by Carol LeMon Houchin, L.P.C., L.M.F.T.
This article was originally published in June 2009.
Walking down the halls of a Stafford County high school one feels the enthusiasm of adolescence, warmth of friendship, and a palpable sense of family. Colorful artwork and wall hangings speak of reaching potential, participating in activities, choosing colleges and careers, being a "change agent" for these young adults. Cheerful greetings pass between students, faculty, and staff, signs that connections are made as teaching and learning happen.
Yet just beneath the surface many carry overwhelming stress. Some are preoccupied with family conflict, separation, and divorce; grades are suffering. Others carry bruises from bullying, harassment or character assassination past or present. Others fear failure, not making the team or not measuring up to parents' high expectations. Some worry about family finances and work long hours to pay for necessities or extras that seem necessary. Still others are grieving the loss of a parent or grandparent or friend. Some have all the creature comforts but feel distant from parents and isolated from their peers. Others are hiding addictions to alcohol, other drugs, destructive habits, illicit sex or pornography. The list could go on and on.
International students face similar issues but with added stressors not always understood by others. Tears spill as one student recalls her 15th birthday without so much as a call from her estranged parents and not a mention of a "quincinera," the traditional Hispanic celebration and rite of passage for girls at 15. A young man speaks of the death of his grandfather and father figure in Central America whose funeral he could not attend. A girl recalls the heartbreaking deportation of her brother and the shame she feels over their father's incarceration. Others with loving, intact working families struggle to straddle two worlds with different languages, value systems and customs.
How do teens bounce back from such adversities or the daily disasters that plague adolescents? How do they avoid the victim trap? Like a rubber band that is stretched and pulled to the limit or like a sponge that is crushed and flattened, the amazing quality of being able to recover or "bounce back" is resilience. The most amazing young people are not the ones who succumb in dramatic ways but those resilient ones who persist, defy all odds and become remarkable humans with well-developed talents, character, flexibility, and integrity.
What are the factors in being overcome or overcoming?
The following list from Wolin & Wolin is kept in my office as a reminder to recognize and acknowledge resilience as students talk about their lives:
1. Insight-sensing, knowing, understanding; being able to see what is actually happening and keep clear perspective
2. Independence-separating, distancing, individuating; daring to be oneself.
3. Relationships-recruiting, attaching; making connections and drawing strength from friends and trusted adults.
4. Initiative-problem-solving, generating; stepping out and trying new things.
5. Creativity-thinking outside the box, expressing feelings through creativity.
6. Humor-making nothing out of something, finding a way to lighten up or reframe
7. Morality-valuing, helping others, being directed by a sense of right and wrong, conscience.
8. General Resilience-persistence and flexibility.
Naming and affirming these characteristics can lend hope and confidence to our teens who still need the attention of caring adults and solid connections. Growing up is hard to do, but our teens are amazingly strong and resilient, and with encouragement and guidance they will thrive against all odds.
Source: Wolin, Stephen & Wolin, Sybil, The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity. Random House, 1993.
· death of a parent or guardian
· death of a brother, sister, or close friend
· father or mother losing a job
· becoming a teenage mother or father
· serious illness of someone you love
· divorce of parents
· trouble with the police
· getting badly hurt (physically) or sick
· rejection by girlfriend or boyfriend
· experiencing a physical assault
· starting to use drugs
· failing a class in school
· being pressured to use drugs
· getting a driver's license
· loss of a part-time job
· move to a different town or school
· being pressured to have sex
· starting to date
· taking final exams
· performing or participating in a performance (e.g., drama, music, speeches)
· having trouble with a teacher, principal, or boss
· receiving a poor grade or report card
· receiving a recognition for outstanding achievement
Carol LeMon Houchin is a mother of grown children and served as the Counseling Director at North Stafford High School in Stafford, VA.