaker | TED. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/speakers/angela_lee_duckworth
- APA Help Center. 2018. Resilience guide for parents & teachers. American Psychological Association Help Center. https://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resilience.aspx
- Cigna Resilience Index – 2020 US Report. [online] Cigna. Available at: https://cignaresilience.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Cigna_ResilienceReport_FINAL.pdf
- 2022. Adolescent mental health. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health
- Roy A, Sarchiapone M, Carli V. Low resilience in suicide attempters. Arch Suicide Res. 2007;11(3):265-9. doi: 10.1080/13811110701403916. PMID: 17558611.
- Statistics South Africa. 2020. Determinants of health among the youth aged 15–34 years in South Africa [online]. StatsSA. Available at: http://www.statssa.gov.za/publications/03-00-15/03-00-152020.pdf
- int. 2022. Adolescent mental health. [online] Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health
- Robert M, Shankland R, Andreeva VA, et al. Resilience Is Associated with Less Eating Disorder Symptoms in the NutriNet-Santé Cohort Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(3):1471. Published 2022 Jan 27. doi:10.3390/ijerph19031471
- Khosla, M. Resilience and Health: Implications for Interventions and Policy Making. Psychol Stud 62, 233–240 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12646-017-0415-9
- Miles, J. (2015). The importance of building resilience. Counselling Directory. https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/counsellor-articles/the-importance-of-building-resilience
- Hook, B. (2017). The Benefits of Learning Resilience. The Resilience Institute. https://resiliencei.com/2017/08/benefits-learning-resilience/
- Resilience Institute. 2020. 2020 Global Resilience Report. [ebook] The Resilience Institute. Available at: https://resiliencei.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2020-GLOBAL-RESILIENCE-REPORT.pdf
- Conversano C, Rotondo A, Lensi E, Della vista O, Arpone F, Reda MA. Optimism and its impact on mental and physical well-being.Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2010;6:25-9. doi:10.2174%2F1745017901006010025
- UNICEF DATA. 2022. Adolescent mental health statistics – UNICEF DATA. [online] Available at: https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-health/mental-health/