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  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Building Resilience in Teenagers

Building Resilience in Teenagers

I’ve always had an interest in what makes some people resilient in the face of adversity and what causes other people to crumble or feel overwhelmed. I’ve had my share of challenging times and I have been fortunate enough to be able to cope even if initially I felt like I couldn’t. This was especially apparent in my twenties when I was faced with some major life events, some of which I have spoken about in earlier blogs, which you can find on my website.

According to the American Psychological Association website ‘Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences’. When we are resilient, we are able to move on from a difficult event and move forward in life. This ability is especially important when we are young as it teaches us a lifelong skill that will stand to us during all major events in our lives. Thankfully according to the APA, it is not something some people have, and others don’t, it is something we can learn and I believe it is vital we teach to our children and teenagers.

In my work as a trainer, teacher and I coach, I work a lot with teenagers helping them deal with negative thinking, stress and how to cope with having an online presence and the potential judgements and criticisms that come with social media. I spend a lot of time researching new ways to cope and how to have better well-being and one of my favourite researchers and writers is Martin Seligman the father of positive psychology.

Seligman has done extensive research into happiness, well-being and resilience and one of his main discoveries is that those of us who are optimistic are less likely to suffer with depression and are more likely to be resilient. Optimism, like resilience, is not something we have, and others don’t, it is also a skill you can develop. When supporting your teen, and yourself, here are some of things to watch out for when it comes to optimism and pessimism.

Do they believe that bad events are transient, or do they think they will last forever? Check for words like always and never in their language. In NLP they are referred to as Universal Quantifiers. Such as – ‘this always happens to me’, ‘I am never any good at this’, ‘I will never get over this’. Language like this is a sign of pessimism. It’s important to get them to see it as a passing event so that they can develop greater optimism. In Mind Coaching, coaches always challenge these types of statements as it usually means there is some underlying negative belief about life or the person himself or herself.

An optimist will see failures as related to specific and momentary issues. For example, a failed exam is because of lack of study not an inability at the subject as a whole. Rejections are to do with the other person’s mood and not because they have a dislike or overall bad opinion of us as a person. Martin Seligman often refers to the ABCD model, which is also used in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This is knowing that B – our beliefs about A – an adverse situation leads to thinking or behaviour, which is C – the consequences of the event, not the event itself and if we use D – we dispel or dispute the negative beliefs and thoughts and create more useful ones. In NLP we call this reframing and it is extremely useful when we get stuck in a loop and can’t see things from a different perspective. Which leads me on to my next point.

It is important to help teenagers to become more proactive and take charge of what they can control in the face of setbacks. It is very easy for us to develop learned helpless, another area of Seligman’s research, which causes us to think that nothing we can do will change our situations. The reality is there is always something we can do, and it is important that you, and your child, knows that they always have power. Their power can be realised by redirecting their focus into something more useful like subjects at school they excel at. It can be teaching them to ask for help or being creative in the way they study, or learn, or coming up with multiple reasons for why an event has happened and how this could be useful. Feedback is better word than failure and feedback is ‘always’ useful. It can also be helping them to reframe or change their thinking so, they have greater control over their view of the situation.

A perfect example of this comes from a client I worked with a couple of years ago who had anxiety around going to school, this is a very common reason why clients come for my help. They realised after some talking that they had created all sorts imaginary scenarios about what could possibly go wrong when they were at school. They ranged from crying in class, getting in trouble, being laughed at, failing a test, forgetting their books and being rejected by their friends.

I got them to think of all the good things that had happened to them in the past week, past month, and past year at school and we counted how many of these things were likely to happen again. We then looked at how many of the negative ones had actually happened and realised that most of them had only, in some cases, happened once across all their years in school and some of them never. This sudden realisation helped my client to start to plan to have good days with lots of the good things, that were already happening anyway, occurring. They changed from pessimism to optimism and from helplessness to empowerment.

Finally, well at least for this post, it is important to be able to move on and let go of the past and for this I recommend some form of Mindfulness. When we are mindful we begin to notice that events come and go, as do feelings, and the more we pay attention to this fact the easier it is for us to be able to move on when things go awry. Feeling blue or down only lasts as long as we are thinking about the causes of our feelings. Believing that things will never change forces us to hang on to these negative feelings however, when we allow ourselves to be more present and to realise that it is our thinking that causes a past event to cause us pain, and not the event itself as it is already over. Letting go of the past can seem like a challenge which is why many meditation teachers say, ‘let it be’. Just leave it where it is, in the past, and begin to think about what you can change, what you do have control over and what you can do to be more optimistic.

Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or want to book a one to one session, email, phone +353868373582, or PM via Facebook.

I hope our paths cross in the future,


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