“We all experience points in our lives where we face challenges, difficulties and issues. Often, we are told by friends, ‘Be strong, you’ll get through this,’ or ‘You need to be more resilient,’ but what does that really mean and how can we achieve it in a practical sense?” asked counsellor and therapist Joshua Miles. Resilience can be defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, the ability to spring back into shape. It is useful in maintaining mental and emotional balance in difficult or stressful times and protecting oneself from overwhelming experiences.
On Feb. 19, a packed audience with standing room only crowded into the California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) Living Room at the University Center to learn about youth, resilience and to hear the life stories of two local high school students who have navigated challenges such as anxiety and body shame, and subsequently developed resilience with the growth of developmental assets.
The convener of the meeting was Dr. Jennifer Lovell, CSUMB professor of clinical psychology on faculty since Fall 2016. “My past research has focused on body image, perceptions of child health, and cultural variables impacting child and adolescent wellness. I am currently beginning a new program of research in which I would like to focus more on resilience and youth assets,” said Lovell.
“It is important to me to honor young people’s voices and respect their wisdom. I have always taken this approach when engaging in therapy and it was important to incorporate this within the book “The ‘Troubled’ Adolescent: Challenges and Resilience within Family and Multicultural Contexts” (published this year and co-authored with Dr. Joseph L. White, the father of black psychology).
Discussing resilience does not mean ignoring challenges and troubles that young people encounter along their journey because it is the process of facing and overcoming these challenges that spark growth.”
The two youth presenters were Angela Soto Cerros and Jenaye Brelland. Ceros is a 17-year-old senior at Salinas High School who attended the 2016 Salinas Youth Leadership Academy, volunteers at The Epicenter and is part of the Our Gente program. Ceros is self-described as “passionate about helping others by volunteering at local community events and is dedicated to art and academics.” Brelland, a parade marshal at the 2018 Pride Parade, is a 17-year-old junior at Seaside High School. She is involved in Art Against Bullying, Girls Inc. and Girl’s Health in Girl’s Hands. Brelland is described as excelling in academics, theater and Japanese.
“The external assets and internal assets identified by Angela and Jenaye in their presentation have supported their empowerment, provided opportunities for leadership and facilitated their identity development,” said Lovell.
Lovell shared information about 40 “developmental assets” – a term created by the Search Institute in 2000 – important in building resilience. These assets are “preventative measures, positive experiences and qualities that young people need to develop as healthy, caring and responsible individuals” and are protective factors that have been shown by research to buffer youth from risk. As noted on their website, “The more assets a child has the higher probability that child will not be involved in behaviors such as: teen pregnancy, school dropout, substance abuse, delinquency or violence.”
The Search Institute divides the 40 assets into two categories, external and internal. External assets are those that center around positive experiences from the people and experiences encountered. Internal assets are those that focus on individual qualities that guide positive choices that develop confidence, passion and purpose. Both external and internal categories have eight subcategories: support empowerment, boundaries and expectations, constructive use of time, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies and positive identity.
Although the recent CSUMB presentation had a focus on youth, resilience – “adaptation in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or stress: family/relationship problems, health problems or workplace/money issues” as stated by the American Psychological Association – is a 21st century survival trait of value to those of all ages.