Feature Archive

Can You Teach Resilience?

Kids who thrive in the face of adversity seem to share some common traits. Now some schools are looking for ways to pass on these skills.

WebMD Feature

June 26, 2000 -- A teenage boy escapes the violence of the inner city and becomes a noted trial attorney. A young girl, raised in poverty and sexually abused, grows up to be a university professor, playwright, and poet laureate.

The first is Christopher Darden, a prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case. The second is Maya Angelou, poet and author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

What enables people to flourish despite such dire beginnings? To find out, psychologists over the years have looked at kids from poor families, orphans from war-torn countries, and teens from gang-infested neighborhoods. They've discovered that resilient kids share key traits: the ability to trust and form caring relationships, a sense of independence, good problem-solving skills, perseverance, and a belief that their lives have meaning and purpose.

Now psychologists are asking, "Can we teach these skills in public schools?" Surprisingly, they're finding that the answer is "Yes." And resiliency research suggests that few lessons are more important.

Building a More Resilient Attitude

Today's teenagers are more at risk for anxiety and depression than any generation in history, says Andrew Shatte, PhD, co-director of the Resiliency Project at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. "Yet our ongoing studies for the last ten years show we can cut the adolescent depression rate in half and make kids more resilient by teaching better thinking skills."