Today's youth face many debilitating situations in their lives such as depression, suicide, poverty, and physical issues. In this environment how can they develop coping strategies for life and personal resilience? How can we support them to do this?
Hayhurst et al define resilience as "the ability to react to adversity and challenge in an adaptive and productive way". Their article published in Journal of Adventure Education & Outdoor Learning, centres on a 10 day youth sailing voyage in New Zealand and its effects on personal resilience. The results were fascinating.
The study carried out a split test on 2 groups of teenagers. Each group faced the same conditions - tough physical work, domestic duties, tiredness, seasickness, bad weather and cramped conditions. They initially received training but gradually were encouraged to develop independent sailing and self-governance. Both groups were tested for resilience at the beginning and end of their voyages. Group 2 also undertook resilience tests during the trip and 5 months after. Resilience tests were also done on a control group of students undergoing a college psychology course. How much difference was seen in the resilience levels of the voyagers as opposed to the stay at home students? The differences were surprising and long lasting.
The authors liken resilience to immunisation; it is grown by exposure to risk and successful navigation through it. The sailors faced tough challenges and took a voyage of personal development. They had a crash course in teamwork, practical skills, confidence and social skills and achieved increased personal resilience.
Hayhurst et al stress that such experiences can lift quality of life longterm. They urge for more research to be done to investigate further how such challenges can be used to boost positive development in youth.