If resilience is the ability to adapt and recover, are we doing our children a disservice by bubble wrapping them?
I think all our parents used the line “you guys have it easy! In my day, we had to…” you know, the one where they trudged five miles, barefoot in the snow, all uphill to school and back every day… that line.
And, yet, here I sit, and I am tempted to say the same to our kids. They do have it easy. They will never know the pain of finding time to get to a library, and then sitting sifting through encyclopaedias for research for a project. They will never understand the anxiety involved in phoning a potential boy/ girlfriend and being grilled by the parental gatekeeper. They will never know the tension involved in trying to tape a song off the radio, and the frustration and anger when the DJ speaks in the middle of the song, or over that wonderful ending. They will never fully appreciate what veldskool was for us South Africans – having to endure stern, power hungry militants making you march, and salute, and drop and give them twenty, all in the name of building character, building resilience.
And while I may be oversimplifying how “easy” life is for our youth, the reality is that there are so many other things that make it much harder to grow up today. Things previous generations did not have to deal with. While I will acknowledge that every generation has had their trials, today’s youth are exposed to things that we never even imagined, like cyberbullying, and high pressure and over-scheduling, more competition, too much screen time and exposure to content they shouldn’t know about at the young ages that they do. They need to be aware of invisible dangers like online predators, they have more disconnected relationships than any other generation because they channel their relationships through devices. There is childhood obesity, vaping, legalised marijuana, competing with the perfect social media image, “blue tick syndrome”, stressing about how many likes they have, to name but a few of the preoccupations that add to their stress. The incidence of childhood depression and suicide is higher now than it has ever been. I guess they don’t have it that easy after all.
If there is one thing we do know, and something that Covid has really smacked us hard on the forehead with, is that we need to have the ability to bounce back, and to adapt if we want to survive.
Perhaps we need to adapt Darwin’s the theory to ‘survival of the most resilient’. When we are resilient, we find ways to persist. Even when faced with challenges, we have enough belief in ourselves. When things change, we can see reality has changed, and then we need to adapt and create alternative solutions. When we manage that, it increases our resilience. It is a positive feedback look.
Here are 7 Cs adults need to encourage in the youth so that they develop resilience:
- Competence – what we overprotect we make weak. From young, encourage them to do things for themselves. If you constantly do it for them, you are basically giving them the message that they are not competent to do it themselves. Not to mention that you will then still be doing that thing for them long after they are actually able to do it.
- Confidence – create a “safe to fail” environment. If a child learns that failure is not final, and it simply warrants a slight modification to try again, they will not be crippled by failure. Failure then becomes a non-existent idea. The concept of “you’ve almost got it!” is such an encouraging, powerful motivator. Rather than “you are wrong”.
- Connection – while it is important to instil independence in them, we do need to be cautious not to discount interdependence. Dependence is not something that goes hand in hand with resilience, but interdependence absolutely is. There are very few, in fact I am wracking my brain right now to think of one, instances where teamwork and collaboration does not mean a better output.
- C What is character building? I remember when something negative happened, my elders always saying, “it’s ok, it builds character”. But I don’t agree with it in the same way they meant it. Adversity may be character building because every experience you have does impact your character, even the negative experiences, but my revision to that would be, be cautious about the character you are building. Are you creating a tough character, a victim character, a bully… which character do you want to build?
A great exercise for this is something I make parents consciously think about. Make a list of 10 of the character traits you would like your child to have as an adult, and then work backwards. If you say integrity is one, are you teaching them what that means, and how to have it? Every day? Or are you telling little white lies here and there which send the message… it’s ok to lie once in a while.
If adaptability is something you want them to have, are you showing them that in everyday life. When something doesn’t go your way, how do you respond to it? Are you adaptable?
- Coping is closely tied to resilience. Mental health has become a very real concern for the youth of today – a major issue modern youths are dealing with more than previous generations had to. It is vital that we teach them to cope with any difficulties life may throw their way. And this begins from young. When they can’t tie their shoelaces, and want to give up, we need to teach them to break it down into manageable chunks. First show them how to get their socks on, then let them watch you do the rest. When they have mastered the socks, let them try getting the shoes on the right feet.Once that is done, go a step forward and teach them the first part of tying the shoelace… etc etc. What you are doing is teaching them how to cope with big tasks. Eating the proverbial elephant, one bite at a time. When you teach them this way, they gain confidence and belief in themselves that they can in fact do anything. If you just give them shoes and ask them to do it all in one go, they feel defeated and like the task is insurmountable. This destroys confidence and they feel they cannot cope. Remember, one bite at a time.Firstly, they need the appropriate physical capability, and secondly, they need the adequate problem-solving capability. When they have mastered those things, they will knowthey can cope with whatever comes their way, and their self-belief and confidence to take on any challenges will grow.
- Control – teaching self-control and that they are in control, are very important lessons. Lessons that a lot of adults still haven’t yet mastered. When we realise that events are neutral, and that it is a choice as to what emotion or response we give those events, we learn to control so much of our lives. When we learn to respond rather than react, and to think things through before acting
impulsively, we are better able to have control over ourselves, and our situations.
- Culpability – accountability is ultimately one of the most important “adulty” traits we can have. When we know we are accountable, we immediately establish a better code of honour. To ourselves, to others, and to our commitments. When we know we are accountable, we make better choices and decisions, and we feel more responsible for our lives.
People need to be resilient to adapt to whatever life throws their way. We know that the future is unpredictable, and the best way that we can arm our youth is with resilience. If they expect change, and know that they can take on any challenges, they will always find a way to keep going.
JK Rowlings said, “It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
The difference between the impossible and the possible, the “I can’t” and the “I did”, lies in resilience, perseverance, and adaptability. Those are what we need to be teaching and modeling to our youth. Every day.