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The Resilience dilemma – Are we breeding them soft?

Research shows that most people consider themselves to be fairly resilient. But the reality is that most of us aren’t emotionally or psychologically prepared to handle adversity or hardship!

In fact:

  • 1 in 5 adults will experience mental health problems throughout a year
  • 1 in 4 adolescents have a mental illness
  • 1 in 3 girls AND 1 in 5 boys suffer from an anxiety disorder; and
  • 1 in 7 primary school kids have a mental illness

It is estimated that in any one year, around 1 million Australian adults will experience depression, and more than 2 million will have anxiety.*                                                             (*Source Beyond Blue).

So, what is driving this massive epidemic of mental illness across Australia and the Western world? Is this a parenting problem, an education problem or a societal problem? Well I believe it’s a combination of all three.

Firstly, we live in an age where helicopter parenting is the order of the day. Molly coddling of ones gifted, perfect little angels is systemic. Parents expectations of child care workers, teachers, managers and sporting coaches is singular and clear. Treat my child like they are special, give them special treatment and support my notion that little Johnny is the best looking, most talented smartest child in the world.

Working in HR and recruitment we see this every day. If a young person gets disciplined at work for being an asshole, on the phone gets Mummy and demands that this warning be revoked. If little Savannah doesn’t get the promotion at work, on the phone gets Mummy again and she wants to put in a formal complaint to HR that the process was unfair. If a young person is unsuccessful for a job on the phone gets Mummy demanding to know why her perfect child did not the position. This happens in sporting clubs too. I have heard countless stories of parents berating coaches when their child is not chosen to play in the finals. Complaints get filed with club presidents and all hell breaks loose. This has resulted in Junior football teams not having a ladder anymore, or finals for that matter. >Insert headslap<.

And what is all this behaviour teaching our children? It is teaching them to be soft, it is teaching them that if they lose, if you are not good at something instead of trying harder, working harder or developing some resilience, it is teaching them that if you play the victim and put in a complaint you may in fact “win.” And this practice is eroding at the very core of honest feedback. As a HR practitioner I find that many young people cannot handle honest performance feedback, they only want to hear praise and see all development feedback as inherently negative, they are often extremely sensitive and if a job gets too hard an doesn’t give them enough “winning” they simple leave.

And it doesn’t stop there, at school athletic carnivals we now give every kid a ribbon for participating, say good bye to winners and losers cause that’s bad. People’s feelings get hurt. So what does all this mean? It means our kids, young people and beloved Millennials have no resilience. They have not learnt the hard life lessons that in reality you do have winners and losers. And in this day and age we have all these social justice warriors fighting for equality and inclusiveness but unfortunately we don’t live in a fair world. So, when these young people get into the workforce and they don’t get promoted quickly and then their mummy can’t fix it for them they get upset. They learn life isn’t fair and they don’t cope very well with it. At all. Because they were told that were gifted, that they could be or do whatever they wanted, and unfortunately this is not true.

So, what is resilience? Research says that it is the ability or capacity to bounce back from difficulties that happen out of the blue; toughness or grit. And, how many young people you know have resilience? I would say not many. Many young people are anxious, depressed, disconnected and stuck in a state of victimhood.

And this is a problem as resilient people are better equipped to resist stress and adversity, cope with change and uncertainty, and to recover faster and more competently from traumatic events or episodes… And I hate to break it to you, but EVERYONE struggles with adversity. So everyone needs to develop resilience. And instead of building resilience in young people it seems that we are eroding it. Epically. Through our actions and words.

So what are the keys to resilience? There are 3:

  1. At least one secure attachment relationship
  2. Access to wider supports such as extended family and friends
  3. Positive early childhood, school and community experiences

And these are underpinned by the following building blocks:

  1. A sense of security where individuals feel a sense of belonging and feeling loved
  2. Good self-esteem – that is internal self-worth and competence
  3. A sense of self efficiency, that is a sense of mastery and control and accurate understanding of strengths and limitations

So, if we think about the helicopter parent, I truly believe they think they are assisting in supporting their child to build all of the above, but unfortunately their strategy is flawed by design. By helping them play the victim when they don’t “win” or get their way they are separating them from their peers, eroding self esteem and setting them up to fail. Unrealistic perceptions about a person’s abilities is one of the key reasons why performance issues or career problems arise. And it starts at home. Either with pressure from parents to pursue a career they don’t like, or bolstering opinions about a child’s abilities when they are not founded.

And if you think this problem is going away, I am here to tell you it is getting worse. In Australia the 2013 Census reported that half (53%) of Australians aged between 18-24 are still living at home and 17% of Australians aged 25-34 are still living at home (that’s an increase of 9% since 2006). With most young people saying money is the main factor but others would argue that this generation (Millennials) is lazy and spoiled and living at home with the parentals is just too damn comfortable. Why leave when your Mummy still does your washing, cooks your dinner and pays your phone bill?

So, are we breeding them soft? Yes we are! So if you are a parent, I challenge you to really think about what type of adult are you raising? Are you raising a strong independent, self-sufficient adult or are you raising a co-dependent, entitled and sheltered child who has never learnt about accountability, toughness or grit? And here is a final tip, the next time you are playing Uno or Snap with your kids, maybe you should beat them, teach them about winning and losing and see what happens! Its all about programming and teaching children about that life is not about winning or losing but how you play the game! You see you learn the most from your biggest failures or losses, not from your biggest wins!

In my next blog I will explore how everyone can work to build more resilience personally and with young people in particular.

Written by Head Guru Emily Jaksch.

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