How Can We Help Children and Youth Develop More Resilience?


Resilience ~ Photo credit: Pierre Pouliquin

Last week I summarized the reasons why are children and youth are more fragile these days, according to the information presented by Dr. Leonard Sax at a West Vancouver School District Parent Education Evening.  Today I’m going to summarize the steps we can take to build resilience in our children, in order that they can be “anti-fragile”.

How Can We Develop Resilience in Our Children and Youth?

  • Role model anti-fragility

Children take their cues from us, as their parents and educators.  For example, if our child is not invited to a birthday party and we say “Oh Honey, you poor thing, I feel so bad for you”, your child is going to feel victimized and defeated.  However, if you respond by saying, “Okay so that means you’re free on Saturday afternoon, how about we go on that bike trail we’ve been talking about?”, your child feels supported and empowered to bounce-back and take ownership of his/her life and plans.  North American parents today are much more careful to protect their children from any unpleasant experiences, and this is not healthy for raising a resilient child.  It’s important that our children learn to tolerate distress and uncomfortable feelings while they are young and in a supportive environment, or they will be more likely to fall apart when they leave home.

  • Teach Virtues

Top academic achievement or Virtues?  Which one becomes the priority?  Virtues!  The North American culture is becoming less and less respectful and we need to be firm about respect.  Many video games are based on moral inversion as mentioned in last week’s post  – Grand Theft Auto being particularly popular and morally inverse. There is a reason that M rated games are rated for ages 17+.  You may think 17yrs. is way too old to wait for your child to play an M rated game, but what is important, is that you know all the content of the video game before approving it.  Dr. Sax also quoted research by Anderson and Gentile which has shown a change in the behaviour of youth who play M rated games.

After the Stanley Cup Final Vancouver Riot, I wrote an article about respect and accountability.  When our children are disrespectful through words or actions, I believe it’s very important that we hold them accountable and teach them how to “re-pair”.  In this previous article, I wrote about a personal experience of having my car window shattered by a BB gun and the very respectable way that this family held their sons accountable and re-paired in the best way they could.  I hear about and see more and more situations where the child is not held accountable, and I believe this contributes to the culture of disrespect that Dr. Leonard Sax described as a growing concern  particularly in North America.

  • Teach Social Media Awareness

Youth are growing  up with a misguided lens about their friends’ lives as they count on social media to be an accurate representation of reality.  The fact is that the posted photo has probably been edited to perfection on photoshop, or is the best picture out of 100 others taken at the same time!  All the fun and excitement portrayed through comments, status updates, photos etc. on Facebook is not how these people live their lives 7 days/week.  Social media is about performing, not insightfully reflecting as you try to figure out who you are.  Dr. Leonard Sax states that “Social Media has crowded out the diary” and they do not both serve the same purpose.  Social media is public whereas a diary is private.  A diary is about living and figuring out who you want to be by connecting to oneself.  A diary is a  place to express that life is a mix of happiness and sadness.  Social media is about non-stop hyper-connectedness to peers in a superficial way.  Girls, in particular, are very ready to believe that other girls have better and more interesting lives than them, judging by what they see on social media sites.  They forget that people don’t post disappointments, boredom etc.  All the more reason to be following your child on Twitter or be their “friend” on Facebook – they need guidance.

  • Create the Community You Want

If you’re not in the community you want, then you need to create the community that you want.  Dr. Sax suggests about six families to create such a community.  In the past, neighbours all knew each other and looked out for each others’ kids.  Now we have to make an extra effort to create that neighbourhood community where we can all look out for each others’ kids.

  • Getting a Summer Job is Important!

Dr. Sax spoke about the importance of getting teens to work a summer job and, as he mentioned, not a prestigious summer job.  A fancy internship, or prestigious job through connections, does not serve the youth as well as a lower paying restaurant job.  A low-wage-plus-tips job in a restaurant, serving customers face-to-face and dealing with complaints, is going to build resilience.  I would also add that having your child go to summer camp for a week is also resilience-building.  The more they have to find their own courage and capability, the more they will develop confidence in themselves to handle adversity.

  • Monitor Screens Including Cell Phones!

Internet addiction is a real concern, and in particular for boys.  Dr. Sax says approximately 1/8 boys are addicted.  Therefore, video games etc. need to time-limited.  Dr. Sax suggests less than 40 min/day on school nights and less than one hour/day on weekends.  If someone, is truly addicted, then complete abstinence, as for an alcoholic with alcohol.  Social Media sites need time-limits and Dr. Sax says kids shouldn’t have a cell phone until they’re 13yrs. and then when they do get a cell phone it should be monitored with Spy Ware.  Some people may think of this is an intrusion of privacy but Dr. Sax has lots of case examples to back up his strong recommendation.  Furthermore, I believe that many parents secretly check their teens’ phones to monitor their text messages, photos etc.  Thus, it would make sense, to be open about having spy-ware on a cell phone right from the beginning, in order that phone monitoring does not have to be done in a sneaky way.  Teach kids how to use phones safely. For example, always keep them on them vs. putting them down and risk having others send messages/photos on them or view one’s personal messages/photos.

  • Never Refer to Your Child as a “Straight ‘A’ Student” or “My Honour Roll Child”

Children need to know that they are worthwhile for being themselves.  They do not need the added pressure of living up to an external title such as “Straight A Student”.  They need to know that they are capable in many ways.  Another caution from Dr. Sax about video games, is that boys in particular often become “expert” at certain games and start to think that is all they do well.  Their motivation shifts to the virtual world.  He states that the video games leave imprints on younger, developing brains.

  • Attachment

Dr. Sax is a big fan of  Vancouver Psychologist, Dr. Gordon Neufeld.  He emphasized the importance of having a close relationship with your child(ten) and being their compass point vs. their peers.  He recommended family holidays where there is no WIFI, such as Manning Park in British Columbia, and going away for family holidays without inviting friends to come too.

As I mentioned last week, Dr. Sax is the author of  Boys Adrift, Girls on the Edge and Why Gender Matters if you would  like to hear more about the research he has compiled and his accompanying recommendations.

Have a wonderful week,



Free Two Part Mini Video Series On Developing Emotional Resilience

Want to Connect?

Subscribe now to receive free weekly parenting tips and inspiration.

Powered by ConvertKit