Ramping Up Resiliency in TAY

by Wayne Munchel, LCSW   0 Comments

Developing resilience may be one of the most important impacts providers can have on emerging adults, but what exactly is resilience and what the hell can we do about it?

Resilience has been defined as the ability to “bounce back”. When it comes to many youth and young adults, that bouncy quality has often been flattened by grinding adversities, toxic stressors, and repeated traumatization. Some experts focus on improving the personal, “internal” skills and qualities that contribute to resiliency, such as problem-solving, emotional regulation and positive self-talk. Others emphasize the quantity and quality of a youth’s social supports, adult allies and community connections. Several studies point out that the single most important factor that prevents tolerable stress from becoming toxic stress is the presence of positive, “buffering” relationships.

If marginalized, stigmatized, you-name-it-ized youth and young adults are discharged from TAY services with the same levels (or less) of social support as when they arrive, our impacts will likely be very limited and short-lived. It’s been noted that during this transitional period, social supports tend to decline – just as the social demands of finding housing, roommates, romantic partners and work increase. Those turbulent cross-currents can push vulnerable youth toward a life of poverty, isolation and disability. Many TAY programs identify their primary goals as increasing the independence and self-sufficiency of young people, but these objectives can be misguided and culturally incongruent. Except for some doomsday preppers living in Montana, we are INTER-dependent — we rely every day on others to get our basic needs met. We are wired for relationships and need to be needed.

Each TAY program should develop clear community integration strategies that create opportunities for youth to meet people and expand their circles of support with peers, allies and mentors. School and work remain the primary pathways for social inclusion and connectedness for youth (discussed in previous blogs), but a very low percentage of youth with serious mental health conditions are accessing these crucial, developmental experiences. We must redouble our efforts on building bridges to education and employment, but what additional pathways can be identified?

  • Finding faith communities — many youth may identify spirituality and religion as important to them, but have not joined any congregation or faith community. Mapping out what local churches, mosques, synagogues are available (and which offer Youth clubs, Movie and Spaghetti nights etc…) and providing coaching on introducing oneself and starting conversations (when needed) can be helpful.
  • Connecting interests, hobbies & passions to communities — whatever the interest or hobby may be, there are others who share it. MeetUp, Instagram and Internet searches can frequently identify where other like-minded people gather.
  • Exploring social media — recognizing that most youth can engage with a world of diverse communities, support groups and chat rooms through their SmartPhones and lap-tops. This can be an important consideration for agencies serving more rural, less densely populated communities. TAY agencies can play a helpful role by providing examples of youth-oriented web-sites, advocacy groups and Crisis Text lines.
  • Supporting housing (and neighborhoods) — building connection and community with neighbors can be a powerful (and risky) tactic. Inviting neighbors over for pizza, movies or board games has great potential (while learning to use good judgment). Many youth can find their first apartments to be very isolating and providers can coach ways to connect with neighbors.
  • Reinforcing families — care-givers, siblings and extended family represent key protective factors that can offer many opportunities for support, togetherness, meals and rides to the grocery store.
  • Joining social justice movements — getting politically active can empower and facilitate a sense of being part of something that is bigger than oneself.
  • Getting involved with arts, cultural/ethnic organizations — artistic expression from music and drama to visual arts and spoken word are powerful ways for youth to cultivate identity, find mentors and express themselves.
  • Volunteering — it’s been said that “helping helps the helper”, recognizing the value and how they can support others can greatly enhance resiliency in youth. Staff can assist by helping youth find opportunities to give back.

What ways have you found to help raise the resiliency in youth?

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