Resiliency: What Does It Look like in Teens

Teen Boy Resillience

“Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself, of [...] self-leadership [...]. The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind--of yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed”
-- Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps the Score.

Trauma ranges from teenagers experiencing their parents going through a divorce, to a teenager who experiences neglect and physical abuse. That is, as will be mentioned later in this article, what’s traumatic for one teen might not be traumatic for another teen.

Providing you with a description of how to overcome trauma, this article will explore what resilience looks like in teens and how to foster resilience in teenagers.

The Relationship Between Trauma and Resilience

As was mentioned, trauma is rooted in how a person experiences and perceives an event in their lives. For some teens, they can bounce back from a traumatic event like a natural disaster within a short time period, while others may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and other Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As Dr. Van Der Kolk explains in his book, trauma takes away a person’s ability to feel like they have control over their lives. It also makes them feel like they lack agency and the ability to make changes.

Trauma also causes individuals, especially troubled boys and men, to:

  • Have Angry Outbursts.

    • This can include verbal and physical outbursts over even the most minor occurrences. For example, without resilience, a teen boy or girl might become very frustrated if they don’t get what they want. In most cultures, angry outbursts from males are tolerated and seen as “natural.” However, these outbursts might be a sign of more serious issues.
  • Constantly Feel Overwhelmed.

    • When a teen has experienced trauma, their brains and bodies are in survival mode, so even minor things like homework can make them feel overwhelmed.
  • Shutting Down.

    • Because trauma takes away individuals' ability to express what happened to them in language, teens who have experienced trauma may seem like they have shut down and are unwilling to engage with you and life itself.

To help your teen with the effects of trauma and setbacks, you will need to foster resilience.

Resilience and Its Characteristics

The ability to bounce back from events and to be re-engaged in life after trauma is what mental experts like Dr. Van Der Kolk calls resilience. Resilience looks different in everyone but here are some of the common signs of resilience:

  • A strong sense of purpose:

    • The best way of fostering resilience in teenagers is by helping them find a sense of purpose and meaning. Fostering meaning and purpose can be done in many ways including:
    • Creating structure for your teen through daily routines. At Liahona Academy, our therapeutic board school for troubled boys, we have a daily schedule that we follow to help our teens with things like addiction, and with mental and physical health. We have this schedule to help teens find a sense of purpose and meaning throughout their day, and eventually, throughout their entire lives.
  • Optimism about the future.

    • When teens believe that they have a strong purpose and meaning in life, then they’re most likely to feel more optimistic about their future. As a parent then, one of your goals is to help them realize their potential. You should have high expectations for them while also reminding them that you’ll always love them for who they are.
  • A deep sense of gratitude.

    • To foster resilience, an individual will need to see the good that’s already there in their lives. Gratitude reminds your teen that despite the trauma and setbacks, there are still a lot of good things happening.
  • An awareness of having control over their life.

    • As Dr. Van Der Kolk mentions, trauma can make your teen feel like they’ve lost all control over their lives. The goal then in fostering resilience is to make them aware of their agency and to give them back their sense of control. Here are some ways to cultivate this awareness:
    • Encourage them to engage in physical activities like yoga and meditation. This will help them feel centered, calm and in control.
    • Encourage them to see a therapist or to attend a therapeutic boarding school. Having your teen see a therapist can help them develop this awareness and confidence in themselves.

Resilience Can Be Learned!

Overall, it’s very important to do something about trauma and setbacks by helping foster resilience in your teen. Resilience is what gives your teen the ability to live a full life--a life that acknowledges both suffering and joy.

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