Resilience in our Young Women of the Future
170 years since the beginning of the Women’s Rights Movement, girls continue to face a diverse range of challenges that can negatively affect their development. According to a report by the Girl Scouts of the USA, some of these challenges range from low self-esteem and body image to a lack of leadership opportunities. Worryingly, a global report released by Unilever’s Dove brand has found that more than half of all girls do not have high body esteem and are consequently, relinquishing key opportunities in life. At St Catherine’s School, we aim to develop young women of the future who are inspired to create their own path in life. Young women who are courageous. Empowered. Fearless.
In order to empower these young women to consider their future with optimism, it is essential that they are provided with opportunities to develop their resilience. The definition of resilience is the ability to negotiate and successfully cope with risks, challenges and disadvantages without long-term negative outcomes. Ungar’s (2011) Social Ecology of Resilience Theory outlines the social structures that impact on human development such as immediate family, school, peers, community organisation, culture and the broader political and education systems (Jefferies & Theron, 2015, p.76). The theory suggests that social ecologies have a greater responsibility than individuals to promote resilience in adolescents. Adjusting well to adversity – in other words, being resilient – is a reciprocal process between individuals and their social ecologies. Jefferies & Theron (2017) indicate that globally, schools are a vital part of most young people’s social ecologies.
Students spend a considerable amount of time in formal school classes and therefore, it is reasonable that school engagement and attendance are closely associated with resilience. Furthermore, girls’ resilience is strengthened when they have significant and positive relationships with others. Positive relationships with others allow girls to encourage one another; aid in the development of self-esteem, feelings of worth, strength and creativity; and promote the development of courage and confidence to maintain one’s voice.
Graber, Turner & Madill (2016) posits that good interpersonal relations are an important source of support during adolescence as they may model effective coping skills, demonstrate how to recruit and offer support, and foster well-being. Solid interpersonal relationships support basic needs for belonging, empathy and mutual engagement through which growth and development can occur. In addition, Mary & Patra, (2015) have found that positive emotions are identified more commonly among high resilient individuals.
Individuals who display lower levels of resilience exhibit higher reactivity in response to daily stressors as well as demonstrate greater difficulties with regulating negative emotion. Among the wide variety of protective mechanisms, empathy and gratitude have been found to be closely related to resilience as they play a part in effective and adaptive coping skills to deal with negative stressors.
In a social ecology such as a school, good relationships with the members of the group are highly valued and empathy is considered as one of the most valuable skills for maintaining harmony. The protective mechanism of gratitude is a cognitive-affective state that helps to block emotions such as envy, resentment and regret which may hamper the development of resilience. Studies have found that grateful people are perceived as more stress resistant as their ability to interpret negative life events in a more positive manner guards them against lasting stress and anxiety.
Resilience results from positive social relationships, positive attitudes and emotions, and the ability to control one’s own behaviour. Positive social relationships, particularly with multiple friends, relatives and the greater community promote resilience. Encouraging oneself to try, being determined to persevere until success is attained, applying a problem-solving approach to difficult situations and fostering feelings of resoluteness all contribute to developing and building an adolescent’s resilience. Positive emotions such as love and gratitude increase resilience as they allow the individual to view negative emotions in a controlled manner.
Adolescence is characteristically an important stage in an individual’s lifespan as it is a transitional period and a time when the individual searches for identity. Supporting our students to develop and build resilience is imperative to ensure a future generation of young women who are fearless about carving their own path in the world.
Graber, R., Turner, R & Madill, A (2016) ‘Best friends and better coping: Facilitating psychological resilience through boys’ and girls’ closest friendships’ British Journal of Psychology (2016), 107, 338-358
Jefferis, T.C & Theron, L. C (2015) ‘Community-based participatory video: Exploring and advocating for girls’ resilience’ Perspectives in Education 2015:33(4)
Jefferis, T.C & Theron, L.C (2017) ‘Promoting resilience among Sesotho-speaking adolescent girls: Lessons for South African teachers’ South African Journal of Education, Volume 3, Number 3, August 2017
Mary, E.M & Patra, S (2015) ‘Relationship between forgiveness, gratitude and resilience among adolescents’ Indian Journal of Positive Psychology (2015) 6 (1), 63-68