Building Resiliency

Resiliency, noun (ri-ˈzil-yən(t)-sē): an ability to recover from, or adjust easily to, adversity or change.

In a recent CHV podcast, Dr. Ken Ginsburg discusses the topic of youth resiliency and the important role that adults play in supporting these amazing people.

At-risk youth and those who are experiencing homelessness are extremely resilient. By fostering their inner resilience, adults can help them build on their strengths so that they can go from surviving to thriving. Achieving this involves, what Dr. Ginsburg calls,

 the seven Cs:

  • Confidence — is built when people notice what you’re doing right
  • Competencies — what you’re doing right
  • Connection — human connection — the most important C
  • Character — having an understanding of what’s right and wrong
  • Contribution — when we allow young people to contribute, they feel empowered
  • Coping — what you do in a situation to make yourself feel better, because life can be tough
  • Control — when youth feel loved and supported, they can gain control of their lives

When someone has experienced trauma, part of the brain (the amygdala) develops to see danger that others may not see. The emotional part of the brain scans the environment, looking for danger, and this part of the brain is very adept in vulnerable young people — it’s what has enabled them to survive. This can also be why youth may act moody, or push people away.

Another way to look at depression is that it occurs when resilience has reached its limit. Dr. Ginsburg says that, “…half of the young people who are depressed are actually going to act irritable or act out in rage….We’re going to call them bad. And when we call them bad, we separate ourselves from them.” In other words, we’re missing the call for help.

Another thing to keep in mind is that adolescents are super learners, and because they’re super learners, they’re also natural explorers. They want to have new experiences and imagining real possibilities.

The Role of Adults and Caregivers

“I’ll tell you what’s never worked. What’s never worked with humans is to tell kids what not to do.” Says Dr. Ginsburg. Sometimes life is tough, and people do what they do to cope. Telling them to simply not do that, doesn’t help.

The first step is to see these young people for their strengths. Realizing their competencies will help build their confidence. “Love is about intense listening and it’s about seeing someone as they deserve to be seen as they really are, and not based on a label that they might have received, and not based on a behaviour that they might be displaying right now, but just as they really are.” Says Dr. Ginsburg.

The role of parent/caregiver is not to control youth. Youth are natural explorers, and the role of the caregiver is to set clear and healthy boundaries so that youth can spread their wings and safely try new experiences.

Good, loving boundaries allow us to come together safely. We are not trying to fix youth, because they are not broken. The goal of an adult is to enable youth to build their skillsets and have them see themselves as the experts in their own lives.

Unconditional love doesn’t mean the unconditional approval of a behaviour. What it does mean is that when youth are exhibiting a behaviour that’s harmful to them, the adult is not going anywhere. The adult presence is what is unconditional. Continuing to see youth as they deserve to be seen is unconditional.

Never be afraid to ask a youth if you should be worried about them. When you ask them directly, they feel seen and protected.

When you let a young person know how much they matter and when you allow them to contribute to the family and community, they see that they are making a difference in the lives of others and that enables them to feel empowered.

There is the myth about adolescence that says that they don’t care what their parents think or that they can’t be rational. And some parents may believe that they are unable to make a difference in their child’s life anymore. Both are incorrect. In fact, Dr. Ginsburg says that “…kids care deeply about what their parents think. They want to please their parents overwhelmingly, and they care about what adults, in general, think. And that fact is irrefutable by every piece of research that’s ever done.”

It’s true that adolescents do push adults away, sometimes, and the people that they’re most likely to push away are their parents. That’s not because they don’t love their parents. “It’s because they love you so much it hurts. And it’s hard for them to imagine doing this without you. So, they go through a temporary period of time where they push you away, while they’re learning to stretch their own wings.” Says Dr. Ginsburg. If you support them and celebrate their independence, then you will be “an irreplaceable, essential guide in your child’s journey.”

When youth feel safe because they realize that the adults around them are there to support them and help them grow, then they no longer have to use their protector’s brain to protect themselves. Instead, youth will want to protect and take care of others. Another word for that is empathy or compassion. Youth will then want to repair the world, because they know that what happened to them isn’t right and they want to make the world better for future generations.

Being a caregiver is about listening. When you create a safe space for youth and listen intently, you will hear their stories of resilience. You will realize how compassionate these young people are and how much insight they have. A caregiver’s role is to reflect these things back to the youth.

How Covenant House Supports Youth

CHV’s Purpose: “Covenant House Vancouver’s purpose is to serve all youth with relentless support, absolute respect, and unconditional love. We help youth experiencing homelessness, and protect and safeguard all youth in need.” But what does that mean?

It means that CHV sees youth in their best light and in all their complexities. CHV admires young people for their strengths — and that is life-changing for a human being who’s never been noticed appropriately. As Dr. Ginsburg puts it, “Loving is something you can do for every single human being, if you’re just able to listen to them. And when we love, the boundaries become easily defined, because it’s not about me, it’s about you and who you are. And my job is to serve you.”

“What we [CHV] do when we serve with unconditional love…We are giving them [youth] the experience that adults can be meaningful partners in a youth’s life. And while I wouldn’t say we’re parents, I would say that we’re fulfilling the role of vital adults and, I can’t think of anything more important.” Says Dr. Ginsburg.

To close, Dr. Ginsburg shares why he believes that organizations, like CHV, are so important in the community:

“I don’t want people out there supporting us because they pity our kids. No. I want them supporting us because they know who our kids are and what they might bring to the world. And they want to create a space where our kids get what they deserve, so they can give back.

I’m asking you to create the opportunity where they [youth] can be seen not through the lens of the behaviour that they might have displayed to survive. And when we create those opportunities, I really think people will change, because people won’t be pitying our kids, nor fearing our kids. They will be embracing them and when they embrace them, they will create the opportunities for them to grow. And guess who benefits — all of us!”