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Please stop saying “kids are resilient”

“Kids are resilient.” People usually express this as a prideful proclamation about the strength of the human spirit. I know this is the intention, but nevertheless, it comes across to me as a dismissal of child suffering and the responsibility adults have to protect and guide young people.

“Kids are resilient” comes across as an expectation. Kids should be thick skinned. They should set their eyes on their future, muscle their way through and be better for it.

Many of the young people close to me are having a very hard time. They’re struggling to find the motivation to work toward the important milestones they’re expected to be enthusiastic about, like exploring new interests and talents, graduating from high school, earning their own money through part-time and summer jobs, and achieving more autonomy by getting their driver’s license. There is so much possibility ahead of them and yet these young people don’t feel hopeful about their future. They are magnificent and strong in so many ways, but they don’t feel good about themselves.

Society expects grit and perseverance. Do we also expect that we must help kids develop these traits? And do we expect that we, collectively as adults, can and should change the conditions that stunt children’s healthy development and happiness? 

I recently watched a presentation from FrameWorks Institute about how to effectively communicate about negative childhood experiences in ways that help people understand society’s role in preventing and supporting childhood trauma. One of the many golden nuggets of insight from this session spoke directly to the thorn in my side—the resilience of kids—in a way that really connected with me and helped me make sense of it.

To paraphrase the presenter, Julie Sweetland, a sociolinguist and senior advisor at the FrameWorks Institute: Resilience is the result of positive supports that counterbalance the weight of negative experiences.

We shouldn’t expect resilience without nurturing it. It’s up to adults to help kids learn how to navigate life and persevere through challenges.

Thanks to Julie, I can now do a much better job of articulating a productive, additive response to “kids are resilient.” I no longer feel the need to get prickly and drop an expletive.

The Skillman Foundation supports the well-being of Detroit youth and those who serve them. Our Wellness Works initiative specifically funds programs that help ensure young people feel whole, stable, and well. At an especially trying time, it nurtures kids’ ability to be resilient.

We are the creators of our own destinies. But it sure helps to have the right tools.

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