By Bruce Daisley
With declining results in the latest round of GCSE and A-level exams, Bruce Daisley discusses how we can support our teens, and why that Saturday morning lie-in is more sacred than ever before.
‘Be more resilient’ is a phrase often thrown at our younger generation. Such is the concern around the lack of grit among young people that they are regularly disdainfully referred to as ‘the snowflake generation’.
And as students across the UK receive their GCSE results today, and grades are inevitably expected to reflect the disruption the pandemic has had on education over the last two years, it has unsurprisingly led to yet more calls for teens to show more resilience.
It begs the question where does resilience come from? The latest research suggests that despite its heavy usage, it’s one of our most misused words. Resilience isn’t something that some of us have and others lack. Indeed resilience isn’t an individual attribute at all, rather it’s the strength we draw from each other.
Professor Alex Haslam, one of the most respected social psychologists in the world, explained it very clearly to me: “Resilience only happens in and to groups.” We therefore shouldn’t be telling teenagers to be resilient, we should be helping them to feel connected and supported.
If anyone is in any doubt of this, there was some compelling evidence drawn from a study of teenagers during the pandemic. Professor Jean Twenge is one of the most highly regarded academics studying teenage behaviour, and the data she captured about the changes brought about by covid lockdowns confounded her.
Cast your mind back – if you can bear it – to the early weeks of breadmaking, jigsaw puzzles and queueing outside Tesco for a four pack of Andrex in March 2020. Twenge was astonished by what she witnessed among teenagers at that early stage. “We had expected mental health to be awful during the pandemic,” Twenge said in an interview, “but we really didn’t find that – we found that teens were relatively okay.”
Levels of teenage depression actually declined, and resilience went up. What were the causes? There were two factors: social connection and sleep. Two-thirds of the teenagers Twenge surveyed said they had become closer to their families during that period of forced isolation. Some 54 per cent of teenagers said their families now ate dinner together more often, and teens who spent more time with their families during the pandemic, and who felt their families had grown closer, were less likely to be depressed, and more likely to demonstrate resilience. Twenge concluded: “It appears that one of the primary foundations for teen resilience during the pandemic [was] family support and connection.”
Certainly when we look at other groups that demonstrate resilience – and the people of Ukraine spring immediately to mind – it is this sense of a tightly bonded group that gives them the fortitude that they hadn’t believed themselves capable of. Resilience isn’t some magic superpower that some of us have, it is the strength we draw from each other.
As for sleep, it’s estimated that teenagers require between nine and 10 hours of sleep a night. The recent temptations of electronic stimulation have seen a decline in young people’s sleep that the pandemic helped to put right. In 2018, only 55 per cent of teens said they usually slept seven or more hours a night. During the pandemic, this jumped to 84 per cent. For teenagers, there’s more than some truth to the old adage that the best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.
If any of us find ourselves hearing that young people lack the grit of previous generations it might be worth bearing these things in mind. Rather than telling teenagers to be resilient, it’s our duty to make them feel more connected and supported. That and letting them get that weekend lie in that they so desperately need.
This article is beautifully written by our guru speaker, Bruce Daisley, one of UK’s most influential voices on fixing work.
Bruce will deliver his keynote at HR Summit and Expo, the region’s largest HR event, on 15 November at 9:35 AM. Opportunities like these don’t keep coming – visit https://informaconnect.com/hr-summit-expo/ for more information.