5 Tips to Raise a Resilient Teen
By June Rousso, Ph.D.
Teens today are faced with so much rapid change along with everyday academic and social demands. All of these demands can be very stressful at times. Our bodies naturally react to stress with a fight, flight or freeze reaction. However, we also can use our thoughts and emotions to develop resilience and better manage stress. This is where resilience comes in. But how to build it? Here are some tips for parents guided by the words of teens themselves from ChildResilient.org, a student-run non-profit organization born out of the pandemic.
Tip #1: Encourage a strong sense of self in your teen.
If you have a sense of who you are, you can easily direct yourself towards and away from situations — even toxic ones. As parents, give more choices when you can, and encourage your child not to be influenced by social conformity. While it is natural to want to be liked by others, it’s also important to live by your own will. Let them learn to think independently, regardless of the good and bad opinions of others. Help foster resilience as well as build your teen’s self-confidence by encouraging this kind of independent thinking.
Tip #2: Don’t dwell on the past, especially the bad life experiences.
While you never want to dismiss your child’s feelings, dwelling on the past prevents building up the strength to move forward in life. Children, especially teens, can be so sensitive to how they might have been judged in the past.
Past opinions don’t matter and they need to learn to do things for themselves. Strengthen your teen’s sense of self by teaching them not to be swayed by public opinion. With ongoing emotional reactions to stress — such as depression and anxiety — it is important to remind your child that these feelings are not all of who they are, which helps to keep your teen resilient.
Tip #3: Explain that making social comparisons is natural, but overdoing it hinders being a resilient teen.
When we compare ourselves to others, we usually come out on the short end of the stick or take on an arrogant attitude of feeling better.
Communicating that there will always be people with more of something in some way is one message, but teens can also learn that these same people can serve as role models and be inspirational. At the same time, despite the social comparisons, it is about pleasing yourself and doing the best you could. As parents, guide your child to look to their inner strengths to build resilience and remind them that they are all a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses. Remind them that we all have weaknesses that can be developed or compensated for.
Tip #4: Encourage your teen to look for meaning in their life experiences.
Finding meaning in life’s experiences helps make a resilient teen. Don’t only encourage teens to be involved in meaningful activities but give the message that when something is personally meaningful, we feel happy. Rather than pursuing happiness, an endless journey, living meaningful experiences is more likely to bring true happiness. Yet we have to remind ourselves that happiness is fleeting.
We also find meaning in adversity. We just need to take the time to reflect on how we can learn and grow from the experience and make the best of it. During the pandemic, the ChildResilient teens found more time to reflect on their lives and to pursue a goal that would bring meaning to themselves and others. Those activities where we can transcend ourselves are the most meaningful in life.
Tip #5: Find the little things that make you happy.
Paying attention to the little things in life brings us out of our heads and is de-stressing. We are much less likely to overthink our lives. The more we pay attention to those little moments, the more positive memories we have to turn to when things get rough. The ChildResilient team reflected on the little things that made them happy. Some of these are “making the most out of the scenery around you and smiling at a stranger”; “observing children playing and walking my younger brother to school”; or receiving a compliment from someone in those moments when you don’t feel good about yourself. They took time out of their busy lives to pay attention to little things rather than hyperfocus on life’s demands. They found that by giving this kind of attention they were building their inner resilience.
Dr. June Rousso is a licensed psychologist, life coach, and writer. She is on the advisory board of Child Resilient. It’s a student-led nonprofit organization focusing on fostering emotional resilience and mental health wellness in children and adolescents through education, outreach, and awareness. Her book, Building Resilience and Finding Meaning in Life: A Guide for Teens (2022), was inspired in part by their work and received the Counselor’s Choice Award for its contribution to the mental health field.