Resilience – Why do our youngsters lack Resilience? – What we can do to help them

Do you find your students (or your children)

  • Often give up too easily?
  • Lack initiative?
  • Deal with failure badly ?
  • Blame others when things go wrong?
  • Want you to solve their problems?
  • Fear failure, so use avoidance strategies?

They are possibly lacking in resilience

The American Psychological Association defines Resilience as:

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.

Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. One example is the response of many Americans to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives.

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

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I decided to ride up a mountain on a borrowed bike this morning. Setting off optimistically up a 2050 foot climb, I soon realised it was going to be tougher than I’d predicted – Being realistic has never been my forte. Negative thought processes almost immediately appeared, blaming external factors – ‘It’s too hot, the bike is too heavy, the gears are too high,’ (It was an old 1980s road bike with dodgy ancient tubular tyres and those horrible biopace chainrings – info for those cyclists geeks) ‘No one knows I’m challenging myself, I’ll just turn back’.

I nearly stopped several times but kept going, mainly because I wanted to write a blog on resilience and didn’t want to feel hypocritical. Then my thoughts started looking for excuses to do with my own failings – ‘I’m not feeling too well, haven’t ridden for a while, maybe I should just turn back’. Then a guy on a much better bike than mine burned past me, obviously because he was on the better bike! – he was under much greater pressure though as he couldn’t blame his bike if he failed. I plodded after him, then he stopped for a cigarette ! – ”Thats it I’m not letting this mountain beat me if a smoker can get up it” It was hard, it hurt, voices in my head were telling me to stop – ‘Whats the point? ‘ but I made it.
Did I feel good? No, I felt terrible, exhausted! Then the great feeling came, I had conquered the mountain (or more precisely my own demons) , I could write this blog, but more importantly, I had a long downhill blast that I had earned.

Why do so many of our students give up, or scream for help when the going gets tough?

In Psychology Today Dr Peter Gray writes

Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges
College personnel everywhere are struggling with students’ increased neediness.

A US College found that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices.

This mirrors what huge numbers of teachers around the world have said to me. Students lack independence and require constant handholding and support. Teachers are having to deal with this lack of resilience. Our students don’t expect to struggle at all, if they do, It’s our fault for not teaching them properly. Failure in a test is seen as a catastrophe, not something you can learn from, but something you can blame someone for. With the ever-present pressure of exams teachers are stuck in a situation where we all too often cave in to their helplessness (and they know we will!)  and so the neediness cycle continues.

Dr Gray theorises that much of this has to do with the lack of free play experienced in childhood. Children rarely have to make decisions for themselves away from adults, so therefore when they reach adulthood they are poorly prepared.

What elements of play might be missing?
Ellen Sandseter, a professor at Queen Maud University in Trondheim, Norway, has identified six categories of risks. These are:

Heights: Most children love to climb whether on climbing frames or trees. Shouting excitedly’ look at me ‘ often to the horror of parentis who would not have allowed them to go that high
Rapid speeds: Even tiny children love swings and want to go faster, then scooters, bikes, skateboards etc.
Dangerous tools: It isn’t random behaviour that causes children to be drawn towards the knives, drills and other things that parents immediately move out of the way (A Swahili proverb state: If a child cries for a knife give it to them – they will learn)
Dangerous elements: All children are fascinated by fire, are drawn to deep holes or fast currents
Rough and tumble: Play fighting and chasing each other. They seem to prefer being chased and being thrown around rather than being the ones in control
Disappearing/getting lost: Hide and seek gives the thrill of separation at an early age. As they get older they make dens and find places away from adults if they can.

Looking at these I realise I climb and coasteer, ride a fast motorbike, love my chainsaw , am a pyromaniac, do judo and Thai Boxing and rarely know where I am going – Can anyone recommend a good psychotherapist? But we take risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us.

We are living in an increasingly risk averse ‘safe’ society ,by overprotecting our young people are we actually damaging them?  Is there much adventure in our children’s lives?
Children allowed to explore, learn from small painful episodes (or larger ones) and failures. They learn that in play fighting, hurt can happen without intention.  They discover how to regulate their own behaviour and response to being hurt. They learn how to assess risk. How to balance the reward of the thrill, with the actual danger. They can learn from failure, take responsibility for it and hence build their own resilience.  They learn to deal with unpredictable events and not to fear the unknown.

Without these learning experiences they may become adults incapable of making decisions for themselves, paralysed by irrational fear.

Resilient people tend to have the following characteristics:

Optimism: There is a clear link between optimism and resilience. The most resilient people tend to be those who feel when faced with adversity that things could be worse. This is certainly true of survivors in shipwreck situations
Faith and/or spirituality: Having a belief in an external deity or a belief in yourself that things will get better. Having a strong moral compass
Humour: Being able to reframe the situation and either laugh at it or at yourself. Always look on the bright side of life!
Social support: There is huge amounts of evidence that cancer survival rates for example go up when that person has strong and supportive friendship groups.
Can Learn from Role Models: Resilient people take responsibility and action learning from others who have been in similar situations

Resilient people tend to feel they have a measure of control, or that its all a journey and a new learning experience is taking place.

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Does the online world help our young people?

Many students can escape this scary real world into an online world of gaming. Your failures happen away from people you have to meet every day. There is a sense of order and predictability in the game and you can learn in safety without damaging social repercussions. There are lots of benefits to gaming – evidence Players show huge resilience in that they fail,learn from that failure and try again. Does this translate into the real world? I fear not but maybe that is just my own non – gamer bias, then I watched this:

You may want to try this  SuperBetter

Other children turn to a virtual online social media world that is potentially hugely rewarding or damaging. People present on sites such as Facebook an airbrushed, perfect life. Had a wonderful day …., what a perfect husband/friend/parent/child .. We get a rose tinted distorted window into the worlds of others . You can control what others see, but not how they react to what you show them so there is a high stakes and often high fear . The evidence from researchers  appears to show it makes us unhappier and almost certainly wont improve your resilience.

The team found that Facebook use correlated with a low sense of well-being.

“The more people used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time,” they said. “Rather than enhancing well-being… these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.”

Does Facebook infantilise us?  Lady Greenfield thinks so here  Im not a big fan of these, but you can test yourself here:  howinfantilizedareyou.com

What can be done to help our young people in a resilience crisis?

Understandably some schools have adopted the approach that the results are the only thing that matter and hands are held all the way through to the end of school. Thus the job is done in getting the students the qualifications needed (and in some schools this is what the parents have paid for and expect )

The work of Carol Dweck and her Growth Mindset has revolutionised some peoples lives

Some strategies for teachers: 

Have a clear definition of what you want your students to be like that is achievable by all and not simply based on performance. Resilient, creative, risk taking etc.
Deal with helicopter parents ,  encourage them to let their sons/daughters to make decisions for themselves. To be clear what the damage that frailty can cause and to buy into your vision of an outstanding student.
Encourage students to look at failure in a different way. Let them fail in low stress environments. For example get them used to pre-topic tests as a simple diagnostic tool – you need to know what they know before you teach them a topic. Or simply a question they shouldnt be able to answer yet and get them to consider strategies for answering it.

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In Maths use dan Meyers 3 Act Maths here, in science try my  (being developed) 3 act science. here
Teachers need to model failure and how to react to it by failing themselves
Using strategies outlined in Visible Thinking Routines get students to look at dilemmas and difficult decisions and practice reframing and dealing with problems  here  You can just  add – ‘What might happen if? ‘ questions
For a way of breaking down barriers you might try the ‘Yes factor’ outlined below
One interesting thing is my high school principal like to use the “Yes Factor” when she runs a post-suspension meeting with a student and his/her family. How does she do this? She always starts with “Today we are here to resolve the matter so that you can come back to school. In the last few days you probably have thought about what you have done. We would like to talk about this now so that we can move on and not to dwell on this matter any more.“Today we are here”, “to resolve the matter”, “so that you can come back to school”, “In the last few days”, “you probably have thought about what you have done”, “We would like to talk about this now”, “”we can move on”, “not to dwell on this matter any more” are all the “Yes Factors” and undeniably true as everyone in the post-suspension meeting tends to agree with that. When people agree with what you say with the first few statements at the beginning, it is more likely that they will also agree with some suggestions you are going to bring up. find out more here
Some Strategies for Parents:

Try to let go and give them some freedom to explore their 6 risky behaviours and allow your partner to do the same (maybe not hand them the knife!)
Let them solve problems by themselves, you may suggest strategies and ways of tackling the problem, but try not to influence their decisions too much.
Talk through how you make decisions yourself, weighing up the pros and cons of different approaches.
Discuss films and decisions the characters made and the consequences.
The film Inside Out provides great opportunities for opening discussions
Talk about what happened at school. Not by using the question. ‘What happened at school today ?’ that normally generates a monosyllabic response – 25 questions you can use instead are here
For teens here are 28 questions here  though don’t have a high expectation that it will bring forth much. We can but try!
Learn basic counselling skills -Ideally on a course with a tutor but there are plenty of online courses for example here 

What do we mean by Grit?

 

What have you found works to improve resilience = either your own or other peoples?

Please add comments and resources below

 

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