Resilience for young people – what schools can do

By Andrew Fuller in News

Building resilience involves creating the three things every parent wants for their children and every teacher wants for their students: this is for children and teens to have safe, happy, and fulfilling lives.

Making resilience pathways possible for young people protects them against mental health problems while making them less likely to be involved in risky behaviours, and more likely to succeed in school, relationships and life in general

The resilience pathways are the support mechanisms that every child deserves.

Safe

To live in a home where a child is loved and cared for and listened to by at least one parent or caring adult is a gift that lasts a lifetime. While the majority of young people have caring adults, 34% feel there is not an adult in their lives who listens to them.

Belonging

A sense of belonging is the most powerful antidote we have to suicide, violence and to drug abuse. The sense that someone would miss us if we didn't come home is a very important human need. Families need to clearly convey the message that a child is valuable and is ‘one of us’.

Our schools need to treat each student as a vital member of their learning community with the capacity for genius and greatness.

Our communities need to regard young people as our future and as a valuable resource to create a better world. The latest research indicates that girls have higher levels of belonging to family, friends, school and community than do boys.

Bullying

Respect is the most important message for schools to convey to students; to treat other people with the respect we all deserve - online, offline, everywhere, no exceptions. No one is left unscathed when bullying occurs. Targets are left with long-term damage. They are left with a sense that intimidation, belittlement and in some cases the sense that violence works in resolving relationship issues. Perpetrators also run a range of risks to successful long-term outcomes and there needs to be whole-school and in some cases targeted approaches to changing their behaviour.

Healthy eating

To function optimally brains need healthy nourishment. About 80% of the neuro-chemicals in our brains are created in our stomachs. This means that happiness, passion, motivation and vitality are related to what we eat. You don't run a sports car on two-stroke fuel so don't think you can run your genius brain on junk food. Avoid the sugars, salts and saturated fats. Give up fizzy sugary drinks.

Happy

The secret to happiness has been debated since Epicurus and Aristotle were boys. We can reveal the results of 3,000 years of investigation into what makes people happy. If you think it is any of the following …

- more holidays

- more fabulous profits

- more computer games

- more pleasure and leisure

- more chocolate

- less stress

- fewer demands on your time

- the abolition of homework

… that is sadly off the mark. After 3,000 years, we can tell you that happiness is created by none of these things. Nor is happiness caused by thinking you are the most wonderful, positive, upbeat, goal-achieving, dynamic genius around. Happiness is created when one does things that are meaningful, are helpful to, and valued by others.

Firstly, explain to students that they need to take time to get to know the most mysterious person in their lives - themselves. Help them to find an area of life where people value the contribution they can make and to avoid areas where people do not appreciate the contribution they can make.

Mind health

Everybody has their ups and downs. No one gets through life without some misery and disappointment. To get through the tough times and enjoy the best times, we need to help young people plan to bring the best out of themselves. This means knowing when they need recovery time, time to think, time to re-shift priorities as well as time to stop thinking so much about themselves and get out and play and help other people.

Hope

If learned helplessness is a key predictor of the likelihood of depression, “learned hopefulness” is an antidote. The anticipation that good things will happen in the future and that we have the ability to make some of those good things happen is the basis of hope. It makes a remarkable difference to young people when the adults around them take on a basic position of hopefulness. Of course, at times we all feel powerless and perhaps despairing. If you express hopelessness, you hand over your power to the whims of the future. The future belongs to those who create it!

Relationships

Our levels of satisfaction and happiness are directly related to the quality of the relationships that we create. There is probably no greater source of joy and no greater source of misery in people’s lives than relationships. Teaching young people the skills of creating and maintaining positive friendships and relationships, and even more powerfully, how to repair them in troubled times, is a formula for happiness in life.

Fulfilling

Values

Our opinions and attitudes about particular events may change according to circumstances. Our values are relatively unchanging aspects of positions we take about the world and about how we see ourselves.

Values guide our actions and help us to define who we are and what we stand for. Values play a powerful role in our reputation and relationships. Key values such as kindness, friendliness, forgiveness, caring can help us to think more deeply about who we are and how we live up to our own expectations.

Social Skills

The skill of creating great relationships requires:

  1. An awareness of the range of one’s own emotions;
  2. The ability to understand how other people feel;
  3. Being able to calm oneself when one is upset rather than blaming or acting out our distress on others; and
  4. Teaching young people to clarify their values so that they know what sort of person they want to be and the sort of person they want other people to know them as.

Identity

In the temple above the oracle in Delphi was written the words “know thyself”. We are all works in progress but clarifying the sort of person they want to be at a young age is a major advantage in life. Having a reasonably clear idea of who they want to be, gives them the chance to seek out opportunities, friendships and relationships that suit and help them to flourish. Developing a sense of identity takes a person from surviving to thriving.

Three ways to build resilience

There are three main ways we can increase the resilience of young people:

  1. Improve the quality of connections, friendship, compassion and forgiveness in schools, families and communities. Forgiveness is the central principle of cultural change.
  2. Demonstrate to young people the skills of resilience through classroom activities, year or school based events. This is often called social-emotional learning.
  3. Strengthen student voice and increase the empowerment of young people by having them devise meaningful projects that involve local young people contributing to making a difference in their schools, communities or world. Projects can include such ideas as vegetable gardens, harmony days, sustainable projects, school beautification and many more.
Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of being.
Johann W van Goethe

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