Teen Talk, April 11, 2013: Building resilient teens

Teen Talk
Posted at 6:59 AM, Apr 11, 2013
and last updated 2014-06-17 13:02:06-04

Question: My two teenagers lost three friends in the last year. I feel like my task as a parent is to help them navigate crises and to build resilience and strength. I hope this helps them manage their strong feelings and multiple impulses each time one of these significant crises occur.

Answer: Remember parents, resilience is not a trait that teens are often born with. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be nurtured and developed over time. Developing resilience is a personal journey so let’s start with strategies for parents coaching of this very powerful tool.

1. Making connections is one of the most powerful tools that you can have. Good relationships with close family members and friends who support you through these events will strengthen your sense of you and your place and space. Connections with faith based experiences, civic groups and other groups will also help you feel hopeful. Meditation, relaxation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

2. Allow yourself to experience strong emotions and also realize that experiencing a crisis like this may also prepare you for crisis like this in the future. It is part of the character building experiences.

3. Avoid seeing crisis as insurmountable problems. You cannot change the fact that this crisis happened but you can change how you interpret and respond to this particular event.

4. Take control. Even in the midst of tragedy you can move towards goals, one small step at a time, particularly during the hard times. Just getting out of the bed and going to school may help you handle the very sad, out of control feelings that you have. Create goals and make sure they are realistic.

5. Cut yourself some slack. When something horrific happens in your life the stresses of whatever you’re going through may heighten daily stresses. Your emotions might already be all over the map because of hormones and physical changes, particularly with teenagers. Certainly a tragedy can make these shifts seem more extreme, be prepared to be easy on yourself.

6. Parents teach you and your family to always have a stress free zone or a safe haven in the house. What that means is that if something serious happens in your home, make your room or a part of the house as a place where you can just go and be and distress from your experience.

7. Teens, take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would go away, typically, they don’t.

8. Express yourself. Tragedy and trauma can bring so many conflicting emotions. If talking doesn’t work, do something creative to capture your emotions like music or journaling or looking for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in so many ways through grief and loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies have reported better relationships, a greater sense of strength by creating something different.

9. Nurture a positive view of yourself developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts. In teenagers, this helps build resistance. How can you do this? Typically an example of this would be helping someone. Nothing gets your mind off your own sense of anguish like helping someone else through their own triumph of tragedy.

10. Try and keep things in perspective. Even when facing painful events try and consider the stressful situation in a broader context and how your situation compares to other people’s anguish.

11. Maintain a hopeful outlook. You may feel like everyone is talking about your situation but remember, eventually things change and bad times end. If you’re worried if you’ve got what it takes to get through it, think again, you do.

12. Probably the most important key to resiliency is taking care of yourself; physically, mentally and spiritually. We often times talk about eating well, exercising and proper sleep, but it truly important to pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Taking care of yourself helps you to keep mind and body primed to deal with situations ahead.

Remember parents this is part of our task of raising healthy, strong teenagers. By using this we restore hope and confidence in our young minds.