Building resilience in children & young people

8 October 2019

Many children and young people today spend a big part of their lives online using social media. Technology has made communicating easy and cheap, allowing us to get in touch with family and friends wherever we are in the world, but this also comes with risks. We’ve explored some of the risks of 24/7 connectivity and looked at how parents can instill resilience in their children to help them cope with the stresses of life in this digital era.

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The effect on mental health of growing up in a digital world

The World Health Organisation reported that half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, and three-quarters by the age of 25. In fact, 10-20% of children and adolescents around the world are currently experiencing a mental health problem1 – so learning how to cope with life’s challenges from as young as possible is a vital skill. It’s called ‘resilience’.

We start building resilience at a young age, and our experiences influence how we view and navigate the world around us. Just as children and young people need guidance and support in the real world, they need it in the digital one, too.

Staying connected

The internet has revolutionised the way we connect and interact with each other and can be a positive, enriching experience when it’s used in moderation alongside plenty of face-to-face interaction. However, a 2019 study by OfCom found that 18% of 8 to 11-year olds, and 69% of 12 to 15-year olds have their own social media profiles on sites such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat2. And a recent poll by the American Academy of Pediatrics , found that 22% of teenagers log on to their favourite social media site more than ten times a day, which means that a large amount of their social and emotional development is taking place online3.

Three ways young people’s mental health is impacted by growing up in a digitally dominated world:

Social development 

  • A survey looking at children across eight countries found that 81% of children who had a phone with internet access used it to go on social media4.
  • Being constantly available means young people are unable to disconnect mentally when it comes to real life.
  • Children can miss out on developing critical social skills if most social interaction is happening online.          

Self esteem

  • Frequently viewing photos and videos of the so called ‘perfect body’ can lead to decreased self-esteem and decreased life satisfaction.
  • Children and young people can be left feeling dejected and inadequate when they don’t receive recognition and validation from their peers through the number of followers, views or likes they receive.  

Cyberbullying

  • Bullying of any kind can cause profound psychosocial outcomes including depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and tragically, suicide.
  • Victims don’t get any respite due to the 24/7 nature of social media.

Many social media sites have privacy restrictions and reporting processes in place to keep profiles and information private. For more tips on how to keep your children safe online and prevent cyberbullying, take a look at this guide.

Top ten tips for building resilience in children

Building resilience in children helps them understand that life can be challenging but that with the right support and skills, they can conquer those challenges. We’ve put together ten top tips to help you instil resilience in your children. 

  1. Build trusting relationships
    Spend one-on-one time with your child where you’re giving them your full attention. Let them know they can trust you and talk to you about anything that’s on their mind and that their thoughts and feelings are important.

  2. Teach healthy risk taking
    Resilience builds every time we’re faced with a challenge. Enabling your children to take healthy risks where they’re outside their comfort zone will help them to recognise their ability and overcome challenges. This could be anything from trying a new sport or activity to performing in a play.

  3. Teach problem solving skills
    When faced with a challenge, help your child figure out a solution rather than fixing it for them. Ask questions to provide them with different ways to think about the same thing.

  4. Practice mindfulness
    Mindfulness teaches us to live in the present moment and be more aware of our thoughts and feelings. Many elements of mindfulness will help your child cope when they’re stressed such as recognising and labelling their emotions, practicing gratitude and learning breathing exercises. Why not try our podcasts? They’ll guide you through mindful breathing and mindful walking.

  5. Embrace mistakes
    Children can feel under a lot of pressure to get things right, so it’s important we show them that everyone makes mistakes and it’s not the end of the world. Letting them see you make mistakes and overcoming them will help normalise mistakes and take some of the pressure off of them.

  6. Go outside and get moving
    It’s well known that exercise helps stabilise mood and reduce anxiety. Being outdoors also has a positive impact on our mental health. Getting some sunlight can give us a boost in Vitamin D. Being out in nature also seems to make us feel more present, calmer and less stressed.

  7. Get more sleep
    Missing even one hour of sleep a night can cause us to start functioning below our full capacity. Help younger children with their sleep by introducing a good bed-time routine. This could involve a bath and a story or some calm chatting. Reduce screen time in the evening and make sure children aren’t using their devices at all at least an hour before bed. Try black-out blinds or curtains to keep their room darker for longer. As children age, they need different amounts of sleep. You can find out how much is enough, here.

    Teenagers are known for being sleep deprived, but nagging them to go to bed often won’t help. Teenagers run on a different internal clock to younger children and adults which makes it harder for them to go to bed early and wake up early. To avoid too much conflict, explain this to your teenager and try to figure out a routine together. It’s a good idea to build a routine where smart devices are removed from the bedroom, so going to bed is a time to wind down and switch off from the day.

  8. Teach delayed gratification
    Next day delivery, binge-watching TV shows, and Deliveroo are just some examples of how children today are growing up in an on-demand world. But instant gratification can make us more stressed. It’s pushing us to lead faster lives without the time to stop and check-in with ourselves. Help your children appreciate delayed gratification through watching a TV show together one episode a week, reading, learning to play an instrument or playing a boardgame. These kinds of activities help children appreciate the journey as well as the end goal.

  9. Eat well
    A balanced diet with plenty of fibre can help reduce our stress levels. High fat, high sugar fast food can trigger our body to release the stress hormone cortisol which put’s our body in a state of high alert. Eating a varied, high fibre diet helps the bacteria in our gut thrive and when our gut bacteria is thriving, we can feel calmer and less stressed.

    Getting young children to eat a healthy high fibre diet, along with less sugar and sweets can be a challenge. One way to encourage them is the ‘eat the alphabet’ game – over a month your children and whole family  tries to eat a different food beginning with each letter of the alphabet – and whoever gets all 26 letters first is the winner.

  10. Lead by example
    Children learn by watching what the adults around them are doing. And learning resilience is no different. If your child sees you come up against difficulties and then either overcome them or figure out a solution, they will accept resilience as a normal reaction to the challenges they face.

    And the stronger their resilience, the better chance they’ll have of overcoming adversity in all areas of their lives.

Resources and support available from AXA - Global Healthcare

Our mindfulness podcasts are a great tool to help you get to grips with the basics of mindfulness and help you recognise when you’re under pressure. 

Listen to our Breathing Mindfully podcast.

Or take a look at our video on resilience for a deeper look at how and why we all cope differently in stressful situations.

1 https://www.who.int/mental_health/maternal-child/child_adolescent/en/

2 https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/134907/Children-and-Parents-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-2018.pdf 

3 https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/4/800

4 https://www.gsma.com/publicpolicy/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/GSMA_Childrens_use_of_mobile_phones_2014.pdf