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How to Build the Resilience to Overcome Life's Challenges

Updated: Nov 12, 2020

As someone who works with teenagers and young adults to support confident career choices, I have been in awe of the resilience and tenacity shown in the recent student response and successful overturn to the 2020 A Level debacle. When our youth show such dignity during adversity, they demonstrate how to face challenge with grace and determination.

Our schools and institutions of further education have historically been seen as having a reliable, year in year out rhythm and formula, which have provided a much-needed structure and the opportunity to explore and develop within a predictable, safe framework. The temporary closure of educational establishments around the world as a result of the COVID pandemic, with the cancellation of classes, formal exams, extra-curricular activities, has shaken the growth model.

As distance and blended learning looks set to continue, along with the possibility of further temporary school closures, it is clear that now more than ever, emotional resilience must be our number one priority across the board as students, parents, and educators.

What is Emotional Resilience?

Resilience is the ability to cope with challenges, deal with negative feelings, and “bounce back” after something unforeseen and/or negative – such as a tough situation or difficult time. It’s also the ability to adapt to difficult circumstances that you can’t change, and to keep on thriving.

Grit, tenacity, and perseverance have become an important and popular topic of discussion among educators and political leaders alike. These traits have been identified through years of research and practice as among the potentially high-leverage factors contributing to success in school and life. Researchers have found that these and other closely related factors can have just as strong an influence on achievement as intellectual ability.

The Bedrock Program Toolkit to Develop Resilience & Overcome Challenge

"I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles overcome while trying to succeed."
- Booker T. Washington (African American educator)

1. Make Sure They Know They Are Valued

Parents should never assume that their children know they are loved and supported. It is important for parents to regularly express to their children that they are unconditionally loved and valued, and that this love and value are not based on achievement. As parents, we do not always remember how it feels as a teenager. There are numerous expectations, some real and some imagined. This sheer number of emotions linked to expectations perceived and real can create cross interdependencies that may not exist in reality. Similarly, key influencers in their life, such as teachers, mentors etc. must also show that they value teenagers and young adults for who they are, and not only what they can do.

2. Set Realistic Goals

No child or young adult can consistently achieve perfection without paying a high psychological, and in many cases, physical, price. Perfection is relative and the pursuit of it has been the fall for many families. It’s important to guide teenagers and young adults to set realistic goals that result from their own desire to achieve, rather than parents’ or educators’ expectations of what achievement should look like.

Goal setting helps create accountability, celebrate the small wins along the way, overcome challenges, and most importantly, seek help when needed. In uncertain times, goals are the glue that keep us focused and avoid panic and fight demotivation. Talking about your own goals openly, and agreeing family goals, demonstrates to your son or daughter how to explore, and create their own goals.

3. Allow Them to Make Mistakes & Recover from Them

Our first instinct is often to shield teenagers from the consequences of their mistakes, or prevent them from making mistakes altogether. This fails to prepare them for adult life, where an ability to learn and recover from failure is essential. Providing the safe space to understand consequences and develop problem-solving allows them to “fail forward”, with the steady support of parents, teachers, and advisors. If they are well equipped to troubleshoot their lives as adults, they will be able to face challenge head-on.

4. Encourage Young People to Try Something that Didn’t Work in the Past

Oftentimes, adults can disregard ideas when they feel “we’ve tried that before.” Young people however, are much more likely to suggest things that have already been tried since they were not around to hear about it the first time. When we invite young people to come to the table, we need to also make space for them to express their own ideas and opinions. This gives them to freedom to experiment and learn, and you never know, their different take on an old approach may even change the outcome this time round.

5. Allow Young People to Contribute from an Early Age

The idea that young people don’t have as much to contribute as adults is ingrained in our culture, and as adults, we often perpetuate the same things adults told us when we were young. When we know someone as a child, it may be hard to transition to allow them to make decisions on their own without our judgment as they grow older. Providing the opportunity for young people to build skills at a young age by contributing to the efforts of adults helps to strengthens those skills, and also in turn teaches us to value their input from an early age.

6. Teach Effortful Control

Regardless of the importance and worth attached to a long-term goal, students will always encounter times when other opportunities present themselves and cause a distraction. These could include finding funny and distracting posts on social media or hanging out with friends, and for these students, it is indeed a useful and welcome distraction, in the short-term. As has happened with us all, we make choices about how to spend their time, manage distractions and where to focus our attention.

It is important for parents/guardians not to give into the need to take control, and ‘make’ their teen manage a situation the way they would. Successful students can dig in and summon the willpower to regulate their attention and not get distracted. While this can seem harsh, research shows that students that are stronger in these skills are happier and better able to handle stress.

7. Be Fair & Consistent

According to the 2018 report, ‘Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance – Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century’ by research firm SRI International:

- Students will persist more when they perceive that they are treated fairly and with respect, and adults show they care about them.

- Students will persist more when teachers, administrators, and others in the school environment have high expectations for students’ success and hold students to high standards.

Mutual respect is very important to teens. Showing respect and kindness toward them is as essential as it would be toward a friend or colleague.

8. Encourage Experience that Teaches Initiative

I read once that, initiative is the ability to propel life forward in purposeful directions, and I like that description. The author explains that because it’s driven by internal rewards that build character and allow them to develop a real sense of who they are, and not through the acquisition of grades, winning, awards, or money. Allowing adolescents to choose projects or activities because it gives them internal rewards is essential to building the initiative that can them help change direction, even when a barrier seems like the end of the world.

This is why understanding their individual strengths and motivations is just as important as getting to know their skills and achievements.

At the Bedrock Program, we provide a safe, creative environment for discussion and discovery, to help young adults meet challenge head on.

The Bedrock Program

Career coaching for teenagers, young adults & adults

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