The study of resiliency goes back several decades. However, recent economic challenges, natural disasters, and the prevalence of violence, among many other factors, have brought a laser focus to this growing body of research. Although I can’t bring my own personal research on the topic to the table, I can bring my personal observations of 20 years of working with children faced with the challenge of overcoming adverse situations. The research questions to be answered are two-fold:
1) Why do some children demonstrate resiliency in the face of adversity, while others flounder? The psychology behind resiliency is complex. However, from my observations, there are three factors that I believe play a primary role in how kids respond to adversity.
First, a meaningful, personal and caring relationship with at least one adult is profoundly important. Whether it is a family member, friend, pastor, or some other mentor, quality relationships are the cornerstone of building resilient youth.
Second, children who have been empowered to contribute to society feel in greater control over their own destiny. These kids understand they are a part of something bigger than themselves and don’t feel helpless when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges.
Third, a strong sense of faith. I have witnessed a number of dire instances of adversity and loss directly impacting children of all ages. In most of those cases, these children were able to express their personal spirituality as a tool to overcome significant obstacles.
2) What can communities do to nurture resiliency in our youth? If you believe there is merit to the three factors identified above, the simple answer is to assess and focus your community resources to help children make those connections.
If no positive adult relationship exists with a child, create opportunities. Mentoring programs, in-school relationships with teachers, after school adult/student tutoring programs, before and after school clubs and activities are ways to help make those adult connections.
For children to feel empowered, think of ways to engage kids in a meaningful way to be a part of the larger community. Providing transportation to participate in youth civic organizations, developing service-learning projects, and peer mentoring are proactive approaches for kids to take a role in giving back to society. Embedding the ideal of service above self not only empowers kids, but it is also personally fulfilling.
In terms of spirituality, faith organizations representing a broad cross-section of religious beliefs need to be out in the community on a much broader scale. I heard a minister once say, “We need our congregation to get out of the pews and into our community.” What this looks like will vary greatly, but should be done in partnership with parents and caregivers.
I think most everyone would agree future generations of youth are likely to be challenged in ways we have not even thought of yet. Building a more resilient nation requires communities to be resilient. However, that work starts by creating a community culture strategically focused on the nurturing of resiliency factors in our youth.