Resilience: Learning to Overcome Life’s Obstacles

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The boy had been acting in plays since he was little. He and all of this friends were trying out for the middle school play. The boy was sure he would get the lead due to his previous experience in other plays.

Unfortunately when the various parts were posted, the boy was relegated to a small part with only one line. The boy was devastated and his first reaction was to quit the entire play and just give up on acting altogether.

All adolescents experience some type of adversity as they grow up. Some of the setbacks are relatively minor bumps in the road like the situation above. Other setbacks can be much more devastating such as experiencing family problems, serious illness, or a personal crisis.

Regardless of the type of adversity, adolescents need to learn how to overcome these hardships and move on. The ability to overcome adversity is referred to as resilience and it is something that can be cultivated by parents over time.

One of the main influences on resilience is having a stable, positive relationship with at least one caring adult. For many adolescents, the caring adult relationship is with one or both of their parents. Parents can foster these types of relationships by making themselves available to their teenagers and supporting them, particularly during the tough times. Adolescents are able to find strength with this type of support and overcome life’s obstacles more successfully.

The caring relationship with an adult can also offer an opportunity for adolescents to see adults successfully deal with their own adversities. The more positive approach adults use in addressing their own problems, the more likely adolescents will model that approach when confronted with their own challenges.

In addition to being available and supportive, parents can foster a positive family environment to increase adolescent resilience. This means establishing clear rules and limits for adolescents while also allowing some freedom as they get older. This way adolescents are gradually exposed to challenges but not overwhelmed by them at too young of an age.

Another avenue for parents to foster resilience is to encourage adolescents to find a sense of meaning in their life that promises a path towards a more constructive future. Adolescence can be a difficult time for many teens as they often feel lost and directionless. A way that adolescents can find their direction is to find a sense of meaning through religious and spiritual practices conducted at houses of worship and at home. These practices provide guidance and structure that adolescents can rely upon when they are in a midst of a crisis.

Adolescents will inevitably experience a variety of setbacks in their life. Their ability to overcome these setbacks and not be overwhelmed by them depends on their level of resilience. Parents can develop their teens’ resilience by embracing the influences mentioned above. Once adolescents have successfully addressed adversity, they will become even more capable of dealing with the next challenge that comes along.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on March 1, 2015

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