Resilient and ready

Image of superhero flying: building resilience in youth

Our recent SAAM campaign was all about how a healthy future depends on healthy young people. Although the idea is straightforward it raises a number of questions worth exploring. Let's! 

What’s the recipe for healthy young people?

There are many keys to positive youth development, but it’s safe to say the secret ingredient is resiliency. The vital role of resilience was a theme at a recent statewide conference I attended, the PA Adolescent Sexual Health (PASH) Conference. Over two days as allies in adolescent sexual health we covered a lot of ground. The range of topics discussed included adultism, media literacy, digital technology, transgender health, and trauma, but the conversation often circled back to resilience.  

Resiliency is like a superpower. It is the ability to overcome challenges and rise above. To be resilient is to be stretched without breaking, and in fact, the process makes us stronger. Whether we admit it or not, we’ve all weathered challenges in life and many of us have experienced trauma. In those moments, the skill of resiliency gives us the flexibility and strength to problem-solve, cope and grow. 

How does resiliency impact the sexual health of young people?

Let's count the ways. First, let's take a developmental perspective and remember youth are actively tackling the critical tasks of development. This development and growth is challenging. In our society, cultural factors such as the media and peer pressure elevate the difficulty. Next, let's consider the impact of oppression on the lives of young people. Yes, young people are often the targets of many levels of oppression, including when their voices and experiences are devalued as youth, and this all impacts health and well-being. There's also the layer of trauma too. The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences is significant and building resilience helps individuals manage and cope with trauma. All of these factors influence the lives of young people and their sexual health, decision-making, and futures.   

How can we help youth build resilience?

Resilience is a human capacity that comes naturally, but it can be supported and strengthened as a skill. The keynote speaker at the PASH Conference zeroed in on the idea of connectedness. Michael Resnick, Ph.d. of the Healthy Youth Development Resource Center described connectedness as a fundamental human need of all young people. Connectedness is the simple idea of building meaningful connections. These connections are important, and healthy relationships with trustworthy adults build the ability to resist stress.

What does a healthy relationship with a supportive adult look like? 

Resnick identified three key factors: Adults who have the ability to listen, be non-judgmental and stick around. Meaningful relationships are long-term, and sticking around means the length of these relationships is two years or more. 

It may sound like a tall order, but our shared commitment to young people is an asset on this journey. This conference was a rich experience with too many reflections for one blog post, and I will close out these reflections on resilience with a hint to a future blog exploring what it means to be an effective adult ally and how adultism can stand in the way. 

How have you grown resilience? Share your thoughts in a comment below.