Adolescents encounter many challenges as they navigate their journey into adulthood. The Internet and other forms of digital media have only increased the intensity of these challenges. In addition to that, the adolescent brain often does not finish developing until the age of 25. This means that adolescents lack the ability to engage in healthy decision-making. Despite all these obstacles, most adolescents make the successful transition from childhood to adulthood. What helps contribute to this success?
The answer is resiliency, an adolescent’s ability to overcome adversity. In working with adolescents and their family members over the years, I have found 3 main characteristics that help increase resiliency in adolescents.
The first characteristic is for an adolescent to have a healthy personal identity. Adolescents who have a healthy identity seem to have the ability to overcome obstacles more quickly. Some teenagers who develop challenges during adolescence do so because they have allowed their “struggle” to become their identity. It is important for adolescents to create new narratives for themselves, and to believe that they are victors over any adversity that they have experienced.
Emotional Regulation Skills
The second characteristic is an adolescent’s ability to regulate his/her emotions. Teenagers who do not have strong emotional regulation skills will usually present with some form of unhealthy behavior (opposition, defiance, angry outbursts, drug and alcohol use). Adolescents who develop healthy coping skills to deal with emotional fluctuations have a greater chance of surviving adversity. The key is to encourage adolescents to engage their pre-frontal cortex, the executive part of the brain that is responsible for higher levels of cognition. Cognitive behavioral techniques such as “thought stopping and replacement”, and mindfulness skills, help increase adolescent awareness while reducing emotional dysregulation.
The last factor that contributes to resiliency is for an adolescent to have positive role models and a healthy interpersonal support system. Adolescents who socialize with peers who are engaging in healthy behavior seem to be more likely to engage in similar behavior. Parents can also help teenagers develop a healthy support system by encouraging their adolescent child to spend more time with healthy peers. Adolescents who feel supported are more likely to take to healthy risks and express emotional vulnerability that, in turn, solidifies a healthy personal identity.
So, it can be seen how the 3 factors of: a healthy identity, emotional regulations skills and a strong support system can help an adolescent persevere during challenging times. As the saying goes, “Calm seas, a good sailor never made”. The more emotional skills adolescents have at their disposal, the greater their chances of developing the resilience to weather the storm.