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Setbacks, problems and failures are an inevitable part of life. As your teen matures and takes on more challenges work-wise, they will experience more setbacks. Teaching your teen resilience – the ability to recover, adapt and keep going – will help them get more from life, both personally and professionally.

Why is resilience important for teenagers?

Your teen is experiencing a long period of growth physically, mentally and experientially. Every week brings fresh opportunities and challenges. Developing resilience will reduce the negative effects of stressful situations on their wellbeing. It will give them the skills to cope better with exam and work pressures, to bounce back from failure, and to make a success of their life.

What does resilience look like?

Teenagers who are resilient display the following traits, all of which can be learnt:

  • emotional awareness and the ability to regulate their emotions
  • control over their impulses
  • an optimistic mindset
  • flexible and accurate thinking
  • empathy towards others
  • believe that they can achieve things (self-efficacy)
  • a willingness to seek help when needed. 

Emotional awareness and ability to regulate emotions

Emotional awareness is our ability to recognise and understand our own emotions and those of others. For your teen to be resilient, they will need to become comfortable with their emotions and be able to express them appropriately. Help them understand that they control their emotions and thoughts, and not the other way around. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Naming without blaming – for instance, saying ‘I feel really frustrated’, but not blaming the emotion on someone or something – can lessen that emotion’s intensity.
  • Pausing and focusing on a thought – the body takes six seconds to absorb chemicals produced by emotions.
  • Accepting that emotions aren’t good or bad – they just are. Emotions are there to help us notice and handle situations appropriately, then move forward.

Impulse control

We all have impulses to do and say things when we feel angry, annoyed, frustrated or are in another heightened state. But these things aren’t always helpful or in our best interests. For your teen, being resilient doesn’t mean curbing their impulses; but it does mean not acting on the unhelpful ones. Teach them impulse control with this four-step process:

  1. Stop and think – delay your response.
  2. Take deep breaths – it calms and gives control.
  3. Before saying anything, think of three possible responses – choose the most constructive one.
  4. Respond politely and respectfully – it gets you heard.

Optimistic mindset

Having an optimistic mindset can help teens be happier and more engaged, and become better problem solvers. Teach your teen optimism by getting them to think objectively about subjects like exams or their future, and to focus on the positives. Here are some helpful exercises:

  • Learn to say, ‘I can’t do it … yet.’ The way we talk to ourselves affects us. If your teen tells themself they can master something, chances are they will.
  • Embrace challenges as a means of learning. They may stuff up this time, but they’ll learn how to do it better next time.
  • Getting it done is what matters. Most tasks don’t require perfection, and that includes work and exams. So get your teen to focus on completion, rather than perfection.

It isn’t about your teen seeing the world through rose-coloured glasses. Rather, it’s about them feeling confident that, whatever comes their way, they’ll be able to cope.

Flexible and accurate thinking

Thinking flexibly and being able to listen to and consider other people’s points of view will help your teen become more resilient. Being able to come up with a Plan B or even a Plan C will help relieve the pressure on them when they’re thinking about the future. Here are some tips to help them think more flexibly and accurately:

  • Recognise that others may look at things differently. This prevents them making assumptions, and helps them to consider what others are looking for – for example, in an interview.
  • Consider practical versus personal explanations – for example, did that person forget because they’re busy and stressed, rather than inconsiderate?
  • Realise that it’s okay to feel uncertainty – it’s not a bad sign, and feeling certain doesn’t guarantee you’re right.

Empathy towards others

Encouraging your teen to stand in someone else’s shoes to understand their emotions will help your teen develop empathy. When your child does this and responds to others appropriately, it helps them develop positive relationships for the future. You can illustrate examples of empathy with your teen, asking them how they would feel in the following scenarios:

  • A friend is being bullied.
  • A friend’s pet dies.
  • A friend fails an exam.
  • A teammate loses the match for their side.

Self-efficacy

Psychologist Albert Bandura defines self-efficacy as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed at something. Self-efficacy can play a major role in how your teen approaches achieving goals, performing tasks and overcoming challenges. You can help them to develop self-efficacy by asking:

  • What three things have you done in the past week that you did well?
  • How did these make you feel?
  • What three things have you completed in the past few months that other people have noticed?
  • How did these make you feel?

Willingness to seek help and support

We all need help at times. Resilient people know when to ask for help and will reach out to others when they’re going through a tough time. You can encourage your teen to ask for support when they need it, and acknowledge and reward them when they do:

  • Assure your teen that seeking help is a sign of strength.
  • Keep an open dialogue with your teen, so it’s easier for them to bring things up.
  • Remind your teen of positive experiences when they or their friends got help in the past.
  • Assure your teen that adults they trust will respect their confidentiality.

Be a role model for resilience

Talk with your teen about your own and other people’s experiences of knockbacks and failures, and of how you and they found ways to move on. Show your teen examples of resilience in the lives of people they admire and the traits that have helped them lead happy, successful lives. If The Beatles, J. K. Rowling and Albert Einstein hadn’t shrugged off rejection and been resilient, the world would be poorer for it.

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