Helping Children by Being a Good Role Model and Serving as a Mentor
In a recent op-ed titled “Building Resilient Young People,” my former colleague Lisa Hosack, an assistant professor of sociology and social work at Grove City College, accentuates the important role that caring adults can have in the lives of children.
She writes, “What do healthy relationships with parents and other caring adults do for children? Many good things, but a significant outcome relates to resiliency. Resilience has been defined as ‘the manifestation of positive adaptation despite significant life adversity.’ Resiliency is important because instead of sustaining setbacks from adversity, it allows children to actually grow from the stressful things in their lives. And despite the widespread belief that individual grit or some other in-born strength of character is necessary for children to grow from calamity, research paints a different picture. Rather than innate qualities within the child, it is the reliable presence of at least one supportive relationship (inside or outside the family) as well as opportunities for developing effective coping skills that matter most when it comes to learning resilience.”
“Of particular interest to me as a social worker, Hosack continues, is that “high-quality relationships can actually offset some of the negative developmental effects of social problems. This is important because while we may actually be unable to eliminate chronic stress in the lives of many children, we may be able to build their resiliency levels through high-quality relationships. This does not negate the importance of combating those problems, of course. We need to continue to address macro-level issues like chronic poverty and substandard educational offerings. But in doing so, we must be exceedingly careful not to ignore the power of relationships.”
“This both excites and worries me,” Hosack declares. “On the one hand, it means that bolstering adult-child relationships has far-reaching impact, far greater than we once realized. On the other hand, it means that children remain incredibly vulnerable to the maturity of the adults around them. If children learn resilience from adults, this, of course, requires resilient adult role models.”
Young people, especially those with chronically stressful lives, Hosack argues, need to have healthy relationships with adults. “But the need for adult self-examination is equally high. Are we persons with qualities worth emulating? The power of relationships to form resilient young people is enormous. But leveraging this power will always be contingent on adults who come close enough to listen, empower, and encourage those following directly in our footsteps.”
Our recognition that children living in difficult circumstances can benefit greatly from positive relationships with caring adults hopefully can motivate us to develop such relationships through congregations, community organizations that work to help children, and personal contacts.