Expert discusses building resiliency in children
March 25, 2010
- Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
- He said after decades of working with adolescent problems, he learned that coping with stress is part of teens' problems.
- Building resilience is one way to ready young adults to cope with challenges.
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (March 25, 2010) -A,A As service members build emotional resiliency after combat deployments, they can also help their children build resiliency, a pediatrician told students at the Command and General Staff College March 18.
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is the co-author of "Less Stress, More Success," "A Parent's Guide to Building Resilience in Children and Teens," and "But I'm Almost 13!: An Action Plan for Raising a Responsible Adolescent."
He said after decades of working with adolescent problems like premarital sex, and drug and alcohol abuse, he learned that coping with stress is part of teens' problems. Building resilience is one way to ready young adults to cope with challenges.
"At the core, resilience is about learning to cope with life's inevitable stressors, and I believe that we might do our greatest good by raising kids with a wide repertoire of coping strategies," Ginsburg said.
He said although resiliency is about the ability to bounce back, it doesn't mean someone is invulnerable.
"We should never for a moment believe that we can do anything, change the way we think, change supports or change anything to produce invulnerable people," he said.
He also said resiliency is not a character trait. Resiliency means using one's mind to prepare for adversity. It also means providing support in families and children's lives. Ginsburg said what adolescents need to be resilient is an adult who believes in them unconditionally and holds them to high expectations. Although it's ideally the parent, it can also be an adult in the community - someone who will stand by the young person despite mistakes or hardships.
He explained that unconditional love doesn't mean adults condone mistakes.
"It's, 'I see the goodness inside you and it's not in question. You're the same little girl who used to take bugs outside so you wouldn't kill them. And now you might be doing drugs, but I expect to see that goodness from within you,'" Ginsburg said.
Because of deployments, Ginsburg said children of parents in the military have a more complex network of adults and support systems in their lives.
"The thing that the military has that is strong - what is absolutely amazing - is the sense of community," he said.
Ginsburg discussed some methods of stress reduction for teens, which he said are not unlike tools adults use to reduce stress. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers Ginsburg's stress reduction plan for teenagers in pamphlets and online at www.aap.org/stress. He said although teens do need exercise, sleep and to set aside time for relaxation each day, they also need boundaries.
"An adolescent's job is to test limits," he said. "Those kids who don't have appropriate rules and boundaries' They go haywire because they have nothing to bounce back against. Limits and boundaries are key."
He also talked about brain development in adolescents. Sometimes, lectures by adults don't work because children's brains have not yet developed to the point where they can recognize consequences to their mistakes. Adolescents also don't have the experience to connect those consequences to their actions.
Ginsburg used the example of a 14-year old girl who chooses to have premarital sex because she believes her boyfriend loves her. When he leaves her, she learns about the consequences of her actions.
"She will become smarter and smarter as she moves toward the safety of adulthood, and there is no better way to learn, there is simply no better way to learn, from a learning theory point of view, than from a series of consecutive mistakes," Ginsburg said.
He added that he is the father of teenage girls and would never want them to learn that way. However, he said, sometimes parents can't protect their children from all the bad things that might happen in their lives.
Air Force Maj. David Lercher, Maj. Clint Barnes, and Chaplain (Maj.) Eddie Cook, all students in the 2010-02 Intermediate Level Education class, said they learned strategies to implement at home with their own elementary school-age children.
Lercher said he knew some of the methods, but learned to build positive reinforcement by recognizing his own mistakes. For example, he and his 7-year-old son both decided to give up sweet foods for Lent. Although it was his son's choice and first time doing so, Lercher said he was the one who forgot and ate ice cream. His son remembered.
"It took me a few days, but I finally told him about it," he said. "I guess that was a good thing."
Barnes said he understood it's difficult for Soldiers to come home from working 12- or 13-hour days and be interested in their children's lives.
"Clearly we are amateurs at parenting right now," Barnes said of himself and his fellow students. "We're passing on things we learned from our parents, but I think the ability to apologize to our children, bringing out our own failures can help."
Cook said he appreciated good connections with family readiness groups, connecting with families through videoteleconference and the team approach to helping Soldiers parent through deployment.
"Character building is critical," Cook said. "Teach values and how to differentiate between right and wrong, teach boundaries of right and wrong. Parents put up fences for protection, and freedom is being able to operate inside that fence."