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12-11 Raising kids to cope: A guide for building resilience

Raising kids to cope: A guide for building resilience

For teenagers today, there is an exponentially higher need to succeed. As high school class sizes continue to increase, the competition to get accepted into a well-respected college and enter a stable career rises as well. This pervasive pressure weighs adolescents down and can significantly influence the developing brain. If left unaddressed, chronic stress can even hinder levels of healthiness and achievement. Teaching teens how to cope effectively not only protects their well-being, but instills an essential life skill: resiliency.

The importance of teaching teens how to cope

Alissa Sklar, Ph.D., a former university professor and the founder of the consultancy project, risk(within)reason, cited her own experience to why developing strong coping mechanisms benefit an adolescent’s transition into adulthood.  When referring to adolescents without adequate coping skills, Sklar said, “Many of these kids don’t even make it to college, but often enough mom or dad hovered in the background waiting to pick up the pieces and help make everything OK. But parents don’t come to university classes, and they don’t micromanage their grown up children’s class schedules the way they might have in high school.”

This sentiment was seconded by Clinical Psychologist Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D., who explained that stressful stimuli can undermine the success of an unprepared child. She stated, “Stressed-out, sleep-deprived teens are less successful because they focus poorly, make more mistakes and often get sick. Parents can help teens by reducing their stress, as well as by building their coping skills and resiliency.”

Being able to cope with life stressors promotes resiliency. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resilience is essentially the ability to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant levels of stress. By building up this capacity with healthy coping skills, parents can help their children deal with feelings of anxiety or uncertainty that can plague their everyday lives.

How to pass down positive coping strategies

In addition to its importance, one of the most useful lessons to teach youth is how to cope correctly. In their 2004 publication, “Helping Children Thrive,” Linda Baker, Ph.D., and Alison Cunningham, M.A., highlight the difference between helpful coping strategies and those that are helpful, yet costly. Adolescents who choose riskier ways to cope may do so because of violence or abuse within the family and include behaviors like avoidance, distraction, emotional numbing, self-injury and substance use. Although these solutions may help in the short-term, they also carry more dire consequences.

Furthermore, Cohen-Sandler also listed her own set of do’s and don’ts in regards to building resilience in youth. The psychologist specifically warned parents not to impose expectations, discourage mistakes, compare them to others, harshly question or overprotect adolescents. Instead, she suggested that caregivers:

  • Acknowledge and discuss personal stress
  • Emphasize enduring qualities and potential
  • Promote the idea of balance
  • Agree on reasonable expectations
  • Demonstrate a healthy lifestyle for him or her to follow

Equipping teenagers with strong coping skills is the key to establishing a capable and durable generation of adults. While resiliency does not make people immune to difficulties or distress, many of these challenges are natural experiences that youth must be prepared to overcome in order to succeed. If you or your teen is having trouble managing stress, emotions or other destructive behavior, contact Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego to learn about our comprehensive adolescent treatment program.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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