All parents and teachers would like our teenagers to be resilient: resilient against disappointment and bad news, resilient when things go wrong and when they make mistakes. We want them all to be mentally and emotionally tough: able to cope with the good times AND the bad; able to keep things in perspective and react appropriately. We want them all to grow into strong and self-reliant adults, able to manage their lives with minimum anxiety.
I say “minimum anxiety” because it is unrealistic to expect a life devoid of anxiety. For this reason if no other, it is vitally important that we support teenagers as they develop the ability to manage anxiety – to be resilient. We won’t do this by ‘fixing’ everything for them, by attempting to remove all sources of anxiety from their life. In fact, I suspect that human nature is so attuned to having to deal with anxiety that we find it even where it doesn’t exist. Trying to remove these anxieties may prove counterproductive as children may then invent their own anxieties.
What we want is that all our children can cope, even if something does throw them off balance. We want them to recognise that it isn’t the end of the world, they know they will be able to cope, to get past it and move on.
I spoke to the girls in assembly this morning about seven traits which researchers have identified as helping teenagers to become more resilient. These in turn will prepare them to become more resilient adults.
- Resilient teenagers are involved. They maintain their role in extra-curricular activities and when times get tough they keep up this involvement. They don’t have to be great at it, but seeing this activity as part of their life is vital. It gives them perspective, social interaction and a sense of belonging.
- They help others. This might be peer support at school, within their own year group or with younger children; it might be coaching or supporting them with school work or extra-curricular activities. Time and again the benefits of regularly helping others prove of enormous value in maintaining self-esteem and a sense of self-worth.
- They foster positive relationships with their teachers and other adults. This might mean having one, or a few adults, with whom they spend time outside the classroom: organising extra-curricular activities, music or sports. Just talking to and getting to know an adult gives teenagers a great sense of support and constancy whilst growing up.
- They maintain personal routines such as sleep patterns, eating and finding time to rest in a calm environment. In essence, they invest in themselves and they understand how important this time is.
- They find friends that they can spend time with – not on social networking sites, but face to face. Ideally they meet them regularly, so perhaps these are class friends or people they do extra-curricular activities with. They learn to listen to and care about others as much as themselves. They should be encouraged to maintain these friendships.
- They learn to manage and rationalize disappointments because they know it is normal not to achieve everything they want. They will have people (adults and peers) with whom they can share their disappointments and who will support them as they aim for their (often changing) personal goals.
- They find things which help them to cope with adversity. They have certain activities, routines or people that they know they can turn to when times are hard or change is forced upon them.
Many of your daughters are already doing at least some of these things; here in school there are many opportunities for them to do all of them. And many of them do things outside school which support this list. If they don’t do all of these things now, it is never too late to start.
The final point of the list is perhaps the most important: that they know who they can turn to when times are hard or when they are worried or anxious. None of us, whatever our age or level of maturity, are able to cope single-handedly ALL the time. We all need friends, relatives or outside experts to help us at times. The clever thing is to know and recognise this and to be ready and willing to ask for help when you need it.
Heather Hanbury, Headmistress, Lady Eleanor Holles School