We live in a world where everything is rapidly advancing. It seems that every day there is something new that has been invented with the sole purpose of making our lives simpler and easier. And it’s not only technology that is moving at an accelerated rate – there are also consistent advances in healing, therapy, and self-care. Everywhere you turn there are new tips for implementing mindfulness at home, and new interventions that are being introduced in schools.
So why is it that kids these days seem to be able to tolerate LESS and have MORE negative reactions to the world around them? Why are there so many young people diagnosed with anxiety and depression? Why are teen suicide rates continually rising??
There are many factors that play into this, but one major issue that is often overlooked is that the entire foundation of our current culture actually DISCOURAGES resilience.
We are given very clear messages by the Media, the Entertainment Industry, and the News that the world is a scary place, and that we need things/people/strategies to PROTECT us from the terror that surrounds us. Basically we are taught to be victims, and the world around us is seen as the “enemy”. We are told that everything that doesn’t FEEL nice is BAD, and we are given solutions for “fixing” every struggle we encounter so that we can always feel happy and our lives can be perfect.
For example, we are told that:
Loneliness is bad, being in relationships can fix this (even when they are unhealthy)
Rejection is bad, wearing the latest clothing trends can fix this
Feeling insecure is bad, dieting/plastic surgery/makeup can fix this
Pain/anxiety/sleeplessness/sadness/sickness are bad, medication can fix this
The problem with this of course is that we are less and less able as a culture to experience any form of hardship and move THROUGH it – because we have been taught that what we should always be able to avoid pain, and if we don’t – well we must be doing something wrong.
Young people are more and more exposed to these messages, and so they are less and less likely to rely on the one thing that they need to in order to be truly resilient: THEMSELVES. And so when they experience the inevitable pain of being human, they assume it must mean something terrible and awful is happening that they need to do everything in their power to stop, hence the meltdowns and panic and mental health crises we see rising in young people today. It is not the hardships that cause this drama, it is our collective resistance to these hardships.
So…What can we do about this? How can we raise children in this world who are able to withstand ups and downs, and who can find internal resources to cope with life even when it’s hard?
Luckily, it’s actually quite simple – all we need to do is encourage young people to lean INTO their discomfort rather than avoiding it
If kids and teens can learn that uncomfortable feelings aren’t scary or bad, they will quickly realise that everything hard passes, and will be much more likely to grow and learn from the experience rather than crumbling beneath it.
Here are some simple strategies that you can use in everyday interactions with children and adolescents that will help build this skill:
Empathise with their FEELINGS rather than fixing the problem they are facing (eg “that sounds really hard, I’m so sorry you’re going through that”)
Encourage them to find solutions to their own struggles by reminding them how strong and resourceful they are (Eg “I bet you can find a helpful way to respond to that mean comment your friend made…you have such wisdom in understanding people”)
Remind them that HARD things don’t have to be BAD (Eg “I know this is really difficult for you right now, but often hard things lead to amazing learning – can you think of what you might GAIN from going through this?”)
Share your own vulnerable feelings with them in order to normalise struggle (Eg “When I was your age, I felt SO insecure in those situations, I really get what you’re going through!”)
Point out role models they can relate to who have overcome hardship and achieved some measure of success because of it (Eg “you know that singer you like? I heard she was bullied when she was a kid and as a result of that she realised her own strength, which led her to being so successful!”)
Some of these may feel natural and some may feel like a very strange way to respond – which is perfectly normal, because we are also part of this culture that has been taught to fear struggle! But if you can practice these responses in interacting with the young people in your family and community, you can be of tremendous help in creating a much needed shift in our cultural levels of resilience.
Looking for more resources?
Mental health videos for parents, teachers, and teens can be found my Youtube Channel.