Building an emotionally resilient next generation

Two pieces of news over the weekend prompted this reflection and mild rant.

The first a poll released by Barnados entitled “Generation Selfie” showed that the vast majority of 14 year olds felt resilient with only 9% agreeing with the statement “people like  me don’t have much of a chance in life.” The 17-19 age group numbers rose to 21% for the same statement.  Also 84% of the youngest age group agreed “working hard now will help me get on later in life”, but this had dropped to 67% by 20-22. The implication being that they are not as resilient as they may need to be.

The second piece was an article in the Sunday Times picking up on statistics from the country’s top private schools which showed that 85% were concerned about depression among their pupils coupled with 57% of schools reporting self harm as a problem.

A Serious Challenge

These are serious challenge because they describe a generation and a generation by its very nature can have a huge impact upon future generations.

Before I talk about what I feel we as a generation can do to help the generations that follow us I’d like to give you my definition of what Emotional Resilience is. For me it is …

“The ability to deal with what life throws at me and still be capable of joy.”

Imagine that. Coping with life’s pressures and challenges and still being happy.

My experience however, is that many of us, too many of us are pursuing happiness and managing the trick of remaining miserable while we do it. To expand on that may have to wait for another article.

What can we do to help build an emotionally resilient next generation?

Talk to our children about feelings.

Too many of us adults are not articulate in talking about how we feel and are afraid to discuss feelings with others. This develops for various reasons such as growing up in families where feelings were not acknowledged or from painful experiences where we have shared feelings and have ended up feeling hurt or ashamed by the experience. Unfortunately teaching the next generation to do the same is a recipe for disaster. Not being able to deal with challenging feelings is just the start of the way we undermine ourselves and store emotional problems for the future when they become more difficult to deal with.

My favourite phrase when giving talks to any age group about this challenge is this ..“If you do not learn to have a healthy relationship with the full range of your feelings then one day you will 379469_broken_mirror_2get to about my age (48) and find yourself on a workshop with someone like me unpacking the years of hiding from your feelings and working out why you are finding it difficult to self regulate now.”

Help Them Develop Healthy Self Image

Our own view of ourselves i.e. our self esteem is one of the most fundamental and important parts of the self maintenance we humans need to do. It is our responsibility and it not easy.  This is why too many of us take the easy and ultimately unhealthy route of investing far too much importance and emotional energy in what others think of us. Measuring our self worth by what others think of us we are giving others power over our happiness and relying for our one sense of self on something that is fundamentally unreliable….other peoples fickle views.

It draws us into needy behaviour, unhealthy relationships and conflict.

Taking responsibility for our own esteem is adult, mature and above all it is healthy.

Develop a healthy relationship with stress

Linked to our unhealthy relationship with feelings is the relationship with one particular feeling…fear. This is the feeling that lies deep down under stress. When we are stressed we are scared. We are scared that something is going to happen or scared that something is not going to happen.

Until we develop a healthy relationship with these fundamental feelings we are going to continue with unhealthy behaviour patterns, relationships, weight issues, addictions and illnesses.

How do we help the next generation?

For me the answer is both simple and incredibly complex.

The simple answer is for us to be healthy role models. For us to role model dealing with feelings, dealing with stress and valuing ourselves in a healthy way. Of course the complexity comes in because a lot of us are in unhealthy habits and places with regards to one or more of these areas.

Ask yourself this…how can you expect your children to deal with these challenges which are not getting any easier unless we show them through our own authentic behaviour.

Positive role modelling is how children learn best at any age. Some learn through negative role modelling in other words they see their parent’s relationships with stress and resolve never to be like that. That works but it is neither reliable nor healthy for you.

The worst thing we can do is to behave in one way and tell the next generation to behave in another. It’s confusing, and dishonest. In other words it is inauthentic.

So…heal thyself and you will be part of healing and helping the next generation. If you think you have not turned out to bad then carry on, be the example and the model you want to be for your children. The choice is yours.








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