In my role as CEO of Menslink, I meet many young men who simply cannot cope with the slightest set back.
This lack of resilience presents itself in different ways, but can be very hard on the young guy and his family.
Sometimes a lack of resilience is displayed by:
- Reacting with violence and aggression whenever something happens at home
- Resorting to violence in public when they feel they have been “slighted” in some way
- Sliding into hopeless and despair when faced with rejection
- Turning to drugs whenever they feel uncomfortable
- Looking for an escape when they feel the slightest bit of boredom
As parents, we often feel the urge to continually entertain our kids, take their problems away, and step in to solve normal childhood issues for them.
Unfortunately, this is a path to low (or no) resilience.
Life is hard! Moving out of home is hard. Finding and working in your first job is hard. Negotiating your first relationship, or relationship breakdown, is hard. And if we don’t learn the life skills or resilience to deal with these situations at an early age, we end up going down like a sack of potatoes when the hard times hit.
In my office, I have a picture of a high ice covered mountain in New Zealand that I climbed one day…after 6 months of training, and 11 hours of climbing! Yes, it took a lot of hard work to get to the top. Half way up the mountain, I nearly gave up. I’m scared of heights and frankly got into a really tricky situation. I felt like I couldn’t go on any longer. But I pushed on, and the view from the top was absolutely amazing. Now, I could have got the same view (which probably cost less) by getting a helicopter to fly me there. But I would have had none of the satisfaction, which at the end of the day was most of the benefit.
Every time something goes wrong for our young people and we say, “Don’t worry about the hard work, we can remove that obstacle for you!” we are essentially flying them straight to the top. We may be removing the pain and stress, but we are also removing that enormous sense of achievement that comes from having done something great!
I remember the mother of a young guy I would talk to who would continually solve problems for her son. When I talked to her about it, she said, “But he’ll get really anxious if I don’t.”
I explained that by removing the source of anxiety, she was also removing his ability to face a situation and say, “Yes, I am anxious…but I’m going to do it anyway”, and feel that massive sense of achievement from having faced his fears.
I’ve seen parents go into a school and negotiate their children’s exam marks. Unfortunately, when these youngsters become adults and get fired from a job, they can’t call mum to go and speak with their boss. So dealing with it becomes that little bit harder as an adult, because they have never learned how to deal with rejection in their younger years.
Strategies for resilience
We want our young guys to grow up to be healthy, productive, independent, resilient adult men with good relationships and jobs they feel comfortable in. If we remove every road block from them in childhood, how are they ever going to have the strength and confidence to get through those road blocks as adults?
We need to think about how we can let our children and adolescents:
- Fail safely
- Deal with their struggles
- Learn how to relieve boredom without being told what to do or turning to an electronic device
- Master independent decision making
- Understand how to invest in themselves
So instead of solving your child’s or teenager’s problems for them, help them by highlighting options and getting them to work out consequences and pros and cons for each. Talking through options rather than giving one option (i.e.: you stepping in), is a great way to help without taking over. Let them develop their independent decision making by explaining what options are available, and the possible consequences of each action. This could include explaining the easy way out, but why other options may be more worthwhile in the long run.
Resilience means that we understand the consequences of our actions, and this is something we need to learn at a young age. If a young guy is acting aggressively at home, it may be because no one has ever pointed out the consequences of acting aggressively. Without doing the hard work to learn self-control at an early age, he may have to learn the hard way as an adult the very real-world consequences of aggressive or even violent behaviour: failed relationships, failed jobs, maybe even the criminal justice system. And nobody wants that for their son….
Steve Biddulph and Maggie Dent both have some great tips on teaching resilience. You can find more information at:
These are general observations only, and not intended as advice. For professional advice, please seek the services of a counsellor or other professional.