Using Conversations to Teach Resilience: Teens

Resilience helps you cope with challenges, skillfully process negative feelings, bounce back from bad experiences, and move forward in the face of adversity. It is what allows you to look after yourself when life doesn’t go as planned. Having conversations that foster resilience will help prepare your teenagers for the challenges they will face throughout life, including making good decisions around substance use.

Self-confidence is an essential building block of resilience. Help your teen develop self-confidence by structuring situations in ways that bring success. Avoid placing them in situations where they are likely to fail often. But remember, teens do need to experience some failures. If they experience only easy successes, they may come to expect quick results and therefore become easily discouraged by failure.

Encourage Teens to Reflect on Their Own Performance

Develop their confidence, before they get to tough decisions. Ask your teen to reflect on their own performance before giving them feedback. This helps them identify what they did well, what kind of effort they put into the task, and what they learned. Here’s a sample conversation:

Parent: How is your essay going?
Teen: Well, I haven’t really got started.
Parent: Why’s that?
Teen: We have to choose a topic related to drugs – I could choose to write about any drug such as caffeine, alcohol, cannabis or whatever. But I have no idea what to write about!
Parent: Maybe it’ll be easier if you choose something you find interesting?
Teen: Yeah I guess so. I was thinking of writing something about fentanyl, especially with everything that has been talked about in the news lately.
Parent: That sounds promising.
Teen: Maybe I’ll look into it and see how it goes…

Share What You’ve Learned about Your Performance

Reinforce positive modelling, not only through your own behaviour, but by asking your child what they observed someone else doing well. Your support and interest builds strong connections with your teen, a protective factor in making healthy decisions around potentially risky behaviors like substance use. Practice healthy self-reflection and share with teens what you like about your own behaviour and what you might improve with practice or effort.

Example:

Parent: How’s that assignment coming along?
Teen: I got some information about the recent spike in overdoses. There is a lot more to it than I thought. It is not just that fentanyl is new or even that it is more toxic than heroin. There is all this stuff about where it is made and who makes it and all. I don’t really know how to start it though.
Parent: What are other people in your class writing about?
Teen: Lots of stuff. Sarah is writing about how cannabis laws are changing in Canada, Ben is doing something around the history of coffee. Both Jeff and Andrew are also writing about fentanyl ... and Jeff always does really well.
Parent: Why do you think that is?
Teen: I don’t know. He just knows how to write.
Parent: I remember writing essays for class. And, like you, I used to struggle with getting the words down. I found that I had to get my thoughts organized in order to get a clear idea of the point I wanted to make. And, my mom taught me how to brainstorm and organize information using mind maps.
Teen: What’s a mind map? Maybe you can show me.

Tell Them What They Can Do, Not What They Didn’t Do

Failure is an important aspect of learning, and mastering of any difficult task takes practice. When giving feedback on areas of improvement, tell your teen what they can do in order to succeed at the task rather than what they did not do. Practice measuring success in terms of self-improvement rather than by triumphs over others.

Example:

Parent: So, did you get the marks back from your essay about fentanyl?
Teen: Yah. I got a C+ ... I was sure I was going to do better.
Parent: You still learned about something you’re interested in and that touches on a current issue, right? Why do you think you didn’t do as well as you wanted?
Teen: I thought I made some really good points. I had a good summary about the issues surrounding opioid use and even discussed different opioids drugs such as pain medications as well as fentanyl. But I guess my grammar and stuff was sloppy, I kind of rushed through writing it.
Parent: Sounds like you had a good grasp on what you wanted to say. Why did you rush?
Teen: Well, I stayed up late on Saturday night at Andrew’s place, so was super tired on Sunday and didn’t start writing it until later.
Parent: Now that you know how to focus your ideas, next time you could perhaps spend more time on writing. And maybe it would help if you worked on assignments before hanging out with your friends.
Teen: Yeah I guess so.

Teach Teens How to Calm Themselves When Stressed

Help your teens tune into their bodies and explain how the physiological signs of stress are actually healthy mechanisms that get their bodies ready for action rather than signs of imminent failure. Teach them healthy coping skills and self-sufficiency so they can learn ways to de-stress without using substances. For example, show them how to take slow deep breaths and feel the difference between tension and relaxation, and have them practice the feared task in their imagination while feeling good about themselves and the outcome.

Example:

Teen: I’m nervous about my biology exam tomorrow. We have to know all about the effects of different drugs on the body and mind. I’m really glad to be learning about how different substances can affect us, but it’s a lot of information to remember! And it’s worth a huge chunk of our grade!
Parent: Being nervous is your body telling you to get prepared for action. It’s good to be aware that your body talks to you.
Teen: But what if “getting prepared for action” wears me out and I forget everything I studied?
Parent: Well, you could try calming yourself by taking slow, deep breaths. Let’s try it together right now. Can you feel the tension leaving your body? Okay, now imagine yourself sitting at your desk, writing the exam, and knowing all the answers! A lot of successful people do this, they visualize themselves doing well to help them de-stress and focus.

Persevere in Building Resilience

Resiliency develops at different rates in people. Our job as parents is to understand our children’s unique strengths and weaknesses, and use that understanding to give them the guidance and support that is right for them. Showing that you care and love your teen is an important part of building resilience. It helps your teen make healthy choices and handle peer pressure. This will encourage good decisions around substance use. While you’re at it, keep in mind that parenting takes a lot of patience, practice and perspective - and a lot of love and humour!

For More Information

For more information about how to talk to your teens about substance use and overdose, see the following parenting articles:


Last Reviewed: December 2016

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