What is resilience? As parents, we only wish for good things to happen to our kids. We want their friends to include them, their romantic partners to value them, their aspirations to be fulfilled. The reality is, though, that they might not always do well in exams, or get the lead part in the school production. Sometimes they will encounter mean people and get their hearts broken. Sometimes life won’t be fair.
We need to teach the new generation how to deal with disappointment and adversity. This ability to recover from failure and to bounce back when things go wrong is called mental resilience. Mentally resilient people don’t allow setback to break them: they can moderate the negative impacts of the situation they find themselves in, and they can adapt to the new reality.
Picture a tree growing on an exposed hilltop: when the wind blows, a resilient tree bends with the gust and straightens back up when the squall dies down. A fragile tree, on the other hand, might snap in half or be uprooted by bad weather. Similarly, resilient people don’t dwell on their failures or wallow in self-pity: they acknowledge the situation, they learn from their mistakes, and then they move on.
Why does it matter?
It’s an emotional topic, but we’re going to talk about it. With mental health issues on the rise in New Zealand, children and teenagers alike need to learn how to cope with anxiety and stress caused by the society we live in. This includes cyber bullying, broken families, monetary hardship, exams, natural disasters and – tragically - even terrorism.
"Most young people who commit self-harm - which may extend to suicide - are doing so not because they are mentally unwell - but that they are not resilient enough to the pressures of the world around them," the Government's chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman stated.
"We can’t always change the pressures around our teens. The solution, therefore, is to help them become more resilient."
What does resilience look like?
- People who are psychologically robust feel confident and empowered. They have personal control over their lives: they know they are responsible for their future, they make choices in the present, and they know that their efforts will have an impact.
- They have a dream or a passion: something to look forward to and to keep working towards.
- Even though they dream big, they’re not afraid to fail. Although they may get disappointed, they will not feel discouraged. They accept that failing is part of the process to achieve success because every mistake can be turned into a learning experience.
- Because mentally resilient people don’t feel entitled to success, they don’t take failure personally.
- They don’t give up.
- Other people’s opinions don’t matter to them as much as their own. They don't follow the crowd and they can withstand peer pressure. If their neighbours have a flashy car, mentally resilient people won’t buy a flashier one to compete.
- Petty problems don’t get in their way: they’ve learnt to shrug off frustrations like someone’s bad mood or not knowing the answer. They understand life is not “out to get them”: on the contrary, life is there for them to grab and enjoy.
- Past negativity stays in the past: they’ve made peace with it so that it doesn’t disturb their present.
- Mentally resilient people protect their sanity by saying “no” to distractions and to things that would otherwise overload their schedule.
- Even when the going gets tough, resilient people don’t consider themselves victims. They take responsibility for their own shortcomings (without guilt), then they focus on changing the things that they can influence.
- Mentally strong people have perspective and are able to see bad events as temporary.
- Positive self-talk is the only self-talk they speak.
The take-away messages for teens
- Only you are in charge of your happiness. Don’t blame yourself for your past. Do take responsibility for your future.
- What other people think of you doesn’t matter. Be kind and respectful towards others, but don’t let their opinions define you.
- Feeling grateful will focus your mind on the positive and will ultimately make you happier and more resilient. And here’s the secret: the more you are grateful for the things you have, the more you will have to be grateful for.
- If bad things happen, move on. Learn what you can, decide how to move forward, then do it.
- As long as you handle it well, adversity will make you more bullet-proof for the future.
The take-away messages for parents
- Make your teens understand that they matter, that you care about them, and that you’re always on their side. They need to know that they are important and that their actions make a difference.
- Create good memories together –something they can fall back on when bad things happen.
- Teach them that problems can be good: if you never fail, you never learn how to handle it. The longer your winning streak runs, the more afraid you become of ruining your perfect record.
- Communication skills allow teenagers to talk to people when things turn sour, and to ask for help.
- Having empathy and compassion allows your teens to focus on others and not get bogged down in their own problems. In addition, kindness will help them build relationships and communities.
Keep It Simple
Nigel Latta advises us to be like goldfish: embrace the simple things in life, don’t get hung up on the trials and tribulations of life, live in the moment (mindfulness, people!) and avoid getting flushed down the toilet. “As the world becomes more and more complex, the need for simplicity becomes greater as well. But the thing is that simplicity doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work.”
Coping with Adversity
If bad things happen:
- Accept help from those who care about you.
- Banish negative self-talk.
- Practice positive thinking.
- Treat yourself with kindness.
- Take time to recover.
- Forgive yourself and others.
- Focus on the future and find something to look forward to.