What is it that most parents want for their children? Happiness, success in school, satisfaction with their lives, and solid friendships quickly come to mind. If we examine our parental goals, it would not be an oversimplification to conclude that realization of these goals requires that our children have the inner strength to deal competently and successfully, day after day, with the challenges and demands they encounter. We call this capacity to cope and feel competent resilience.
Resilience embraces the ability of a child to deal more effectively with stress and pressure, to cope with everyday challenges, to bounce back from disappointments, adversity, and trauma, to develop clear and realistic goals, to solve problems, to relate comfortably with others, and to treat oneself and others with respect. Numerous scientific studies of children facing great adversity in their lives support the importance of resilience as a powerful force. Resilience explains why some children overcome overwhelming obstacles, sometimes clawing and scraping their way to successful adulthood, while others become victims of their early experiences and environments.
In presenting the concept of resilience in this way, we believe that regardless of ethical, cultural, religious, or scientific beliefs, we can all agree that we must strive to raise resilient youngsters. However, knowing what needs to be done is not the same as knowing how to do it. Although many of us may increasingly view the world as a hostile place in which to raise children, a place in which even Beaver Cleaver would be at risk, the solution of constructing taller walls around our families and double locking the front door in order to keep out a seemingly toxic culture is unrealistic. Blaming the world around us, which we all are in fact a part of and have to some extent been responsible for shaping, as an antifamily, child-poisoning culture does little to relieve our ominous sense that great adversity awaits in our children's future.
As we watch, wonder, and worry about our children and ourselves, most parents agree that our children require a healthy dose of resilience but are uncertain where to begin. According to a recent USA/CNN/Gallup Poll, most parents concur that it is much more difficult today to raise children to be "good people" than it was twenty years ago (Donahue 1998, Id). Two out of three parents feel they are doing a "worse job." Seventy-five percent report that they are attempting to do things differently but are unsure what to do or if in fact what they are doing will be effective. Many hold out changing the world around them as the place in which the solution lies, yet feel overwhelmed with the daunting task of having an impact on a world moving at Mach speed.
No child is immune in this environment. In this fast-paced, stress-filled world, the number of children facing adversity and the number of adversities they face continue to increase dramatically. Even children who are fortunate enough not to face significant adversity or trauma, or to be burdened by intense stress or anxiety, experience the pressures around them and the expectations placed on them.
Thus, we believe that if we want to raise resilient children, we must not concentrate all of our energy on changing the world around us, but rather we must begin by changing what we do with our children. We must begin by appreciating that we can no longer afford the luxury of assuming that if our children don't face significant stress or adversity they will turn out "just fine."
Our contact with thousands of parents in our clinical practices and workshops confirms our opinion that the concept of resilience should take center stage in this process. Yet, our experiences also suggest that many well-meaning, loving parents either do not understand the parental practices that contribute to raising a resilient child or do not use what they know. Stresses as parents, "excess baggage" from the past, and lack of knowledge about new research pertaining to child development are just a few of the obstacles to engaging in the seemingly obvious practices that would promote resilience. Time and time again, our discussions with parents testify to this point.
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