As defined by Merriam Webster, the word resilience means the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens. One may wonder why an educational article would begin with such a word. Simply put, I believe this is a life skill that our children and students need some help in developing. Having taught for 20 years, and a parent of four of my own, I’ve been around long enough to see a cultural shift in how our children handle adversity, struggles, and pain. None of the aforementioned is easy, nor are they meant to be; but how we handle difficult situations lays the foundation for how one handles adversity in future situations. Building a resilience in our children to face adversity is a hurdle that parents and educators must overcome.
Where such a fundamental shift began is difficult to say. But, I can see some attributes that contribute to our younger generation’s inability to be resilient. Some points to ponder, which I believe have a definite connection to this shift include the following:
A. The “everyone is a winner” mentality is a major contributor. For example, in every sport my own children participated in, (at least until high school), they got a trophy or medal no matter where their team placed or how good of an athlete they happened to be. What this leads to is when a child does hope to continue on in high school (where they may get cut), is often a harsh sense of reality. They no longer are good enough to be on a particular team. They were never taught ahead of time that they were not quite as good as they may have been led to believe.
B. The breakdown of the American family has a direct connection, as well. When a parent has to work full-time, and take care of the children and household duties, that parent can become overwhelmed and overtired quickly. When we’re tired, we often make decisions based on the path of least resistance. In many cases, a parent may choose to say “yes” to demands made by their child just because it’s easier at the time. In the long wrong, a “no” may have been the better answer, but “no” usually means more work, conflict, and energy to be expended by the parent (who is already overworked). Another facet of the crumbling of the American family is the “guilt factor.” Many times in divorce situations, guilt resides in the parents, to the point of giving and spoiling a child when such actions may not be merited. If a parent feels bad about the situation they’ve put their child in, human nature often tends to look for quick band aids to improve the situation, rather than deal with the root cause of whatever issues may be present.
C. Technology even has a hand, I believe, in the young generation’s lack of resilience. For example, everything is way too easy to obtain through a few clicks of the internet. Writing a research paper today for the average child is not nearly as challenging as it used to be. Any student can write an entire paper without ever leaving their home, much less actually making a trip to the library to find pertinent information. There was a challenge in working your way through the libraries archives to find the needed book, magazine, periodical, etc. to compose your paper. Today, if you can type “Google,” you can write your paper. It’s also much easier for students to just copy/paste someone else’s material. Research papers are just one example of this “watering down” of the investigative or research process. I would guess that pretty much any avenue of academia can be made much easier because of technical advancements. The other side of the technology coin is Social Media. Social Media gives children (and adults as well) the illusion that they are more important than they actually are. This can often lead to a sense of entitlement that isn’t earned. Anyone can post of YouTube video, make a blog, post what they ate for dinner, etc.; when in reality, the only person who is truly interested in what they’re posting or promoting is them (and maybe their loved ones), not the general public. This illusion can have some negative effects. When a child (or adult) runs into a challenge where they are just one of the many, and are not going to receive any special attention, it can be a crushing blow to one’s esteem.
As shown, I believe each of the three bullets offered has a direct correlation to our children’s inability to be resilient; and I’m sure there are many more, but to remain fairly brief, we’ll leave it at the three presented. So, what happens when this lack of resilience rears its ugly head in our children? Some examples include:
Completely falling apart for the simplest of failures (bad test grade, getting cut from a team, not getting into the college you’d hoped for, etc.)
Not being able to pull one’s emotions together. There’s nothing wrong with being upset, crying, or needing some time by yourself; but many of our younger generation cannot recoup and thereby, find themselves in a miserable state after a setback for hours, days, or longer.
Giving up when a challenge seems too difficult; instead of pushing forward, many of our younger generation will flat out quit if things don’t go quite the way they’d hoped for.
Setting sights too high for what their actual talents will allow; we’re not all cut out to be phenomenal at every task, etc. Having a lack of honest self-reflection can have drastic consequences if a child (or adult) is not realistic with their given talents.
Since I’ve offered many issues to contemplate, one may wonder where to go from here? It’s hard to say. We definitely need to take some action for our children’s sake. Some simple options could be:
Get rid of the “everyone is a winner” and being competitive is a “bad thing” mindset. Life is one big competition in one way or another; it’s better to learn that concept early and prepare for it.
Let children fail, fall, etc.; then turn it into a learning experience. What are things to improve on? What were your greatest struggles? Can you get better at (fill in blank here), or did you already give it all you had? Discuss options and show a child that when one door closes, many more open and are waiting for them. Failure is not the end . . . it is part of the learning curve that we all must face. This is what I believe we have to drive home in our younger generation.
As educators, embrace technology but make sure to give ample differentiation to lessons, so that not every outcome can be reached simply by going to the Internet.
As educators, we should also foster the development of effective communication skills. When communication breaks down (no matter the reason), nothing good comes from it. Humanity needs the ability to communicate effectively; it is an imperative skill to nurture. Communication allows for a clearer understanding of why things happen or are the way they are. Communication is also a vehicle for moving forward, which is a huge plus in being a resilient individual.
As parents and educators, we must also realize that loving our children and making things too easy for them are two very different things. Sometimes loving someone means letting them learn the hard way, otherwise, you’re giving them a false sense of security.
Now, I’m no doctor or specialist, nor does anyone have to agree with a word I say . . . I’m just a simple guy who happens to be a parent, educator, and coach. It saddens me to see kids fall apart at the nearest notion of adversity. I try my best to make tough situations part of the learning curve and guide my children, students, and athletes in the appropriate direction. Life is full of detours and unexpected roadblocks, so I try to guide them through the bumps along the way, and let them know that they will reach their potential and destination, but they will have work very hard for it. It’s the best I can do; I just hope it’s enough. Maybe if enough adults start seeing this resiliency plague as something that is indeed reality, they’ll also make small changes to give our young generation the ability to face adversity head on.
For further and much more in-depth reading on this particular topic, take a look at Generation IY, by Tim Elmore. It’s a great read and more than an eye opener.