Adults can support the positive mental health of adolescents
Caring adults can help young people develop the resiliency needed to cope with life challenges.
April 14, 2013 - Author: Karen Pace, Michigan State University Extension
Mental health is more than just the absence of disorders or problems. Research shows that helping young people develop resiliency nurtures positive mental health and helps them meet the challenges and responsibilities of adulthood.
Resiliency is the inborn capacity that humans have for “self-righting” and bouncing back in the face of difficult situations and adversity. While research shows that we are born with this internal strength, it can be helped or hindered through the environments we’re in. Young people who are resilient are more likely to enter adulthood with good coping skills even if they’ve experienced difficult life situations such as bullying, dangerous neighborhoods, financial stress and other challenges.
How can adults help young people develop resiliency? Here are some tips for parents, caregivers and other adults in the lives of kids:
- Parents play extremely important roles in the lives of kids. Maintain open communication with your adolescents and listen to them – rather than lecture and give unsolicited advice. Encourage your child’s involvement in a variety of activities to help nurture brain development, build skills and to relieve stress. Find ways to encourage your child in loving and supportive ways and avoid being overbearing, critical and controlling.
- Help young people nurture their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence includes developing self-awareness and an increased ability to notice and navigate our thoughts and emotions – particularly when we’re experiencing stress. Interestingly, brain research shows that as our emotional intelligence increases, so do our intellectual abilities, including decision making and problem solving. Adults who nurture their own emotional intelligence can play powerful roles in helping young people develop their own.
- Support the development of social intelligence. Social intelligence focuses on our sensitivity to how others feel and on our capacity to nurture and navigate relationships. Positive development and resiliency includes the ability to apply problem solving to interpersonal relationships and conflicts, to show empathy for the feelings of others and the ability to develop intimacy and emotional closeness with people. Helping young people develop good social and emotional skills makes a big difference in their long-term health and wellbeing.
- Be a positive adult in the lives of young people outside of your own family. Adolescents who have positive relationships with adults outside of their families are more resilient.
Feeling physically and emotionally safe is critically important to tapping and building resiliency. One of the ways adults can help young people build positive mental health and resiliency in the face of difficult situations such as bullying, bias and harassment is through a new Michigan State University Extension resource called Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments. Be SAFE is designed for group learning in youth settings and includes activities that help adults and youth learn together about developing emotional and social intelligence and other aspects of resiliency.