Building resilient and non-violent youth by forming simple community connections

Normally I have something to say about most current events – in case you missed it, I’m fairly opinionated.

But in the aftermath of Sandy Hook and the Clackamas Town Center shootings, I haven’t felt like saying a word. Terrible events like this make you want to turn off the news, climb into bed and stay there. But that’s not really an option. In this case, I’ve just been sitting back and listening to the people around me.

However, after seeing more than a few people blame the parents of the shooters, I felt like I wanted to say something about this situation, because I don’t agree with the whole, “Blame the parents” theory in full. Parents play a major role in how humans turn out for sure, but so do other factors, like school and community interactions. In fact, many factors can totally override parents and their behaviors, especially if those parents aren’t super great when it comes to raising kids.

Case in point: I’ve met many adults and older teens from violent or otherwise abusive homes and some of these humans seem just fine. They’re productive, nice and caring. Unfortunately  I’ve also met adults and older teens who grew up in shady households who become violent themselves, deal with addiction or who are just plain floundering and unhappy. In the end, research says that being, or not being a “resilient youth” is what causes some kids to go one way while some go the other and it’s not all dependent on the parents.

Resiliency is actually based on the following factors…

  • Protective factors in schools.
  • Protective factors in families.
  • Protective factors in communities.

This leads me to believe that instead of looking at gun laws, mental health access and other issues, we need to get back to basics and focus on connecting kids with that one adult who may change their world. Research on resilient youth says that kids who have at least one caring adult in their world are far less likely to turn into adults who harm others.

Also, and this is key, I’ve heard a lot of people say that they feel lost and hopeless and unable to do anything after the recent shootings, and in some ways this makes sense, because trying to change gun laws or the mental health care system is extremely difficult – and that’s what many want to do. However, I think you can create positive change if you start small. Though you may not have the ability to change major laws on your own, you do have the ability to change your community for the better by taking steps like joining a mentoring program, volunteering in your local school and more.

A client of mine wanted me to write about this issue, so I did. I don’t want to rewrite the entire issue here so, if you’re interested in reading more, take a look at How to Prevent Violence by Helping At-Risk Kids.

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  1. Lynn says

    As usual Jennifer, you took the words right out of my mouth but said it better.

    Personally I believe that we need to attack all three aspects of the problem as you outlined–better gun control, mental health issues and community building on an individual level. I read your Inhabitots piece and am so sorry you and your siblings suffered so in your upbringing. No child should be subjected to this kind of thing in what should be their haven. Yet it does happen and seeing how you have turned out will, I’m sure, give others hope.

    I’ve also studied resilience and as I recall, there also is a genetic or personality piece which is that some kids are born more resilient, positive, optimistic than others. As you said, if this is nurtured by a single person it can mean everything to how the child turns out. And if you have a child who is born with a more negative view of life and he/she is treated badly (even if relative to others it may not “seem” bad), there is more of a likelihood he/she will suffer difficulties. This is the reason parents and teachers need to continue to find ways to bolster all kids, not just the “nice” ones. And it requires as you mentioned, all of us giving instead of assuming everything is OK.

    I think physicians, particularly pediatricians, for instance, could be so much more proactive than they are. Churches and other institutions, not just schools, have a bigger role to play as well.

    I remember thinking about poverty as a preteen and wondering why every middle and upper class family couldn’t “take on” one poor family and help them not just financially but in other ways too. Wouldn’t that go a long way toward solving a lot of problems? Well, you can dream, right?

    There is so much to say on the subject, but hopefully the dialogue opened by these horrendous happenings will lead to real change in each of the realms.

    Thank you for your thinking on this Jennifer. Thank heavens you are one of the resilient ones!

  2. Jennifer Chait says

    Thanks for your comment! I very rarely mention my childhood in public because it’s not super uplifting, but I realized while writing the inhabitots piece, that I’m glad I did. Especially since my brother and sister are amazing – they deserve to be called out, as do the people who took us in. My sister spends all her time working with foster kids, many who are abused and my brother is an excellent father to his own son and they’re both nice humans in general. It was good to be able to explain why it’s important to support not shun “troubled kids” – which sadly, I see so many people do.

    I agree that doctors, churches and other community sources should be more supportive too, along with schools and such. As kids we attended church at times and saw plenty of doctors who knew about our household to a point, PLUS a court mandated therapist who actually told us (kids, not my mom) to shape up and quit acting up. The courts also blamed us kids when we had to go to court to get my brother out of the house. So, a lot of people could have helped, but chose not to. That sucked.

    I’ve seen those resiliency studies about genetics and they’re really fascinating! Humans are born pretty nifty, I think many just need a little help to get to their full potential.

    In the end it worked out for us, but I know we were insanely lucky. Many kids are not. I hope my post gets at least a few people to get out there and volunteer or help out, then it’ll really be worth the issues I had writing it :)

  3. SAMPA says

    I think that schools, families, and communities are all essential factors in building youth resiliency. One of the most important responsibilities for parents is to make their child feel loved and appreciated. A resilient child has the ability to set realistic goals, expectations, and the inner strength to deal with stress.

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