According to Bonnie Benard, resilience is something we all possess. It is an internal drive to satisfy our most basic psychological needs. It helps us overcome obstacles to staying on a healthy developmental path. And it is the reason why many kids who experience poverty or abuse still turn out OK.
Social scientists have traditionally predicted a bleak life for these children, commonly dubbed “at risk” kids. Benard’s latest book, Resiliency: What We Have Learned, puts this assumption in check. Drawing upon a decade’s worth of resilience research from a wide range of scholars, Benard shows that negative factors in a child’s life don’t necessarily predict negative outcomes, whereas there is a strong association between positive factors and positive outcomes.
Benard stresses that this does not mean we should ignore the effects of abuse or poverty on children. Rather, she argues, we can offset these effects by giving children the right kinds of support, enabling them to find their own natural strengths. In Resiliency, Benard evaluates previous attempts to put these supports in place at the level of the family, school, and wider community. She also suggests how we can continue to create such opportunities for children in the future.
At the core of Benard’s argument is the idea that the most supportive environments for children contain three elements: caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities to be an active member of a community. In the home, for example, Benard suggests that parents can communicate high expectations by becoming attuned to their child’s unique strengths, then connecting him or her with resources that will help these strengths develop—a process Benard calls “talent scouting.” Schools can promote caring relationships by reducing class size and the size of schools as a whole, creating more small group projects, and encouraging adult-student mentor relationships. As for communities, Benard says they must provide more activities that children can participate in and contribute to. Through job training, art, or adventure programs, among others, she says children not only develop concrete skills but a sense of belonging, purpose, and respect. At the same time, they act as role models for their peers.
Resiliency is a hopeful and practical book. As a comprehensive review of the resiliency literature, it is a rich source of theory. Additionally, Benard has distilled these theories into concrete ideas for action—all in a clear writing style. As a result, it should be a useful tool for people helping those in need of hope.