The importance of cultivating resilience in teens

Cyberbullying Research Center

Sameer Hinduja and Justin W Patchin

Resilience is"the capacity to spring back, rebound, successfully adapt in the face of adversity, and develop social and academic competence despite exposure to severe stress… or simply the stress of today's world."1 Young people will undoubtedly face adversity while growing up – in their schooling, in their health and in their social lives. Unfortunately, the importance of resilience is often overlooked. Life is filled with various struggles, many of which are relational. Many parents seek to protect their children from any type of pain, speak up in place of them instead of along with them and intervene without allowing difficult, but important teachable moments. Doing this in every situation, though, may be a disservice to your teens – and may leave them unprepared for adulthood, which does not occur in a bubble where everyone will always be nice to them.

Research on resilience and cyberbullying

In our research2, we found that the more resilience a teen has, the less likely they were to be significantly affected by cyberbullying. In addition, teens with higher levels of resilience did all of the things that parents and caregivers want students to do when confronted with mistreatment. They reported it to the school. They reported it to the site/app. They changed their screen name, blocked the aggressor or logged out. On the other hand, those with the lowest levels of resilience were more likely to do nothing when cyberbullied.

Building resilience by reframing adversity

Let's say your teen is dealing with hurtful comments on their social media account. Perhaps by default, the teen might fall apart and start to tell themselves that they are a "loser" who deserves to be picked on, and that bullying is their lot in life and likely representative of the sentiment of most people towards them. Ideally, it would be better for them to think through what has happened and reconcile it in a positive fashion. They might tell himself that the person who is cyberbullying them is, for example, dealing with their own insecurities and personal problems, and can only feel better about their own life by tearing others down. They may remind himself that the aggressor's opinion and actions do not really matter in the grand scheme of things, and to not let them "live rent free" in their head.

That is where parents and caregivers come in, and where purposeful, level-headed conversations can be really useful. When we are able to help teens identify which of their beliefs lack merit when objectively viewed, we add more tools to their toolbox of skills to deflect, disrupt and dispute unhealthy thought patterns.3 They can then replace them with healthier, beneficial ones. This translates into positive attitudes and approaches to life, now and in the future.

How caregivers can promote resilience with films and books

Parents and caregivers can use films and books to teach resilience, particularly because youth, pop culture and media are almost inextricably entwined. We naturally connect with the structure of story and are profoundly moved by great ones we have heard, watched or read throughout our life. Many children have been influenced by fairy tales and Greek mythology in primary school, to coming-of-age superheroes during adolescence and young adulthood, to sports-themed and war films later in life, and each of these stories can inspire them to live out a great story in their own lives. Below are some of our favourites broken down by age level.

Films and shows to teach resilience:

Secondary school

  • Facing the Giants
  • Finding Forrester
  • Greatest Showman
  • The 33
  • The Florida Project
  • The Rescue

High school

  • 127 Hours
  • Atypical
  • Creed
  • Penguin Bloom
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence
  • When they see us

Books to teach resilience:

Secondary school

  • El Deafo
  • Fish in a Tree
  • Sorta Like a Rock Star
  • The Boy who Harnessed the Wind
  • The Dot
  • The Hunger Games

High school

  • A Long Walk to Water
  • Fast Talk on a Slow Track
  • Hatchet
  • Of Human Bondage
  • The Rules of Survival
  • Whirligig

Parents and caregivers would do well to prioritise resilience building by helping teens reframe any online (or offline!) adversity that they face in a more positive light, and by enlisting the use of media to provide relatable stories of overcomers whose attitudes, actions and lives can be emulated. Doing so will equip them to take control of their online experiences, and better protect themselves from harm. In addition, cultivating resilience in these ways will bolster your child's self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy and sense of purpose – all of which are critical for healthy youth development.

1 Henderson, N., & Milstein, M. M. (2003). Resiliency in schools: Making it happen for students and educators.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications (Corwin Press)

2 Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2017). Cultivating Youth Resilience to Prevent Bullying and Cyberbullying Victimization. Child Abuse & Neglect, 73, 51-62.

3 Based on Albert Ellis's ABC (Adversity, Beliefs, and Consequences) Model. Please see Ellis, A. (1991). The revised ABC's of rational-emotive therapy (RET). Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, 9(3), 139-172.

Related topics

Would you like to choose another country or region to see content specific to your location?