Developing resilience in children

Life for most of us in our modern society takes a toll on our emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan asserts that we do not have the mental framework and associated mental capacities, to adequately to meet the overwhelming demands of modern life. This inadequacy leaves most people with increasing and growing levels of anxiety, depression, disconnected to their experiences of joy, love, happiness and inner peace, and lacking a sense of purpose in life with related personal and professional meaning.

How can we impact the troubling ubiquitous human issues that characterize our society, or at least know to process the daily bombardment? From children being bullied in schools because of ethnic or social status, to increased heroin abuse because of post-traumatic stress syndrome, to increased levels of adolescent depression and suicide due to increased stressors, to increased incidences of sexual assault and cutting on college campuses, to record levels of being overweight and obesity, just to name a few, I think we can agree that something is not quite right in our modern society.

The statistics from recent studies are alarming and have reached crisis levels. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found that 83 percent of participants experienced depression, anxiety or other mental health disorder. The study was conducted over the lifetimes of 988 individuals, with a total of 13 assessments taking place between their birth and when they hit age 38. A recent American Academy of Pediatrics study found a significant increase in major depressive episodes over the past 10 years, especially among adolescent girls and young adult women.

The most recent statistics collected by the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (2015) of State College students found that, “The most common depressed thought was “at times I think I am no good at all,” reported by 26.7 percent of students in this district, with 37 percent of 12th-graders. About 23.2 percent of students reported they felt sad or depressed most days in the past 12 months. Overall, 12.4 percent of students had seriously considered attempting suicide, compared to 16 percent of students at the state level.

Note the qualifier in this report that State College is not as bad as the entire state of Pennsylvania, as if this should provide some level of comfort for concerned parents. These statistics should alarm our local community in that poor self-image and self-esteem are significant risk factors to a positive and successful life.

Additional evidence abounds. In January, a 12-year-old Florida girl committed suicide live on Facebook. In August 2015, the CDC and SAMSHA asked the public to create unique photos with six words on how to prevent suicide. Submissions were overwhelming and included attributes of: self-worth, the ability to feel emotions such as love (social-emotional awareness and competency).

The CDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study uncovered a dramatic link between childhood trauma and the chronic diseases people develop as adults, as well as social and emotional problems. This includes heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and many autoimmune diseases, as well as depression, violence, being a victim of violence and suicide. Most notably, someone with four or more ACEs is 460 percent more likely to suffer from depression than someone with an ACE score of zero.

Three ACEs increase the risk of drug use by 93 percent (health care costs associated with drug dependency are $11 billion in health care cost alone). A man with four or more ACEs is 400 percent more likely to be a perpetrator of domestic violence than a man of zero. Women who have experienced five or more ACEs are three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

The ability to develop resiliency is fast becoming an important personal attribute to live a good life in modernity. Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means bouncing back from difficult experiences.

A combination of factors contributes to resilience. Many studies show that the primary factor in resilience is having self-knowledge which includes purpose in life among 30 additional attributions such as the ability to manage strong emotions. We can more to develop resilient children through schooling and family.

Dr. Henry G. Brzycki is a positive psychology and education expert and president of The Brzycki Group and co-founder with Elaine J. Brzycki, of The Center of the Self in Schools. He can be contacted at Henry@Brzyckigroup.com.