Resilience or Self Reliance


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There has been much discussion and exposure in the media about the need for youth to develop resilience, especially with recent concerns about anxiety experienced by youth during the pandemic.  The capacity to respond to stressors encountered throughout life is known as resilience and this has been identified as an important acquired skill.

Andrew Fuller, a child and adolescent psychologist refers to resilience as the ability to “bungee-jump through life". By referring to another topic associated with the pandemic, I prefer to see resilience as a vaccination or an inoculation, where youth are exposed to certain stressors (in vaccine terms, this is an inert toxin) to 'activate' their capacity to fight off greater threats to their psychological and/or physical health.

Tanveer Ahmed, an Australian psychiatrist and author has recently proposed that it is important for youth to develop self-reliance. Quoting the results of the annual Mission Australia survey of youth, Ahmed relates that the top five issues of personal concern among youth today are (in descending order): coping with stress, mental health, school or study problems, body image and Covid. He maintains that individual self-control, hard work and a willingness to delay gratification – referencing the famous marshmallow experiment conducted by Walter Mischel at Stanford University last century – are important character traits for youth to develop and that (unlike cognitive capacity which develop during a child's early years) these character traits can develop during adolescence.

The concept of self-reliance was initially developed by American philosopher and author Ralph Waldo Emerson and considered to be closely linked with psychologist, Martin Seligman's research on resiliency at the University of Pennsylvania; however, self-reliance seems to be more closely aligned with Angela Duckworth's concept of 'grit' – developed while at the University of Pennsylvania.  Economist Adam Smith refers to the critical importance of what he refers to as 'self-command'. Whatever it is called and however it is researched, it appears that personal achievement is reliant upon the development of self-reliance – which is the opposite of emotional and psychological fragility, according to Dr Tanveer Ahmed.

To support students' academic achievement, psychological well-being, and eventual independence, it seems that the cultivation of self-reliance is critical.  This can be achieved indirectly through the encouragement of persistence, prudence, and the deferral of gratification.

The (so-called) non-cognitive skills – regarded as a misnomer because all skills originate through cognition – sometimes referred to as character development – can take place during adolescence so this seems to be an excellent time to focus on the development of qualities that build self-reliance.  

© Michele Juratowitch

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Last reviewed 20 May 2022
Last updated 20 May 2022