Resilience: often necessary, occasionally evil

May 11, 2012 by
Filed under: Education Matters 

Yesterday, straight from an energising discussion with our Projects team about future RSA approaches to public services issues, I rushed to deal with something more current and tangible. My twelve year daughter has a long term health condition, which means regular appointments and occasional bouts of hospitalisation. After twelve years navigating a Victorian monolith, we now have the airy complexity of  a brand new PFI building. We’ve gone straight from Dickens to Huxley.

My daughter has always been intense and feisty – most people who spend a few hours with her need to come up for air at some point – but in her regular interactions with medical people and places, this is amplified. And adolescence is now adding to the mix. Yesterday, she refused to answer questions that weren’t using the correct medical terms on the piece of paper in front of the physiotherapist. She asked irritating questions, gave cryptic answers, and her body language was moody, sullen and horizontally sprawled – she looked like she was on our sofa watching something excruciatingly boring on TV.

Like any parent would, I often plead for her to be more polite to a group of people that definitely want her to be as well as possible. At the same time, I know that her assertive games are a form of resilience – a way of coping with loss, setbacks and change, and steeling herself for future battles and disappointments. She is an expert patient now, and her attitude in some ways ensures that the system treats her as such.

I remember Maria Balshaw, now Director of Manchester City Galleries, arguing that ‘arsiness’ was a key attribute of creativity, so should possibly be taught in schools. I doubt if this idea will catch on, but we do need to accept the need to develop qualities in our young people that aren’t always pleasant. Whether it’s the liberal perspective on social and emotional learning, or the more traditional approach through character education, both emphasise qualities and attitudes that, in essence, make children easier for us adults to deal with. Just be nice. Even our Opening Minds framework, which includes ‘coping with change’ as a key aspect of the ‘managing situations’ competency, might not be quite ready to develop and assess approaches which elicit and celebrate the nasty.

This links to an emerging idea for a broader RSA project:  can we harness new insights into the teenage brain and other research to ask how can schools and society relish rather than fear the teenage years? What kinds of behaviour change do we need to promote, in both teenagers and the adults and institutions which deal with them, to ensure a happy, productive adolescence?

 


Comments

  • http://twitter.com/wkrussell Wendy Russell

    Do you think if adults started to promote ‘arsiness’ that it would then become exactly that – a promoted behaviour and therefore of no interest? Is the very idea of a happy, productive adolescence a romantic ideal that does not leave space for resistance and what we in the East Midlands call ‘mardiness’?

  • Simon Horrobin

    Resilience != rudeness.  It’s perfectly possible to take a contrary stance while being both polite and positive.  Showing arsiness just means you are being an arse.

  • http://twitter.com/JoyHarris1 Joy Harris

     We have enjoyed reading Joe’s blog this week; a very deep
    thinker who has used a personal experience to bring about positive
    action. If only we had some answers on how to nurture the
    adolescent teenager to be comfortable in their own skin when facing
    that awkward transition both physically and mentally from child to
    adult
    For us, adolescence is about teaching young, emerging adults
    that vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness and to stand
    tall and proud!

    Lisa Crausby Inspector Adviser Secondary
    Joy Harris Arts Adviser
    Service Children’s Education