Raising Resilient Kids
With all the media coverage of teen suicides and school shootings tied to kids being bullied, it would be hard for bullying not to be on most of our minds right now. Bullying seems to be the latest in “hot topics” of risky childhood behaviors. The hot topic spotlight always seems to be shifting, sometimes focusing on risky behaviors like teen drug use, and sometimes on behaviors like early sexual activity or alcohol use. No matter what the issue, when these hot topics boil to the top of the pot of our awareness, we tend to respond in targeted ways to reduce the incidence of that one particular issue. But when we respond reactively instead of proactively, we are missing the opportunity to get to the root of the problem and address long-term solutions.
A Proactive Approach
When we focus on raising resilient kids, we counteract the impact of many high-risk behaviors, including bullying, reduce the incidence of dangerous behaviors, and promote positive behaviors for all. There is much research that supports the positive effects of raising resilient kids.
Bonnie Bernard is a resilience expert who has done an extensive amount of research and writing concerning resilience. Bernard notes the following important points about resilience 1:
1. Resilience is a capacity all youth have for healthy development and successful learning.
2. Certain personal strengths are associated with healthy development and successful learning.
3. Certain characteristics of families, schools, and communities are associated with the development of personal strengths and, in turn, healthy development and successful learning.
4. Changing the life trajectories of children and youth from risk to resilience starts with changing the beliefs of the adults in their families, schools, and communities.
Building Resilience with Developmental Assets
The characteristics of resilience that Bonnie Bernard talked about in her research are even more clearly defined a recent article published in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America medical journal. The research states that
resilient youth have common resiliency factors operating as two broad sets of developmental strengths that encourage and support the coping skills of children and adolescents: (1) extrinsic factors (family, peers, school, and community), and (2) intrinsic factors or personality characteristics (empowerment, self-control, cultural sensitivity, self-concept, and social sensitivity). 4
These characteristics of resilience that are listed above are also known as Developmental Assets. The Developmental Assets are the things that we know kids need in order to grow up to be healthy, successful, and also resilient. We know that without these Developmental Assets, children and teens are at a higher risk for becoming involved in high risk behaviors like drug use, violence (bullying and otherwise), and underage drinking.
In other words, children and teens who have more Developmental Assets in their lives will have a greater inclination toward resilience, which will, in turn, lead them to avoid more types of risky behaviors, including bullying.
Nature vs Nurture?
Resilience studies have been around since the 1950s when Emmy Werner 2 conducted a longitudinal study of children in Kauai who led successful lives in the face of environmental adversity and stresses during childhood. She found that “resilient children appear to have developed a coping pattern that combines autonomy with an ability to ask for help when needed.” 3 Werner’s study implied that some children were resilient while others were not, and that some biological – almost extraordinary – feature existed in them to allow them to rise above their circumstances.
As resilience studies over the years have delved deeper into the issue, however, researchers have found that, while some kids may have some biological inclination toward resiliency, the ability for resilience factors can be learned. When we teach resilience, we are able to change the life trajectories of kids from risk to resilience, but it has to be taught to them by the adults in their families, their schools, and their communities.
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