Despite romanticized myths about the gloriously carefree teenage years, adolescence has always been an emotional battlefield where young people must fight their way through insecurity, depression and anger.
For many teens, classrooms, playgrounds and hallways are hostile environments where name-calling, malicious gossip, taunting, and physical bullying regularly threaten their emotional and physical well-being
Technology has not made kids meaner but it has provided them with new weapons to inflict more severe and lasting damage on each other. And while greater vigilance by schools and stiffer penalties for bullies may reduce unkind behavior, somewhat more is needed to protect young people from each other.
Hard as we may try, we can’t insulate children from all negative interactions with their peers, excessive pressure to succeed, debilitating self-doubt, or feelings of alienation. We can, however, help them develop emotional resilience, the inner strength to prevent or purge toxic feelings.
Emotional resilience consists of two major attributes: mental toughness and realistic optimism.
Mental toughness is the ability to handle problems and pressures without panic or surrender. It’s the ability to overcome negative emotions and to rebound from disappointment, disruptive change, illness, or misfortune without being overwhelmed or acting in dysfunctional ways.
Through discussions, simulations and counseling, we can teach kids how to discount or ignore hurtful words, to lose without being defeated, to fail and not become failures, and to deal with rejection without becoming hopelessly dejected.
We can also instill a sense of realistic optimism. We can give them confidence in their capacity to survive, knowing that tough times are temporary. We can teach them Little Orphan Annie’s undaunted certainty that, no matter how bleak it is today, “the sun will come out tomorrow.”
This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.
In the most extreme cases, young people seek the ultimate escape of suicide, and kids are killing themselves in unprecedented proportions. In the past 25 years, the suicide rate for those between 10 and 19 has tripled to become the third most common cause of death among adolescents.
In 2009, 13.8% of U.S. high school students reported that they had seriously considered attempting suicide during the 12 months preceding the survey; 6.3% of students reported that they had actually attempted suicide one or more times during the same period.
Suicide rates differ between boys and girls. Girls think about and attempt suicide about twice as often as boys, and tend to attempt suicide by overdosing on drugs or cutting themselves. Yet boys die by suicide about four times as often girls, perhaps because they tend to use more lethal methods, such as firearms, hanging, or jumping from heights.
For more information, go to this document from the federal Centers for Disease Control.