Resilience is an important trait for teens to develop, as it helps them to make better decisions and respond to situations with thought-out, rather than knee-jerk reactions. The benefits of increased resilience are far-reaching and can lead to lower levels of suicide, greater happiness, higher levels of marital bliss, greater success in business, and better health. For religious parents in particular, having resilient children is especially important for continuing the Mesorah and making sure that our children stay on the Derech, despite the potential for trauma, abuse, and disingenuous behavior.
So, how can parents help their children develop resilience? Building resilience starts with fostering a secure and supportive environment. This means being open to communication and listening to your child, while also providing structure and boundaries. It helps to create a safe space for your child to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment, while also providing them with the reassurance and support they need to work through potential problems. It also means role modeling. I had a high school principal who would chide us, “Talk is cheap! Don’t talk the talk but walk the walk!” Today’s teens are so sensitive to disingenuous behavior. In Faranak Margolese‘s seminal work examining why teens go off the Derech, hypocritical behavior from both parents and educators was right up there as one of the greatest causes.
It’s also important to encourage your child to take risks while understanding that failure is a part of the learning process. Do you let your children cook in the kitchen or are they shooed off because they make a mess? Stephen Hawkings’ mother (an extraordinary physicist of the last century) would allow him to experiment in the house and garden. That gave his curiosity the ability to flourish and allowed him not be afraid of failure. What incredible Ovdei Hashem could we be producing if we let go of the need to be “perfect” (an unrealistic illusion)? If they had soaring self-esteem and resilience, what could they do for Am Yisrael or even the world? Let your child take calculated risks, and don’t be too quick to jump in and take over when things don’t go according to plan. Encourage them to problem-solve and find solutions independently. This will help to build their confidence as well as their resilience. There is a term: “the overbearing Jewish Mother”. This doesn’t serve our children. It limits them further. They think, “If my parent doesn’t think I can do it, it must be because I can’t!” Is that the message we want to impart? Instead of focusing on what others might think about us or our family, we need to be focused on the needs of our children. They are so intuitive and can pick up on this nuance.
Getting into the “right seminary/yeshiva” may not be beneficial. What will it do for them? Who will they associate with? Will the institution be more concerned about the institution’s reputation or supporting the child? I volunteer here in Israel with an organization that tries to improve the lives of religious children with mental illness. One mother heartbreakingly told the story of how after being hospitalized for a little while due to depression, her daughter was not allowed back into her high school. Her “friends” disappeared! When she was looking for an after-high school program she faced the same ostracization. How awful is that!? Not only did this girl suffer from a serious illness, a poor response is going to push her back into an even worse emotional state. Even more, what are we teaching children about the ability to cope with trying circumstances when we try to whitewash them?
I worked intensively with a lovely child who had the exact opposite experience, thank G-d! After being sexually assaulted, this religious girl wanted to end her life. It took over six months until she shared the cause of her anguish, but throughout that time her high school bent over backward to help. She was given a special schedule, private tutoring, and lots of TLC! She is healthy, religious, and alive because the school responded as Mechanchim should. Parents, don’t settle! Your children are the guarantors of Sinai. Help them to reach their tafkid while enabling them to be themselves, not some perfect person that fits “the image”. This will give them space and permission to try without being afraid of failure.
Finally, be sure to demonstrate resilience yourself. Show your child how to manage difficult situations and work towards positive outcomes. It’s also important to model empathy and kindness in your interactions with others, as these behaviors can help to foster resilience in teens. Teens need to hear family stories of relatives who overcame adversity to understand that no one has it smooth in this world. We all struggle with different challenges and how we overcome those challenges is what defines us. Without overburdening your teens, you can let them know about real issues you face in life/work/social situations. Why? Because you are once again planting seeds. These are memories that they will remember and apply to their own life. It also reassures them that they are not alone in having challenges. We all have them. It makes their view of life all the more realistic. Social media is phony; it doesn’t portray the struggles that people have. We need to show our children that it’s okay—and normal!—if we face challenges. We are loved by Hakadosh Baruch Hu and we can get through them too.
Resilience is an important trait for teens to develop, and when done properly, it can help lead to greater success, better health, and increased happiness. Parents can play an important role in helping their children develop resilience, by providing a supportive and secure environment, encouraging risk-taking, and modeling resilience in their own lives.
Tanya Goldfrad is a pharmacist, a health promoter, and a healthcare disruptor. She utilizes pharmacogenomics, foods, and supplements to help you heal and be your best. She currently has programs available for teaching teens resilience, as well as a program for treating diabetes, and for pharmacogenomic testing.
Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash