Resilient teens in a huddle.

How Can We Ensure that Our Kids Excel in the Face of Adversity?

blog

Resilience, in the field of health as it relates to youth, is the ability to face adversity and survive in spite of that adversity. Even more, it is the capacity to excel when things aren’t going well. Sounds confusing? Let’s clarify.

Some kids grow up under such terrible circumstances that you might think they’d have no chance at a normal life, yet they ultimately do very well as they grow up. Many children of alcoholics go on to live free of alcohol addiction. Many kids subjected to terrible childhood abuse do not become abusers in adulthood. Many youngsters who grow up in gang-infested inner cities go on to live productive lives free of drugs and violence.

Resilient teens in a huddle.

So, how does this happen? We might assume that growing up faced with overwhelming disadvantages might guarantee terrible outcomes. How do children who seem to have everything against them end up as successful, normal adults?

Emmy Werner, a researcher in the 1950’s, noticed that many kids raised with severe disadvantages do go on to succeed in life. One of Werner’s most significant findings was that one third of all high-risk children displayed a quality called resilience. As a result, they grew into caring, competent and confident adults despite their development histories.

She and her fellow researchers identified a number of positive factors in the lives of these resilient individuals which helped to balance the risk factors at critical periods in their development. These included a strong bond with a non-parent caretaker (such as an aunt, babysitter, or teacher), and involvement in a church or community group.

There is no doubt that we all are aware of children who face daily adversity, even at home. Some grow up being told they will never succeed, or that they are terrible kids and not worth anything to anybody. Many grow up being told they were a mistake and should never have been born. Others survive blatant abuse. All of this may be going on right in front of us without our knowledge. 

Today, we can choose to interact with the kids around us as a source of caring friendship. Let’s see to it that more and more children grow up with resilience.  Let’s do what we can do to correct the problem of kids growing up under unfortunate circumstances.

Author

Gary L. Hopkins, MD, DrPH, MPH is currently an associate research professor at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan where he is also associate director of the Institute for Prevention of Addictions, Director of the Center for Prevention Research and Director of the Center for Media Impact Research.