Naperville parents learn to promote resilience in teens

 
 
Updated 1/10/2016 4:58 PM
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  • Psychologist and author Michael Bradley shares tips Friday in Naperville for parents to help build resilience -- or the ability to overcome failure -- in their children and teens.

      Psychologist and author Michael Bradley shares tips Friday in Naperville for parents to help build resilience -- or the ability to overcome failure -- in their children and teens. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

  • Bob McBride, principal of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, discusses the importance of building resilience in teens.

      Bob McBride, principal of Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, discusses the importance of building resilience in teens. Marie Wilson | Staff Photographer

In the face of increasing concern about teen anxiety, depression and drug abuse, leaders in Naperville are focusing on resilience, a set of hard-to-define skills that help manage stress and avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Resilience is easier defined by what it's not than by what it is, said Michael Bradley, a psychologist and author of books including "Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind."

It's not the "everybody wins" philosophy, when trophies are given to all so no one endures the pain of losing.

"It's not the avoidance of stress, pain or trauma. It's not Bubble Wrap," Bradley told a crowd of about 100 social workers, educators and community leaders Friday in Naperville. "Parents contribute inadvertently to deteriorating the resilience by deciding the kids will not suffer, we won't allow them to feel pain."

Bradley spoke at a forum hosted by the nonprofit ParentsMatterToo. The group was formed under Naperville's KidsMatter in 2013 in response to the heroin crisis. It aims to help parents build tools to guide kids away from drugs and other hazardous behaviors.

So teaching parents how to build resilience in their kids -- Bradley's specialty -- is right up ParentsMatterToo's alley.

IdaLynn Wenhold, executive director of KidsMatter, said without effective ways to manage the three top stressors for teens -- competition, overinvolvement and perfectionism -- too many are turning to drugs, alcohol or risky sexual behaviors to escape.

Bradley said the phenomenon expands nationwide and is affecting teens' mental health.

"Indeed, anxiety and depression are epidemics among the teen culture these days," Bradley said.

Bradley said he recommends a list of seven skills that make up resilience, skills that are endorsed by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics as critical to developing young people who can rebound from challenges and come out stronger.

Resilience skills include:

• Competence: Building specific abilities to handle situations effectively.

• Confidence: An attitude that predicts future competence.

• Connections: Lifelines that promote physical and emotional security.

• Character: "What you do when no one's looking."

• Contribution: Taking positive actions, no matter how small.

• Coping skills: Tools to handle stress instead of avoiding it.

• Control: Belief in the ability to shape your own world.

"It's about helping your kids step-by-step engage with the real world, suffer with real pain that happens to kids with bad grades, bad sports events, getting bullied at school, teaching them ways of responding," Bradley said. "As they find they can handle it, that ability generalizes to everything else in their lives."

Learning about resilience is one thing. Parenting in a way that encourages its growth among kids is another.

But Josh McBroom, president of KidsMatter's trustees, said he learned he could take a bit of a "softer approach" with his boys, ages 10, 6 and 4, to best help them learn to bounce back from adversity.

"Resilience means being able to handle failure," McBroom said. "It's a big concern that this next generation, they've been protected and they can't handle failure."

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