There is wide understanding that resilience – the ability to respond positively to life’s challenges – is an important skill for healthy youth development. However, there is much to learn about how to promote resilience in youth and how to help youth increase resilience.
Resilient youth are able to utilize their strengths to cope and recover from struggles and challenges. These struggles may include academic failure, social or family problems, mental health, medical issues, or the death of a loved one.
Instead of hiding from problems with unhealthy coping strategies, resilient youth face life’s difficulties head on. Many will still experience anxiety and struggles, but may emerge even stronger than they were before.
Those at-risk youth who lack this resilience and grit may instead become overwhelmed by such experiences. They may dwell on their failures and struggles and begin unhealthy coping mechanisms or risky behavior to deal with life’s challenges. These individuals are slower to recover from setbacks.
Resilience does not eliminate stress or erase life’s difficulties.
Utilizing Growth Mindset with Youth
One important element of resilience is the type of “mindset” young people hold about their own abilities to change and grow. David Yeager and Carol Dweck demonstrated in their 2012 article, “Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed” that we hold in our minds certain implicit theories regarding our personal qualities and abilities, specifically about whether we can improve them or whether they are fixed and we cannot change them.
The first attitude is called a “growth” mindset (personal qualities are malleable and we can change and grow them).
The second is called a “fixed” mindset (personal qualities are fixed and stable, resistant to change and improvement).
These theories about ourselves and our abilities have a powerful influence over how we approach the world, how we judge events that happened to us, and the choices we make for ourselves.
Yeager and Dweck suggest that interventions to promote a growth mindset are most effective when they
- (a) include messages that precisely target the way a fixed mindset is affecting students in a given context
- (b) are delivered using methods that lead students to quickly internalize those messages.
Yeager and Dweck continue to show that such interventions can lead to increased resilience and positively impact on future youth development.
I can recall back in 2015, when I first heard about, a Growth Mindset, I found it important to remember that this is a journey – one that involves small shifts in thinking, rather than huge leaps. Most people aren’t Fixed or Growth, but somewhere in between.
Model Resilient Behavior
As a result of Yeager and Dweck’s result on “Growth Mindset” how can help youth in their own fostering of resiliency?
Simply begin with the fact that many youth need to be shown how to handle struggles. It’s important for teachers, parents, mentors to remain cool, calm and consistent.
As an educator and mentor I’ve always found it important to admit my own personal mistakes to the students I am working with. This honesty will allow for future conversations to take place where it is not okay but expected to discuss how we can improve our behavior and decision-making next time.
Allow for Mistakes
No matter the youth’s age it is a priceless lesson for adolescents to see and learn from the consequences of their actions. As a result, they will be surprised to see how they bounce back from their past struggles and failures.
Model Proper Management of Emotions
Young adults should be told and shown (especially young males) that all emotions are okay. By accepting risky behavior, limitations can be established. Whether you’re a teacher, mentor or parent it is important to take time to help youth brainstorm ways to tackle the issues. This type of transparency will benefit decision-making in the future.
Teach Problem Solving
It’s important to help our youth understand that not all problems or failures can be fixed for them by others. Rushing to solve a solution will not all for any growth to occur. Rather, work with the young adult to brainstorm continued solutions that will help them address current challenges they may be facing. Be sure to allow for discussion related to potential consequences of each solution.
In the end when working with at-risk youth, it’s important to remind them that will learn more from their own personal struggles than they will ever from their successes.
As a result, I truly think that John Greenleaf Whittier said it best with the following poem,
“When things go wrong, as they sometimes will;
When the you’re trudging seems all uphill;
When the funds are low and the debts are high;
And you want to smile but you have to sigh.
When all is pressing you down a bit-
Rest if you must, but don’t you quit
Success is failure turned inside out;
The silver tint on the clouds of doubt;
And you can never tell how close you are;
It may be near then it seems far.
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit ~
It’s when things go wrong that you must not quit.”John Greenleaf Whittier
- Source: Yeager, David & S. Dweck, Carol. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist. 47. 10.1080/00461520.2012.722805
- Source: Going beyond “Fixed vs Growth” with the Mindset Continuum by James Anderson.