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Building Resilience in Teenagers: A Guide for Parents – Jennifer Oaten

Every parent, including myself, has had or will likely experience their child returning from school and being upset by a situation they have encountered during the day at school, whether it be disappointing results, friend challenges, or something that has not gone well.

There are different ways we can approach this situation with our teenagers:

  1. Brushing it aside and moving on to other things
  2. Taking the middle road, listening and taking time to understand
  3. Reinforcing the emotions and building the situation to increased heights.

We all hope our children will make good choices and deal effectively with life’s challenges. We all need tools for navigating hard times and difficult emotions and ways to build resilience, especially during the teenage years, which are times of intense change and challenge. Every teenager has a different temperament and constitution. Some will handle even the most difficult of circumstances in life without missing a beat, while others seem to crumble at the slightest obstacle.

As parents, our role is to be supportive, understanding partners with the school to create a safe and nurturing environment that fosters emotional and mental growth. No matter what their personality, parents can support them to find ways to become more resilient, purposeful, and positive, helping to reduce the likelihood of stress or anxiety.

Promoting a more balanced approach to problem-solving when they face challenges can be assisted by:

1. Listening to Understand

Teenagers criticise and are negative about many things in life, particularly about school. It is important we are a sounding board where we listen and hear what our teenagers have to say while also being aware that not all of what they say is fully accurate. Commenting, justifying, or analysing is not helpful as they rarely want to hear from us. Yet this is what we most want to do! It is also interesting when what seems to be a catastrophe today might seem trivial or be forgotten tomorrow, especially after a good sleep.

A sense of belonging and a safe haven created at home where there is no judgment is valuable. Encourage open communication, empathy, and understanding within your family. Teach them emotional intelligence, resilience, and coping mechanisms to deal with life’s challenges. Encourage teenagers to solve problems on their own by asking questions, rather than trying to fix everything for them. Foster positivity and encourage them to see the good in everyday occurrences, rather than focusing solely on the negatives.

Foster a nurturing home environment that embraces the healthy expression of emotions, recognising that all feelings – even anger and sadness – are natural and vital aspects of life. By encouraging the release of intense emotions, we create space for growth, understanding, and emotional wellbeing. Forming authentic and trusting relationships with family enables them to release their emotions and frustrations in a trusted space. Provide support and validation for their feelings, ensuring they are aware of having a trusted support system. Reserve emailing teachers as a last resort after exhausting all other means and being certain that there is an issue. If necessary, reach out to them.

2. Building Self Esteem

We need to love our teenagers for their differences. Having children who are strongly individual and who have a sense of who they are is a sign of good parenting. The world can be a tough place for teenagers, so families need to build self-esteem, confidence, and a spirit of strength that enables young people to work through the hurdles of life and see that most problems can be resolved. Building self-esteem and confidence in their own ability to resolve issues is essential for a child’s overall wellbeing.

Provide opportunities for them to discover their passions, explore their talents, set achievable goals, develop their skills, and celebrate their achievements. Showing trust and enabling independence all help grow self-esteem and self-confidence. Demonstrate positive reinforcement and praise for their efforts and accomplishments, not just outcomes. Recognising their progress and effort can greatly enhance their sense of self-worth and competence.

3. Promoting Sleep

More and better quality sleep is one of the most valuable tools for better wellbeing and a more positive outlook on life. It is free, it is simple, and it is achievable. Sleep plays a vital role in a teenager’s development and overall health. It is during sleep that the body works to support healthy brain function and maintain physical health. In adolescents, sleep is crucial for growth and development. Lack of sufficient sleep can lead to problems with attention, behaviour, learning, memory, emotional regulation, quality of life, and even physical health. Teenagers are less able to navigate the ups and downs of life when tired.

Aim to establish a regular sleep routine, ensuring your teenager gets sufficient sleep each night. This routine should include a wind-down period before bedtime. We live in a world that suffers from attention deficit disorder. We rush teenagers from activity to activity, from one event to another. Challenge this status and ensure your teenager has downtime and plenty of good sleep. Sleep is a key factor in positive mental health, rational decision-making, and control of emotions and one which parent choices can impact.

4. Enforcing Digital Boundaries

So many parents say I wish I had put boundaries in place around tech when my teenagers were younger. My advice is, if you purchase your child a phone, you must have boundaries from day one. If not, don’t buy a phone. In today’s digital age, addressing the impact of technology on a child’s wellbeing is crucial. So many challenges teenagers face are caused by social media, so anything you do as a family that reduces online time is a great benefit.

Teach responsible use, establish screen time limits, and stay informed about the latest trends and challenges in the digital world, including cyberbullying, and equip your child with the necessary skills to navigate challenges they may face. Set boundaries on technology use in bedrooms to promote good sleep. Encourage using devices in common areas and keeping bedrooms screen-free at night for better sleep and separation from technology. Regularly discuss and explain these boundaries to help your child develop good habits. Consistent guidance, structure, and boundaries are crucial, as are consequences. The most important role of a parent is to ensure that no phones are in bedrooms overnight.

5. Encourage Social Connections

Face-to-face interactions are so important in relationships both at school, at work, and in life. Friendships change at school, just as they do throughout life, this is to be expected, yet it is so significant for teenagers. Having friends and feeling a sense of belonging is crucial for every teenager, so nurturing healthy relationships and social and emotional development will help them have a more positive outlook on life.

Encourage positive social interactions by facilitating opportunities for them to make friends, participate in group activities, and join clubs or organisations aligned with their interests. This can help reinforce their existing friendships and offer opportunities to build new ones. Retaining primary school friends, family friends, old friends from sporting groups, or previous activities such as sport is crucial so that when things don’t go as planned at school for a period of time, they have a strong friendship network they can rely on. Broad and varied friendship groups are crucial, as is teaching empathy, respect, and inclusivity to help them build strong and supportive relationships.

Model good social behaviour in your own interactions, showing them firsthand what respect, inclusivity, and empathy look like in practice. Significant others, whether siblings, extended family, family connections, or work friends, all provide support and friendship during the sometimes turbulent times of being a teenager.

If a teenager says they are being bullied, be gentle, be sensitive, and ask questions to understand how they are feeling and empower your teenager to take action for themself, these will help them grow and thrive rather than relying on parental help when faced with social challenges. Seeking support if this is not successful is also important.

6. Inspiring a Love of Learning

Promote school in a positive way and all the great opportunities it provides. A teenager’s academic growth contributes significantly to their overall wellbeing. Encourage their curiosity, foster a love for learning, and provide intellectual stimulation through reading, games, and engaging conversations. Showing enthusiasm for knowledge and learning encourages them to question, explore, and be curious, along with an interest in what they are learning at school. Encouraging effort, overcoming challenges, and being positive in their approach to learning with a can-do attitude will help keep things in perspective. Sharing your own learning challenges can also be helpful.

By approaching the challenges that teenagers are likely to face in their fast-paced, ever-changing world with a calm and understanding demeanour, along with a genuine willingness to listen, we can help to diffuse most situations and empower them to develop effective problem-solving skills. By doing so, we enable them to not only navigate through the difficulties they encounter but also to recognise and appreciate the positives in their lives and at school.

Let us embrace a proactive approach and foster collaboration with our teenagers, creating an environment where our young people can truly thrive and unleash their full potential. Together, we can provide the support and guidance they need to flourish and succeed in all aspects of their lives.

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