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How to Develop Resilience in Young People

Resilience is a term which has gain much attention over the past two decades. With pressure increasing, along with the challenges of modern life, including technology, social media and stability decreasing. For young people, they live in a world that is dynamic and constantly throwing up challenges to stretch and grow, resilience is an essential core quality to be a successful student and go on to contribute in a positive way to society.

Students who are more resilient are better able to stay on track with the biological, psychological and social demands of adolescence.

Young people who show resilience:

  • Know how to cope in spite of setbacks, barriers or limited resources

  • Are willing and able to overcome obstacles to get what they want

  • Bounce back from adversity and disappointments

  • Are flexible and adaptable

  • See setbacks as temporary and failures as isolated and short term

Young people lacking resilience:

  • See failure as permanent

  • Demonstrate inflexible thinking

  • Tend to dwell and get “stuck” in the past and can’t move forward

  • Experience a great deal of negative “self-talk” (“what were you thinking?” or “you’ll never come back from this one”)

The 4 Pillars of The Resilience Framework, which is the framework I have developed, which I focus on my BOUNCE program are:

  1. I AM – Identity

  2. I CAN – Capacity

  3. I HAVE – Support

  4. I SEE – Hope and Realistic Optimism

1. I AM – Identity

The sense of identity and self within a young person will play a huge role in helping or hindering a young person from overcoming challenges and being able to “BOUNCE” when challenging situations are faced.

A young person’s values, beliefs and mindsets are the primary building blocks of a young person’s sense of identity.

How we see ourself will then contribute to our ability or our perceived ability to overcome challenges and get back up when life knocks us to our knees.

Helping young people to develop a positive sense of identity, develop a healthy sense of self worth, self value and identify their strengths and abilities will set them on the path to developing their resilience.

The characteristics listed under positive identity according to the Search Institute are:

1. Personal power. Young person feels he or she has control over “things that happen to me.”

2. Self-esteem. Young person reports having a high self-esteem.

3. Sense of purpose. Young person reports that “my life has a purpose.”

4. Positive view of personal future. Young person has a realistic optimism about her or his personal future.

Our role as trusted adults is to give them opportunities and strategies to develop and enhance these elements.

2. I CAN – Capacity

A student’s perception of their own abilities is the second pillar of The Resilience Framework.

When designing programs and camps for students, I understand that there is a “competence – confidence loop” that exists in the world of developing self confidence and resilience.

We often find ourselves on the edge of our comfort zone when faced with doing something we never had. It’s the space where fear often kicks in, fear of the unknown, failure, looking bad and what other people may think.

As we push through the fear and face them head on, make an attempt at this thing, a number of things may happen.

  1. We succeed or complete the task (not usually and not always the first time, but maybe). We then realise that we are able (competent) to do something we did not realise.

  2. We fail / we don’t achieve what we wanted to – but our fears also did not happen and we discover that our fears most often are irrational and keeping us from trying new things. So we try again, and with enough encouragement and support we eventually achieve what we had set out to do.

This then leads to a boost in confidence and the drive to try more things we’ve never done before. And so the “Competence – Confidence Loop” grows.

Helping young people develop their capacity, identify and use their strengths, grow in their abilities all contributes to that young person increasing their sense of “I CAN” and their resilience.

3. I HAVE - Support
A critical part of #1 – I AM and #2 – I CAN is the power of the supportive people and positive support network. Often young people cannot see the potential within them or their own strengths and abilities.

The single most common factor for young people who develop resilience is at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult.

“Every young person is just one trusted adult away from being a success story” Young people need trusted relationship that they can rely on, who would love and respect them for who they are. They need structure, safety and security, providing clear rules, routines and boundaries as well as choices and consequences.

The people in the support networks need to know when to be active and when to help the young person to develop their ability to be autonomous and seek help when they need it.

Having good social networks and relationships is clearly a winning strategy in life,so it’s not surprising that social relationships also matter when it comes to resiliency.

Here’s just a few quick tips to help teenagers develop their support networks and a sense of certainty from the people around them:

1. Model to teenagers that it’s okay to ask for help

Teenagers will do what you do before they do what you say, so modelling is one of the most powerful forms of teaching.

The stages of help-seeking are commonly defined as:

  1. Identifying the need for help.

  2. Deciding to seek help.

  3. Finding and accessing the appropriate help.

Even if young people have the awareness of their need for help, having the confidence to ask for help can be seriously challenging.

2. Create opportunities for teenagers to strengthen relationships which already exist

I run a school program across Australia for year 9 & 10 boys called “A Real Man” we provide space for conversations about what it means to be a real man. Part of the program is a Father/Son evenings to strengthen their connections, have deep conversations and explore the journey.

3. Help teens to expand the circle of support

Bringing new people into a teenagers world can help them to build new connections.

Having local reps from agencies and organisations like Headspace or Beyond Blue come into your school to connect and share with students the available support structures can help expand their circle of support.

Another project based program I have developed called “Leading Edge” involves students developing social-enterprise projects. We bring mentors in to connect with, teach and support the students with their projects.

4. Create mentoring opportunities and partnerships

Helping teenagers connect with adults who are pursuing paths that mirror that teen’s passion can be a great way to both nurture a young person’s passion and help build the strength of their support networks.

This may look like:

  • Connecting a student with a sports team, a coach or a mentor

  • Connecting a student with volunteer opportunities in their area of passion

  • Connecting a student with work experience opportunities with a local business owner or entrepreneur

  • Connecting a student with a local youth group or social club

4. I SEE – Hope and Realistic Optimism for the Future

How a young person sees their future plays a significant role in pushing thru challenges when they arise. A positive outlook and a sense of hope that’ll be better tomorrow, not a wish but actual belief, the knowledge that things will be better tomorrow.

The higher the student’s hope, the greater their academic success, stronger friendships, and demonstrate better problem-solving. They also have lower levels of depression and anxiety and are less likely to drop out from school. Having hope may actually predict a student’s future academic achievement more than having feelings of self-worth or a positive attitude towards life actually do.

The good news is that hope can be cultivated.

Hope doesn’t mean wishful thinking—as in “I hope I win the lottery.” Instead, a person who is high in hope knows how to do the following things.

  • Set clear and attainable goals.

  • Develop multiple strategies to reach those goals.

  • Stay motivated to use the strategies to attain the goals, even when the going gets tough.

For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines.

1. Identify and priotize goals

Start by creating a big picture vision and have the young person list what is important and reflect on what is the most important, how satisfied they are with their current state of being.

These goals must be what the student wants and not what the teacher or parent want. Help the student to rank these goals in order of priority and personal importance.

2. Break the goals down into small steps and action tasks

Research suggest that students with low level hope often think goals have to be accomplished in one giant leap. Success to one young person may simply be getting out of the house, on another, completing a resume might be easily achievable. Teaching young people how to see their goals as a series of small steps will also give students the ability to celebrate their achievements along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!

3. Teach young people that there's more than one way to skin the cat

One of the greatest challenges for students with a low level hope is their inability to move past obstacles and challenges – they give up easily. Helping students to identify obstacles before they appear is a good way of preparing for the challenge, alongside creating potential course of action in the event of a challenge arising.

Most importantly, teachers need to make sure that students don’t equate challenges with a lack of talent or skills.. Young people need to understand that people who have achieved success have only done so by overcoming failure and challenge.

4. Share stories of success (and failure)

According to scientists, hopeful students draw on other people’s successes and ability to overcome failure and challenges however those with low hope often don’t have these memories

That’s why it’s vital for teachers to share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.

5. Keep things positive

It’s important to teach young people to enjoy the journey and the process of achieving their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all take personal responsibility, quit the blame game and not make excuses. Research has also discovered that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

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