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Cultivating Teen Resilience

The teen years are a time of nonstop changes and challenges for both teens and their parents. Resilience helps teens navigate the ups and downs of adolescence and bounce back from adversity. Lucky for parents, it’s a skill that can be learned, and researchers have identified the seven strengths that lead to teen resilience. Here, we offer some ideas to consider for cultivating teen resilience.

Social skills

One of the most critical aspects of teen resilience is social support: the feeling that they are loved, cared for, and belong with others. As teens navigate new levels of independence and responsibility, social skills empower them to take care of the relationships that matter most. Such skills include communicating clearly, listening with empathy, and resolving conflict. Parents can help by modeling emotional openness and clear, compassionate communication. Put feelings first– ask your teen, for example, what they think another person might have been feeling during a difficult moment. Practice active listening, and when conflict comes up, stay calm and solution-focused. 

Optimism 

Optimistic teens expect positive outcomes and feel hopeful about the future, giving them a big boost in resilience. Some teens are naturally more likely to look on the sunny side, but all teens can learn how to think more positively. Help your teen develop an optimistic attitude by practicing positivity together. Gratitude is one of the most powerful pathways to optimism, so share what you feel grateful for when you sit down to a meal together or keep a daily gratitude list. Reframing negative self-talk also helps teens retrain their brains to prioritize positive thoughts and emotions. 

Purpose 

A 2018 study found that teens who scored high for having a sense of purpose “were resilient enough to look past the present challenges and envision a positive future.” Teens can find purpose in relationships, their spiritual life, causes they care about, or working towards future goals. You can help your teen discover what makes life meaningful for them by talking about their personal values and supporting them in finding their passions. Make sure they know that purpose is a process; in fact, part of their purpose can be enjoying the adventure of learning about themselves, trying new things, and discovering unexpected gifts, strengths, and sources of inspiration.

An attachment to family, to school and learning 

Resilient teens feel supported by their families and schools, which helps them embrace learning even when it’s tough. Many of the qualities included in resilience are also associated with a growth mindset: the belief that skills and intelligence improve with effort and that persistence pays off. Teens who think this way tend to embrace challenges and bounce back quickly from perceived failures. You can support your teen in developing a growth mindset by praising them for effort and courage, giving them the tools to practice self-compassion, and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone and take risks that help them grow.

Problem-solving skills 

A big part of resilience is dealing with problems proactively. Resilient teens are creative and capable when faced with a setback, and don’t expect others to solve their problems for them. Sometimes the best way to help your teen solve problems is by taking a step back: support them in making decisions and taking action, but let them take the lead. Help them think through their options and understand what they can and can’t control. And consider asking for their advice when you’re facing a problem of your own. That helps teens understand how to make tough decisions and take responsibility.

An effective coping style 

Resilient teens know how to manage feelings of distress, frustration, and disappointment. Help your teen understand what their go-to coping style is. Some healthy ways of coping include humor, seeking support, relaxation, physical activity, and adjusting expectations. Less-healthy coping involves denial, self-blame, or venting. Teens can evaluate the effectiveness of different techniques and develop positive methods of coping, like learning to check in with their emotions, practicing self-care, and asking for help when they need it. 

A positive self-image

Teens with poor self-esteem may feel like the world is out to get them. Teens with a positive self-image are likely to understand that everyone faces difficulties at times, and that whatever they’re going through doesn’t reflect their value as a person. Help your teen maintain their self-worth by letting them know you love, accept, and support them unconditionally. 

And know that all the previous resilience-building tools – like learning social, problem-solving, and coping skills – also grow their self-esteem by helping them feel prepared. Resilient teens know that they can bounce back no matter what happens. When they see themselves as strong, they’re truly ready to take on the world!

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