There’s no doubt that resilience has become a buzzword. As parents, many of us have added to our long-ish list of worries the need to help our children become more resilient. No-one wants their son or daughter to be part of a ‘snowflake generation’, but what can we do other than feel stressed about it ourselves?
What is resilience and why do we need it?
At its simplest, resilience means the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt to change and persist in the face of adversity. The resilient people are the ones who bounce back. They hear negative feedback and use it to grow. They know what they want and don’t let problems get in their way.
There are good reasons why resilience has emerged as a key personality trait in this, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We’re on the brink of a new era where technology will change everything. The World Economic Forum claims this will ‘fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another’. Consider:
- Automation is transforming the face of work: young people will need creative, technical and social skills if they are to play a role in society (Nesta, ‘Creativity and the Future of Work, 2018)
- 29% of current employees believe their skill-set is redundant now or will be in 1-2 years (CapGemini, Digital Skills)
- 59% of employers say their organisation lacks people with ‘soft’ digital skills like passion for learning and customer centricity (CapGemini, Digital Skills, 2017)
- A 2017 Deloitte report states ‘the concept of a “career” is being shaken to its core, driving companies toward “always-on” learning experiences that allow employees to build skills quickly, easily, and on their own terms’. (Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age, 2017)
- The very face of leadership has transformed: companies are seeking and struggling to find ‘more agile, diverse and younger leaders’, who can thrive amidst rapid change (Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends, Rewriting the Rules for the Digital Age)
Many of the jobs that exist now won’t even be around when our children start looking for employment. Their workplace will be a dynamic, fast-changing environment where they’ll fail if they can’t maintain a constant updating of their skill base. Working alongside machines, our children will need to acquire the skills machines cannot: empathy and emotional intelligence.
This is a new kind of working environment with a host of new demands. Being able to handle setbacks calmly and confidently and to use failures to grow will set people apart from the crowd.
A somewhat scary picture, though, particularly if your child has issues with confidence, perfectionism or low motivation. The good news, though, is that even more than other aspects of emotional intelligence, resilience can be learnt.
Here are our top eight tips for supporting your child to develop resilience:
Understanding their own personal strengths and weaknesses is an essential starting point. Equipped with self-awareness, your child will be more strategic and effective in difficult situations (group assignments, managing a teacher they don’t get on with, making subject choices).
Knowing why things have gone wrong is incredibly powerful. If your child can see how a particular aspect of their behaviour has contributed to a problem, they are more likely to be able to move on from it. Equally, when they can spot their strengths making a difference to a project, they’ll make better decisions.
Unfortunately, schools don’t always have time for developing soft skills like self-awareness and resilience. They are often restricted by a crowded curriculum that’s heavily focused on academic results. A recent study by the Princes Trust and HSBC found, however, that an impressive 91% of teachers felt that schools should be doing more to develop students’ soft skills base (‘Results for Life’, 2017).
Flying Start XP supports young people to lay the foundations of self-awareness. We use a tool called C-Me – a behavioural profiling tool that draws on colours to give our students a simple and memorable language they can use to understand themselves. This is a relatively low-cost tool that we’ve found makes a profound difference.
- The space to explore and grow
Getting great academic results can feel like the be-all and end-all. As parents, we make huge sacrifices and invest time, money and love to help our children succeed at school.
Sometimes, though, the balance starts to feel wrong. Every day there’s a new story in the media about young people struggling with stress and mental health issues: a recent survey found that four out of five 12-16 year-olds in England felt they had experienced mental health problems. The two top causes cited for experiencing emotional distress were exam worries and work overload.
Yet, in the new world of work, the most sought-after skills are likely to include creativity, resilience, communication and problem-solving: not qualities encouraged or developed by an obsessive focus on exams and academic results.
Consider this quote from Jack Ma, CEO of Ali Baba, speaking at the World Economic Forum:
“Education is a big challenge now. If we don’t change the way we teach, we will be in big trouble in 30 years from now. Because the way we teach, the things we teach our kids, are the things from the past 200 years – it’s knowledge-based. We need to be teaching our children values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others…these are the soft parts….that’s why I think we should teach our kids sports, music, painting, art’.
Personally, I had a passion for sport that led me into PE teaching. I then switched focus to event management, moving into a series of jobs that I truly loved, including a role travelling around the world looking after the top 40 world surfing pros.
Back in secondary school, no-one would have identified that as an option! The important things for me were the space to develop a passion, the self-awareness to build a professional life that played to my skills, and the confidence to track down and jump on opportunities.
- Fake it till you make it
Imposter syndrome is something we have all probably heard about: the chronic self-doubt that tells you you do not have what it takes to succeed, and that if you do succeed, you’ll be found out as a fraud. It is one of the big enemies of resilience: it holds us back from new challenges and restricts our encounters with both failure and success.
Imposter syndrome is no less a problem for our teenagers, especially given that they’re spending the majority of their time in an environment of constant intellectual measurement and comparison.
Take the time to watch Amy Cuddy’s famous TED talk on this. It went viral for a reason: it’s simple, effective advice on being the change you would like to see in yourself. Why not sit with your child and watch the video? Pretending to be confident and assertive may well be the first step for them in becoming those things.
- Work experience
Schools offer a certain amount of career guidance and work experience, but our advice would be that the more the better. One week of work experience in year ten or eleven will not be enough to shape effective career decision-making.
It’s impossible to exaggerate the power of work experience. Use your own networks to help your child spend some of their summer holiday investigating a career they’re drawn to. They will make early contacts and networks that will be immensely useful. If they have a ‘dream job’ they will see the reality of it, and know if it is actually for them. And in terms of resilience, they’ll almost certainly get to tackle challenges, make mistakes, and test out their skills in the real world.
And if your child is keen to take a holiday job at McDonald’s, start their own business or take on some babysitting work, by all means, get behind them and help make it happen. Again, they’ll be expanding their networks, building contacts, learning new skills, testing out their strengths and stretching their limits.
One of the most important aspects of work experience is the chance to work with people who are different. It is fairly likely that at school and even university, young people are comfortably sitting in their comfort zones with people who are similar to themselves.
Getting out into the workplace, however, means collaborating with people who are older, from different places, who might communicate differently or have different ways of doing things. This will promote creative thinking and resilience: exposure to a broader mix of opinions and ideas is an underestimated source of strength. Where everyone is different and gets along together, it is much easier to understand the simple reality that everyone brings different strengths to a team, and that constant comparison is unhelpful.
- Making a difference
Volunteering and community work can be powerful in building confidence and resilience. Many young people respond well to time spent in a community context focused on collaboration, sharing and helping out. This can offer a new perspective after years spent in academic environments focused on performance and achievement.
The Duke of Edinburgh Award is a brilliant way to achieve this. Young people could also consider helping out at summer camps, volunteering with sports organisations or working with charities. The Princes Trust offers a few ideas to get started.
As parents, we definitely can’t do it all, especially as our children grow older. It’s really important to try to put in place networks of other adults our children can trust and build relationships with.
Your daughter will talk to an ‘aunt’ in a way that she might not with you as her mother. And your son will be able to test out some of his ideas about himself more comfortably outside the father/son relationship.
Uncle and aunt figures are at the heart of the work of parenting expert Steve Biddulph – he argues that in modern life young people are missing out on crucial confidence-building interactions with adults who are not their parents.
We also need to encourage our children to ask questions of adults in general. It might be a friend of their mum’s with a career they find fascinating, a teacher they’ve bonded with, a friend’s dad, or a sports coach. We should encourage them to learn everything they can from these people, by being willing to ask questions. How did they get into their line of work? What do they love about it? How is it challenging? Making a habit of asking questions like this will build confidence and knowledge.
The ability to seek out mentors and learn from them is a crucial skill for the modern workforce. Mentors can be powerful in terms of resilience: a sounding-post for making sense of mistakes and finding a confident direction.
Social media is always mentioned as one of the main causes of young people’s mental health problems. At the same time, it’s pretty much impossible just to switch it off. We can’t ignore it when talking about resilience: it’s at the centre of our children’s lives, and it seems to be one of the main ways confidence can be eroded.
A positive starting point is to help your child see the digital world as a source of tools they can put to work to achieve their goals. They will feel less at the mercy of WhatsApp and Snapchat if they’re being strategic and self-aware in their relationship with the tech universe.
Here are some ideas:
- Start a blog, vlog or themed Instagram account about something they love or are good at.
- Learn to code: have a look at this article on how coding builds collaboration, problem-solving and persistence
- Build themselves a website – see this article on how Girl Scouts in the US were helped to do this
- Start an online business: have a look at these Virgin tips for young entrepreneurs
- Set up a LinkedIn profile to record skills and achievements, and get recommendations from their part-time work, work experience or volunteering. We recommend this to anyone about to enter the world of work. It shows you’re proactive and it’s a great way to record all your work experience, as well as references from those you’ve worked with.
- Be a role model
My son’s swimming teacher (back when he was really little!) used to tell the mums off for not wanting to get their hair wet. Obviously, she’d say, they’re not going to do anything you won’t do yourself. It’s an obvious but still useful parenting lesson.
If you want your child to be happy to make and learn from mistakes, you need to show them you can do this, and that this is important to you. Tell them when your day goes wrong, and let them know how you reacted. Share those moments when your own confidence wavered, and tell them how you managed to soldier on.
Good luck: it’s not necessarily going to be easy, but making a start is really powerful. We’d love to know how you get on!
Alex Webb is Director of Flying Start XP, a start-up running key skills and business behaviour courses. Students and attendees acquire the confidence needed to get the best jobs and to add value to their employers from day one, starting with self-awareness as this is the key to building relationships. So important in the working world! Follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter for all the latest news, updates and special offers.