Listen: Adolescent psychologist Collett Smart chats to Emma Mullings about resilience in teens.
Ten-year-old Australians are better at handling life’s challenges than teenagers, according to new research. But parents and adults have the power to help their teens bounce back.
That’s the message from adolescent psychologists like Andrew Fuller and Collett Smart, in the leadup to a forum for parents of teenagers.
Collett Smart, a school psychologist and author, spoke to Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings about Resilient Youth Australia’s recent study into resilience in teenagers.
Resilience Drops in The Teenage Years
The ‘Resilience Survey’ involved about 28,000 young people answering 99 questions, and was designed to find out how resilient young people are, and what causes their resilience to increase or decrease.
The study found a big difference between 10-year-olds and teenagers.
“They found that about 59 percent of 10-year-olds were good or excellent in terms of their levels of resilience, and only 32 percent of 15-year-olds had the same level,” Collett said. “Which indicates to me how much resilience can fluctuate in our lives.”
What Is Resilience, And Why Is It Important For Teens?
Resilience is the ability to handle life’s difficulties well. It’s a skill that helps a person throughout their adult years, especially if it’s learnt early in life.
“Resilience is essentially just being able to bounce back from adversities or setbacks in life and not let them crush you,” said Collett. “We all want that for our teens. It’s critical to predicting which children will eventually have good outcomes later in life.
“If you have a resilient teen, they’re often better at avoiding alcohol issues, drug problems, they’re generally more satisfied with life, they’re often more successful academically, and they have more stable relationships.”
The good news is, resilience isn’t just for a fortunate few. It’s a skill anyone can develop.
“I think we often think that resilience is fixed – that your child is either born resilient or they’re not,” Collett said. “And that’s not true. It’s something that can be learned. We can teach our children how to be more resilient.”
The Factors Destroying Resilience In Teens
The Resilience Survey investigated what is causing the emotional strength of teenagers to fall. It has a lot to do with human connections.
“What they found was, 10-year-olds are most likely to feel they have an adult that listens to them,” Collett said. “They feel encouraged, they feel safe at school, and they generally feel hopeful.”
Collett said the more connected and involved teenagers are with adults and life in general, the more resilient they are. Conversely, resilience is lower in teenagers who withdraw and isolate.
“This highlights how much we need to draw near and close to our teens and keep them involved in sports and community activities,” she said.
Things that eat away at resilience include:
- Not being connected
- Not developing skills in life
- Not being positive
- Not facing up to your own problems
- Withdrawing from parents
- Withdrawing from community activities
How To Create Resilience In Teenagers
In her role as an adolescent psychologist, Collett helps young people understand the concept of resilience by using a video game analogy.
“When I’m talking about what helps young people and teens become more resilient, I often say to teens, think of it as gems or boosters in a video game,” she told Hope 103.2. “Just like in a video game, if you don’t have enough gems or you keep losing your power-builders, you get knocked out of the game and it becomes more difficult.”
She encourages teenagers to collect more “gems” by staying involved in life. These “gems” might include:
- Staying connected to adults
- Belonging to a community / a group / a sports team
- Working on areas of your life where you can make a difference
- Being engaged at school
- Being around people who have high expectations of you
Parents have a big role to play in helping their teenagers to “collect their gems”, by holding them accountable to the above goals.
Parents: Talk Your Teens Up!
The other role parents need to play is being an encouraging voice, instead of a voice of negativity.
Adolescent psychologist, author and researcher Andrew Fuller puts it this way: “We have a group of bright, capable and ingenious young Australians who are well connected in their schools and families. What we fail to do is to call upon their strengths in a meaningful way to give them the sense that they can be co-creators in Australia’s future.”
“We need to stop complaining about our teens. I feel like complaining about teens is a national sport.
~ Collett Smart”
Collett Smart agrees. “We need to stop complaining about our teens,” she said. “I feel like complaining about teens is a national sport and like we always have to see the bad things that teens do. Really, there are so many great stories about teens. Our kids are doing ok. I work in schools with teens and the majority of them are beautiful young people.”
She said a great way to empower teenagers and help them to feel emotionally stronger, is to value their thoughts and input.
“We need to be asking them for ideas, and getting them to help us solve problems about things in school, or issues in life,” she said. “They really do have opinions and I love that.”
An Encouraging Conversation You Can Have With A Teen
To help a teenager build their resilience and emotional strength, Collett recommends chatting to them about what’s helped them cope in the past.
Ask them questions like:
- “What were the bad times that have happened to you before?”
- “How were you affected by them?”
- “What helped you?”
- “Who did you go to for help?”
- “How did you overcome that obstacle last time?”
- “What did you learn from that?”
The goals is to remind teens “you’ve got skills in yourself that you used before; you can use them now.”
About Collett Smart
Collett Smart is a consultant psychologist, qualified teacher, lecturer, author, wife and mother of three children. She writes on many issues affecting teenagers, at Familysmart.com.au.