Building Youth Resilience: A challenge to our communities

Building Youth Resilience: A challenge to our communities

Howie Levin
Convener, OneHeartDC

A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice; Behold, the former things have come to pass; now I declare new things. Isaiah 42:3, 9

Too many of our youth are losing hope. We observe a growing list of symptoms. They are engaging in risky behaviors that too often lead to drug overdoses, suicides and other devastating outcomes. Hopelessness affects the affluent as well as the lives shaped by poverty. It has no racial or ethnic boundaries. It can occur in families of high function or dysfunction and in those intellectually gifted or those struggling with learning challenges.

“One quarter of kids, when they become high school students are on a pathway to human thriving. The other three quarters have fallen off that path. It’s no longer about purpose and hope, and connectedness, and engagement, and joy, but it’s about being alone, it’s about being empty, it’s about being medicated, it’s about being confused and it’s about being lost.” 

Peter Benson (Search Institute)

Our teens lack a capacity called resilience which is the mental, physical, emotional, and behavioral ability to face and cope with adversity, to adapt to change, recover, learn and grow from setbacks. The good news is that researchers have identified the developmental assets or building blocks for healthy development. Fortunately, these assets can be obtained.

Resilience building is well suited for families, faith groups, communities and professionals working together. Relational engagement by mentors (parents, educators, youth leaders and concerned citizens) provides a positive framework for emphasizing strengths and responsibility in youth across all walks of life. Counselors and medical professionals provide technical expertise when needed.

A key is to help our youth discover their sparks or intrinsic interests, talents, and passions that motivate them to learn, grow, and contribute. Some examples are creative arts, athletics, learning, volunteering, nature, and spirituality. Search Institute research shows that kids who thrive have two important supports: knowledge of what their sparks are and adults who support the development of those sparks. In essence, our successful youth possess reasons to get up every day and experience life to the fullest.

It is time to develop an integrated set of activities for relationship building, teaching and growing resilience. These will involve:

  1. Creating awareness of the challenges faced by our next generation and of the availability of solutions.
  2. Establishing a hope-filled environment by inspiring commitment and equipping families, faith groups, communities and professionals to work together proactively to build a resilient generation of youth who thrive and have hope of a meaningful future.
  3. Strengthening sensitivity and detection to ward off negative outcomes for those that slip through.

The challenge is made. Now let’s follow through and work together with God to save this generation!