WHEN MICHAEL BRADLEY’S son, Ross, was in middle school, he decided that social studies was a government mind-control program, so he refused to do any of the assignments. The predictable result: an F on his report card.
Ross’ teacher expected Bradley and his wife to blow up at the next parent-teacher conference, but that didn’t happen.
“He said we were the first parents in nine years that had not argued for a better grade for our child,” says Bradley, a psychologist and expert on adolescent behavior.
Their purpose for being reasonable was simple. They were trying to raise an adult, not an automaton, and that meant letting Ross make his own decisions.
“Our job is to work ourselves out of a job as parents so kids are making their own decisions,” he says. “That means handling the consequences of their decisions — as long as they won’t kill them.”
A key goal for parents, Bradley says, should be to help children develop resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity. And that means their children actually have to face adversity.
“You don’t build resilience by bubble-wrapping a kid,” he says. “You also don’t build resilience by overstressing a kid, putting them in a situation they cannot handle. You’re trying to find that sweet spot between zero and 10. That’s where we build resilient kids.”
Building resilient kids is the focus of Bradley’s latest book, Crazy-Stressed: Saving Today’s Overwhelmed Teens with Love, Laughter, and the Science of Resilience (AMACOM Books, 2017). Much of the book is devoted to the 7 C’s of resilience (a list developed by Ken Ginsburg in Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings). The seven are competence, confidence, connection, character, control, coping and contribution.
For each C, Bradley offers strategies parents can use to help their children develop that attribute. He later offers 10 tactics for implementing those strategies on a daily basis.
Under- and Overachieving
Bradley says resilience training is important for kids struggling to function.
“That’s where you go down to whatever level that child is on and help them focus on only one goal and accomplish that,” he says. “That can be a monumental goal for that child, like getting to school on time. That may be all they’re capable of doing, and you focus on that, and that becomes the kid’s Super Bowl.”
But resilience training is just as important for kids who’ve never struggled, like the straight-A student who rarely cracks a book in high school. If he’s never faced adversity, he’ll flounder when he flunks his first college exam.
“He’s overwhelmed. He doesn’t know what to do because he hasn’t developed a set of skills to recover,” Bradley says.
In either case, Bradley says, parents need to figure out the right amount of challenge to give the child, much like a personal trainer figures out how much weight to put on a set of barbells. And you can’t stop when the child succeeds; resilience is a lifetime pursuit.
As for young Ross Bradley, he went on to earn straight A’s in college. His story is proof that, as his dad says, “A good decision made poorly is not as valuable as a bad decision made well.”