Schools don’t need to develop young people’s resilience alone

4 Dec 2019, 5:00

Investing in developing young people’s resilience is investing in their future and ours. Scouts has been working at it for over a hundred years, and it’s never been more important to shout about it, writes Ann Limb

New YouGov research shows that a majority of parents are worried. They say life is harder for young people today than 20 years ago. The same research reveals that of 95 per cent of parents believe it’s important for their children to learn the skills to deal with the increasing pressures of everyday life, ie. how to be resilient.

As well as politically uncertain times, young people are worried about climate change, increasing academic pressure and testing, and social media pressure to look or live a certain way. It’s a sociological and environmental necessity to know how to get through tough times. Confirming that, the Demos think tank’s report, Character Nation recommended that developing resilience be embedded throughout formal and non-formal education.

As teachers, we witness young people experience ‘failure’, and it can be heart-breaking, but never more than for those that let it go on to define them. But the answer doesn’t have to be teachers’ responsibility alone.

The same YouGov research showed that two thirds of parents (67 per cent) agreed that being a Scout helps young people develop resilience, and this is backed up by independent research. In their 2016 study, the University of Edinburgh found that people who belong to Scouts are 15 per cent less likely to develop mental illness or depression by middle age.

What’s our secret? First, Scouts is all about modelling resilience. Scouts is intergenerational, from our teenaged young leaders to volunteers who have been with us for fifty years or more. We all work together. For children whose parents may not be in a position to model resilience, Scouts can be a beacon, and a source of hope in community.

The answer doesn’t have to be teachers’ responsibility alone

Second, it is low-stakes. In fact, failing and learning from failure is integral to Scouts. Young people are encouraged to try so many different activities that it’s impossible to be good at all of them. Of course, it’s also a great way to find out what you are good at.

Third, Scouts exercises both body and mind. Our Chief Scout, Bear Grylls would be the first to admit that almost everything he does – from crossing a desert to climbing a mountain – can only be achieved through a combination of physical and mental resilience.

And support! Fourth, Scouts are a team, someone to cheer young people on and push them forward beyond their perceived limits. Feeling part of something bigger, like people have got your back, all helps to develop inner strength, and it simply isn’t a given for many of our young people.

For our hardest to reach and most vulnerable young people, school sometimes becomes the enemy. It can feel like a place of pressure rather than opportunity. The first thing many social workers and other pastoral practitioners do when working with these young people is to refer them to their local Scouts group. Non-formal education – whether it’s Scouts, Guides, a local youth club – gives young people space to try again. And have fun, too!

Formal and non-formal education work best hand in hand. It can be difficult for schools to get their own Scout group up and running – we know that resources are extremely tight. As a former college principal, I know that there are other priorities. Chances are, a local Scouts Group already exists, and would be delighted if you got in touch.

But there are many ways we can work together. Through our A Million Hands programme – in partnership with charities like WWF, Mind, and Save the Children – we tackle homelessness, support refugees and displaced people and protect our environment. It’s a brilliant opportunity for young people to gain skills that will help them at school and in life.

Resilience is a ‘gateway’ skill. It links to determination, courage, positivity, adaptability, and more. By putting the focus on it and working together, we can give young people an incredible tool to do more than cope, but to thrive in our changing world.

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