My heart was heavy. How has someone let her get that low and feel so unloved? How was I going to offer her enough support in the five one-hour mentoring sessions the school can only offer due to more funding cuts? These are some of the many questions that spiralled through my mind as I returned home from mentoring a student with a heap of safeguarding concerns. Another student unable to bounce back into day-to-day living due to life’s stressors. Heartbreaking.
My cheeks began to stain with tears as I contemplated all the students I have met who are not equipped with the skills to cope with life’s adversities - so often which are uncontrollably placed on them. From parents divorcing to academic pressures, being taken into care or experiencing bullying - all of these familiar stories are scattered across the mentoring cases I have seen.
The shortest verse in the Bible
“Jesus wept.” Two immensely powerful words sprang to mind as I wiped away my tears and that comfort my aching soul as I sat and thought of the students across from me and cried. A final thought of: “What about all those who have fallen through the net because they’re not ‘unwell enough’ to receive support?” went around my mind as I moved to my desk. I sat and began to plan how to help this young person become more resilient.
It is no secret that we have a growing generation who are struggling with their mental health and wellbeing. The latest buzzword to add to conversation is ‘resilience’ - the ability to adapt and bounce back in a healthy manner from life’s difficulties. Out of nowhere, this word has begun to appear everywhere; from news headlines to government papers; charitable slogans to school ethos. It’s a word which needs to become part of our funding applications and our Sunday sermons. With endless waiting lists for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and a lack of GP mental health training and workers - like us - firefighting situations, there is no hiding that our children and young people are at crisis point.
Resilience isn’t a pill you can take or an injection you can receive. It isn’t a specific prayer that can be said or a vow that is taken. It is something acquired through life’s experiences and, like a good wine, it matures over time. Often it is mistaken as weakness or vulnerability but it is very much about creating a skill set which supports our capacity to cope in life - a strength, not a weakness. It requires vulnerable role models (parents and workers) displaying what resisting life stressors truly looks like, and teachers willing to make the time and have the patience to educate generations. Resilience needs to be engrained in us all so as to become a ‘normality’ rather than a ‘special skill’ taught to a select few.
The challenge of our times
These resilience skills are needed more than ever with one in ten-to- 16-year-olds having a clinically diagnosable mental health problem - that’s around three children in every class! The fact that over 8,000 children under 10 suffer from severe depression shows that our younger generations need to become resilient beings. If we pause and take a moment to think about a child’s life before their 18th birthday, the amount of adversity they could face is huge. This could range from family breakdown to social pressures - all areas of their lives are affected and even the most resilient child can become drained from extreme circumstances. It seems we’re facing a generation of younger beings who are barely having their physiological and safety needs being met; let alone having a sense of love and belonging, leaving no room to build resilience. For children and young people, life truly is a mine field of uncertainty.
To ignore this pressing issue of providing mental health support that is at breaking point would be irresponsible and ignorant. If we sit and wait for the government to find a solution which equates to the scale of the problem, then we will wait and wait, failing our children and young people in the process. With nothing done we will watch our younger generations crumble like snowflakes in the hands of the world: unique individuals disappearing as quickly as they are formed.
As a result of recognising the reality under 18s face, the big question left for us as those who care about children and young people, who interact with these generations, both in the present time and future, is how are we teaching our under 18s to resist adversity, cope with uncertainty and recover more successfully from life’s events?
“How are you doing?”
Take a moment to imagine a society where it was the norm to discuss how we’re feeling without being ridiculed by gender stereotypes or weakness; a society where we are encouraged to take risks without the looming fear of uncertainty. What if we believed that whatever life throws at us we have the power to become a healthier person as a result? Resilience is a huge and powerful topic and we’re only just scratching the surface of creating a resilient society.
Resilience is about creating a skill set which supports our capacity to cope in life
I believe it is time we all - parents as well as youth, family and children’s workers - unite together and become myth busters and resilient teachers: modelling resilience in the face of adversity, equipping younger generations to grow into resilient beings. Let us become infectious people contaminating our schools, churches and home lives with the skills to be resilient.
I am in no way saying we can replace the professionals out there like psychiatrists, GPs and other mental-health care professionals. Some cases need that level of intervention and that must be led by the correct professionals with relevant training, qualifications and experience. I am focusing on early intervention that we all can practice, but if for any reason you have a cause for concern, speak to the person in charge of safeguarding - they can then know if that individual needs to be referred to higher levels of intervention. Additionally, as Christians we cannot believe we have the power to heal every child we encounter. We are vessels of God and what a privilege we have of supporting the broken. God has the power to heal and if he chooses to heal through us then all glory to him.
The exciting news is we don’t need to be experts or have specialist training to promote positive resilience to our children and young people. The reality is we can start right now! Take a moment to think:
- Is there a way you can incorporate this topic into your already established programmes or your home lives?
- Is there a Bible passage you’re exploring with them that displays Jesus’ resilience?
- Is there someone in the church family who could come and tell a story of resilience?
Resilience is like our emotional immune system - it needs to be built up over time but, just like an attack of the winter flu, it can always do with a boost. Here are some ways you can help the younger generation boost their resilience:
Parents and children’s workers
Spend some time with your child creating a resilient superhero which shows the person we want to be like. It could include how to react and what to do when a bad situation happens. For example, if someone was picking on you, how would you respond? What would the resilient superhero do? Maybe it could even be a tool that is used every week as a way to remember the people we want to be / become.
Parents and family workers
Looking at the family unit, how can they / you become a more resilient family? Create a poster with all the ideas. For example, making an active choice to come together and support each other when someone has had a bad day.
Split the group up and ask them to create a scenario about a challenge in life - for example, a teenager whose parents are getting divorced. Swap scenarios with another group and ask them to identify what advice they’d give that person. How could they become more resilient out of that situation?
Looking after ourselves
As I reflected on the four mentoring sessions sat at my desk with tear stained cheeks, my mind began to wonder - how resilient are we as those seeking to parent and minister to the next generation? If we take a moment to stop and think about our lives over the last six months how have we demonstrated resilience to those around us? How quickly, if at all, did we bounce back from that challenging supervision meeting, that heart-wrenching mentoring session or our child’s meltdown at the supermarket? How did we show resilience to ourselves when we feel like the loneliest worker or parent because the church family “just don’t get it”?
Moving forward, here are some ways you can support yourself and others around you to become resilient beings:
- Get to know the mental health services in your area so you can advise others where to go for support.
- Put yourself in the shoes of those you work with. Is there support on offer for them to be resilient beings?
- Pray for ideas, inspiration and the knowledge to know how to support others.
- Seek out proper supervision and support where you can process your work and life fully and bounce back into a healthier, more resilient worker. Encourage others to do so as well.
- To help boost your confidence, seek out relevant training in your area. This could be local or national so you can be as equipped as possible. For parents, find opportunities to learn and grow from others.
- Have a resilient team day! Get all your team together and have fun playing resilient games and activities. Spend time with other parents and offer support to each other.
Jesus wept. I believe Jesus would weep for our younger generations at the amount of adversity they face and the lack of support they receive to cope with it. But Jesus didn’t just weep and do nothing - he provided hope. It is time for us as the body of Christ to continue to provide hope to our children and young people in the form of resilience. If we can complete this in our churches and our homes, then we might just have something to offer the wider world.