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April 14, 2010 > Building Resilience in Kids

Building Resilience in Kids

Submitted By Susie Chang and Martha Kreeger

One recent evening, the Horner Junior High School gym in Fremont was bursting at the seams. Not for a concert, a basketball game or a volleyball match, but with parents seeking advice and inspiration from Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, one of America's leading experts in Adolescent Medicine and the passionate presenter of the evening's workshop, "Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Preparing Our Children for Life."

Following a warm welcome and introduction from event organizer and FUSD Assistant Superintendent, Parvin Ahmadi, Dr. Ginsburg opened the evening's presentation with three questions: "What does childhood look like?" "Who is childhood for?" "What does success look like?"

After a pause, he began to answer with wit, clarity and the confident knowledge that comes from experience and extensive research in his field. Dr. Ginsburg implored parents to stop defining success by a child's senior year in high school and instead formulate more substantial long term goals for their children that involve becoming adults who can cope with stress in an increasingly complex world.

The goal of parenting, according to Ginsburg, is not to have seniors in high school who are good on paper, but to produce young people who will become successful 35 and 50 year-old members of the community. "We want people who will rise up and overcome life's obstacles," Dr. Ginsburg said, "people who have the 7 C's of resilience; confidence, competence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control."

He added, "Parents are instrumental in creating successful adults when they recognize what makes their children authentically who they are, hold high expectations, and can accept their children unconditionally."

Dr. Ginsburg asked parents to let children have unstructured play through junior high school, to clearly communicate boundaries that their children can push against, and to maintain high expectations for their kids that reward effort not perfectionism. He pleaded with parents to understand that perfectionism is not only the death of creativity and ingenuity, but also the death of innovative potential.

"Perfectionism creates kids who are terrified of thinking outside the box, that consider a B+ a failure, and although they may seem to succeed today, they will not be poised for success later." With this pronouncement, Ginsburg launched into almost two hours of priceless information about adolescence and the guidance required to successfully raise happy, creative individuals who are capable of changing the world. His advice was pointed and practical on subjects as diverse as learning to say "no," allowing children to make mistakes, and how to foster the development of coping strategies.

While discussing methods of coping, Dr. Ginsburg emphasized the importance of choosing positive methods, such as reading, over negative methods such as cutting and eating disorders. The need to cope with results from a multitude of situations, including grades, school, image and social pressure, all of which have at their root, stress. Dr. Ginsburg stated that for children to cope effectively, it is essential that parents provide unconditional acceptance and model effective coping strategies.

Dr. Ginsburg's presentation included recognizing when a student is in distress and a coherent argument for why chronic stress is destructive to human beings. He pointed out that high levels of stress often begin in elementary school. Ginsburg's presentation was supported with anecdotes from years spent in the field of adolescent medicine at Children's Hospital in Philadelphia, his leadership with Stanford's "Challenge Success" program, and his extensive work with disadvantaged and homeless youth in Philadelphia.

Following the presentations parents asked questions about how they could nurture average students, how parents could make a difference as role models, and how children who "had left the playing field" could be re-engaged.

According to Ginsburg, "Parents are role models. Teens will not listen to words, but emulate actions. The best thing parents can do for their children is to take care of themselves. Children who see parents take care of themselves and make healthy choices are 50 percent more likely to remain abstinent longer, avoid drugs and alcohol, avoid texting while driving and are 30 percent less likely to drink and drive."

If you would like to see Dr. Ginsburg's presentation, it can be found online at Palo Alto Online His boundless energy and expertise at the presentation was exceeded only by his sincere appreciation for teens and their parents.

Dr. Ginsburg has written extensively on the subject of health and wellness in young people, and is a regular presenter at Stanford University's Challenge Success Conference.

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