By Dr. Dana Harris

Every generation is shaped by the social, political, and economic events of the day.  Today’s teen generation is no different.  Their lives are saturated by mobile technology, social media, and the desire for positive peer relationships. Although today’s teens experience different struggles than previous generations, they are growing up in vastly diverse worlds while facing unique problems. Adolescence is a critical time of growth and learning, and teens have the right to get it wrong.  It’s not easy becoming a young adult in a world that so often seems out of control and presents serious threats.  Teens may rebel and take calculated risks while forming judgments about the world and everyone around them.  They identify with the internet, Facebook, and television, where increasingly less emphasis is placed on moral value, integrity, or personal accomplishment. Honestly, the world of today is in a difficult state of uncertainty.  We cannot envision the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, its full economic impact, or if “normal” life will resume.

No matter how much we strive to protect our teens from bad things, it is inevitable that they will face some sort of adversity into adulthood. However, we can help them navigate these challenges through teachable moments and offer support to develop character and connections in the real world. We hope by shouldering some of the burdens they will learn true happiness. The rewarding task of parenting often involves swimming against the tide. We might question when to hold tighter or simply stand back. The answer is a balance of doing both.  We are parents.  We are human.  It is what parenting is all about.  The tension stirs fear and anxiety in us like nothing else, but it also provides the strength and courage to do things we never thought we could— like allowing our children to fall so they can eventually succeed while we remain their close advisors. 

Preparing the next generation for the real world is a necessary part of parenting. Adversity comes with life, and overcoming it is one of the biggest hurdles we face.  Tough as it is, overcoming is an emotional muscle developed through practice. It is a prerequisite for growth, and it is vital to our humanity.  Overcoming adversity builds deep character and enables teens to hang in there when the going gets tough. We recognize it as determination, grit, and perseverance when tackling the emotional challenges of school and life. When teens experience personal satisfaction from doing something that makes a difference in the world, they develop personal beliefs and values.  Young people want to matter. They want to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives. Finding purpose in life is not a single event, it is a process that has a personalized pace. Be patient if your child becomes stuck. Your teen will come up against failure or setbacks sooner or later. Explain that refraining from negative self-talk is a way to gain a happier and healthier sense of self-worth.  Life is an ongoing process of change. Show your teen that you are there to support them no matter what. Every child needs to know that someone is in their corner, rooting for them, teaching them to handle adversity, difficult situations and struggles, and how to manage their emotions. Our teens need to understand how much others care for them and how they can affect our world for the better.  With the confidence that comes from knowing they have the power to make a difference, teens can visualize their purpose in life even if they do not have all the answers. This knowledge is a secure launching pad towards a hopeful future. 

One of the most important tasks facing teens is finding their rightful place in society while being recognized by their peers and accepted for who they are. The pressure to be the best in life is imprtined on our teens from a young age as our culture strives to avoid failure at all costs. There is no doubt that our fast-paced society values personal success. But we must be sure that our teens also value kindness, cooperation, sharing and compassion for others.  In a society that fosters the importance of winning, one must reinforce that it is how we play the game that defines us! The most striking conclusion arising from all the research on adversity and resilience in the development of children is that it does not come from rare or special qualities, but the everyday magic of ordinary human resources. I believe that one of the best things we can do for our teen is to offer encouragement, face difficult times together, help them to believe in themselves, practice forgiveness, remain steady and keep the communication channels open.  If you are willing to embrace the challenges, empathize now and then and prepare to be patient and discreet, your job is half done.  We all strive to be the best parent for our kids.  Therefore, it is essential during the teen years that parents remain their children’s emotional and moral compass. Provided below are a few helpful resources that serve as a roadmap through these challenging years.

Difference Maker: Overcoming Adversity and Turning Pain into Purpose, Every Day, Teen Edition; Gary Roe.

Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings; Kenneth R. Ginsburg, M.D.

Active Parenting of Teens, A Parent’s Guide, Third Edition; Michael H Popkin, Ph.D.

Parenting Today’s Teens with Mark Gregston; parentingtodaysteens.org.

Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life; Eric Greitens.

Pitiful to Powerful: How to Overcome Adversity and Unlock Your Greatness; Maurice Latham.

Beating the Odds: A Teen Guide to 75 Superstars Who Overcame Adversity; Mary Ellen Snodgras.

The Struggle to Be Strong: True Stories by Teens About Overcoming Tough Times; Al Desetta and Sybil Wolin.

Stand in My Shoes: Kids Learning About Empathy; Bob Sornson, Ph.D.

• Center for Parent & Teen Communication; Resilience/September 4, 2018; Building Character in Teens.

Resilience: How Families Grow from Adversity; Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D. www.rootsofaction.com/resilience-adversity.  

• Teen Challenges– Stages of Life; www.stageoflife.com/Teen_Challenges.aspx.

• Supporting Teens Through Adversity; www.kidsclub.org/post/supporting-teens-through-adversity.

• Helping Teens Bounce Back from Adversity;  www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2013/jul/17/helping-teens-bounce-back-adversity.

• Coping with Adversity in the Lives of Children in Foster Care; www.bettercarenetwork.org/library/the-continuum-of-care/foster-care/coping-with-adversity-in-the-lives-of-children-in-foster-care.  

• Renewing Hearts Marriage and Family Sercvices, an agency offering individual and family counseling for teens and their families. Trisha Well BS, BCBC: Life Coach/Biblical Counseling;  trisha.wells.renewinghearts@gmail.com, (706) 829-8205.