Is Your Teen More Resilient Than You May Think?

Dec 16, 2020

Resilience is the ability to "bounce back" during or after setbacks, disappointments, and difficult times. This year sure did bring teens (and all of us) more than a few setbacks, disappointments, and difficult times. Remember, teenagers do not have fully developed adult brains, yet they had to adjust to many cancelled events, attending school online (and not just "attending" but trying to figure out how to learn), not seeing friends and extended family, not being able to engage in sports and other extracurricular activities, not being able to get summer jobs, not being able to go away to college, being at home for extended periods of time with the rest of the family, being fearful of family members dying and losing family members, and being aware of the financial pressures and job loss that so many parents of teens have experienced. This list could certainly include even more challenges they have been facing for what is creeping up on almost a year's time.


Most teens have and will continue to have moments where they are emotionally distressed, however, so many have figured out how to make the most of the world as it is today. That is pretty impressive if you ask me. If one year ago, someone told your teen that they would be living as they are now, they would not have been able to fathom it. They would not have been able to imagine home schooling (unless they were already doing this in an organized way), not seeing friends, not attending graduations, having grocery store shelves depleted for months, having to wear a mask out in public, not being able to get a driver’s license, having parents at home all day, and all the other challenges they are experiencing today. Yet...they are doing all those things. How?


Most teens, as is the case with most adults, are resilient and are choosing to get back up and keep going. They are choosing to do the best they can with what they have. They are continuing to think about the future and how things will get better for them in time. They are planning for what they will do when the world opens back up a bit more. Despite all the loss, this year has been a powerful life lesson in how to bounce back and keep going and we will all be stronger because of it.


Some things that can further foster resilience in teens include:


  • Being able to feel all their feelings and express them appropriately. This can be hard, even for adults. Stuffing down feelings comes with a price at some point. It can result in an explosion of emotions and/or physical symptoms as a result of holding in strong emotions over time. Teens often have many mixed emotions going on inside of them which can make it challenging to both label them and express them appropriately. Role modeling how to feel, label, and express emotions for teens is a great way to help them learn how to do this themselves. Another way to help them learn how to do this is to point out when you see someone else expressing their emotions appropriately, even if it is in a movie. 


  • Having healthy / positive habits. When life becomes challenging (and it will), healthy / positive habits will help us stay on track. This can include a having a good sleep cycle, exercising regularly, eating healthy most of the time, reading / learning, journaling, practicing gratitude, or practicing a skill, hobby, sport, or other activity consistently in an effort to become more proficient. Habits like this can be grounding when things around us feel scary, challenging, or uncertain.


  • Continuing to discover and develop strengths. Even if things cannot operate as we wish they could, teens can still try new things, challenge themselves to get better at things they already do well and/or learn to truly master something. They can get creative with how to continue developing their skills, even if not in the way they have been accustomed to. They can continue to search for new activities which will allow them to develop new skills. Perhaps they have taken up baking, painting, or some other activity while spending more time at home. Whatever it is, discovering and developing strengths ongoing will contribute to their resiliency. 


  • Being able to see "failure" as opportunity and growth. Those who will not try new things because they think there is a chance they could fail, will not come close to growing into their full potential. However, those who are willing to try new things, learn from them, and keep going, will continue to build resilience. When teens are able to embrace the challenges that take them out of their comfort zone, they will continue to grow. As a reminder, praise their effort. Even if the outcome is not what they wished it would have been, it is important that they see that their hard work and effort carries meaning and that they should continue to try things that challenge them. 


  • Feeling like they have a purpose. Teenagers want to feel like they matter. They want to feel like they are contributing in some way, even if they do not tell you this. Whenever possible, give them opportunities to contribute, to offer advice and input, and make it a point to acknowledge them when they have contributed, had impact, made a difference, or supported others I some way.


  • Being able to say, "I can't do that...yet" instead of "I can't do that". This is so true for all of us. If there is something we want to do, but it is not possible today, that does not mean it will not be possible in the future. If you hear your teen say, "I can't do that", help them look to the future with hope so that they can change their mindset to, "I can't do that...yet". This mindset shift will change the way they approach things that may seem out of reach today, but which are a possibility in the future. This will help them “bounce back” when they feel overwhelmed with a challenge in their lives.


I do believe that many, if not most teens, have demonstrated impressive resilience this year. Even when things get easier, remind them of how resilient they were. Remind them of how they were able to adapt and remind them of how proud of them you are for how they handled this situation and all the challenges (including their feelings) that came with it. Even if they struggled more than you had hoped, they have likely still gotten through something they never imagined having to deal with, and there is a lot of power in that. The strength and additional resilience they have built will serve them for the remainder of their lives. 

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