Ep 174: Key Traits For Resilient Teens

Episode Summary

Chris and Holly Santillo, authors of Resilience Parenting, shed light on raising teens who persevere. They’re sharing how teens can balance independence and connectedness, and what we can do to model resiliency for our kids.

Show NotesParenting ScriptsInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

The road in front  of our teens is a rocky one. They’re heading into adulthood in the midst of a pandemic, trying to figure out what they want to do and who they want to be. They’re attempting to find independence, but also curate new relationships. There’s no shortage of obstacles in their path–if they want to get through, they’ll have to know how to persevere. They’ll have to be resilient.

But how can we as parents help them get there? Turns out, there’s a lot we can do! And it starts with being resilient ourselves. If we show kids that we can  bounce back from our mistakes, they’ll know that they’re capable of it too. Then, when it’s time to step out into the world, they won’t come running back home scared. They’ll know how to roll with the punches, think on their feet, and get up when life knocks them down!

To understand how we can model resilience for our kids, we’re talking to Chris and Holly Santillo, authors of Resilience Parenting: Raising Resilient Children in an Era of Detachment and Dependence. These two have decades of experience both raising and working with kids. Together, they own and operate a martial arts studio, and Holly leads a childrens’ choir. Plus they’ve traveled all over the world with their three  kids, and learned quite a bit about resilience along the way.

In this episode, Chris, Holly and I are talking about the ways parents can teach perseverance by example. Plus, we’re discussing the importance of service, and explaining how teens can become independent without sacrificing their connections to others.

How Parents Can Promote Perseverance

Although we’ve been around quite a bit longer than our kids, we still find ourselves facing plenty of challenges. We have to keep learning and growing everyday! Our teens  are handling all the craziness of puberty, first love and fears of the future. It can be reassuring to remind them they’re not the only ones who are still figuring it all out, say Chris and Holly. Chris explains in the episode that pretending to be perfect only hurts  our children, because it makes them feel as though they can’t make mistakes themselves!

Holly and Chris explain that when kids fail for the first time, they begin to think of themselves as losers or failures. It can be really tough to convince them otherwise! Chris and Holly recommend reminding them that failure is not a person, it’s an event! Just because they mess up once, or even ten times, doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back. Holly emphasizes the value of being vulnerable with kids about your own failures. Did you also struggle with a class in high school? Or find yourself unlucky in love? Sharing these experiences with your kids can help them push through.

Holly reminds us that we can model not only resilience for our kids, but integrity as well. When kids see parents doing the right thing, they know to follow suit. But kids aren’t necessarily going to notice, says Holly, so it can be impactful to point out when we display integrity. That way kids don’t miss it! When we lend something to a neighbor or volunteer to help the vulnerable, we can explain to kids why we’re doing what we’re doing. This guides them to see the importance of doing good. In the episode, Holly, Chris and I discuss how we can talk about our virtuous actions without just bragging about our selflessness!

Beyond just setting an example, service to others can be a very positive part of life for both teens and parents! Chris Holly and I dive deeper into this in our interview.

Helping Ourselves By Helping Others

Serving those in need is a great way to give back, but it can also give us something in return! Chris, Holly and I discuss how there are so many benefits for teens who take part in volunteering and community service. Not only does it lift their spirits, it also helps them meet people, socialize, and create a network. This web of social support is something that Chris and Holly believe is essential for remaining resilient.

This service doesn’t necessarily have to be in a soup kitchen! Contributing to the well-being of others takes many forms, Holly and Chris explain. In our interview, Holly demonstrates this idea with  a story. She recently helped her mother-in-law hang up some photographs, something her mother-in-law couldn’t do alone. The experience took Holly’s time and effort but also brought them closer together and made her in-laws happy…which is no easy task!

For teens preparing to enter adulthood, the lessons and connections they make helping others will follow them as they go on their way, says Chris. Life is tough, but when you support others and find people who support you, resilience comes a little easier. 

But some teens don’t want to rely on anyone–they’d rather sit in their room with their ear buds in and the door closed, ignoring you. They think that they have to go through life alone, without anyone’s help! In the episode, Chris, Holly and I talk about how teens can establish a balance between having independence and being connected to others.

Being Independent Without Being Alone

When we experience a surge of success, be it a new job, a promotion, exciting recognition…we want to run home and tell someone about it! Chris and Holly believe that a life well- lived requires loved ones, not just accomplishment. Teaching teens to stay connected to one another can do wonders for them as they grow into adults. If they’re going to keep their resilience and bounce back when things go sour, it’ll be in their best interest to learn how to lean on others, say Chris and Holly. 

However, Chris and Holly are also worried about teens who aren’t independent enough! Some kids never learn to do things for themselves, leading them to become too dependent on their parents or other relationships. Although we need to have friends and family, it’s also important to do things for ourselves, Chris and Holly explain. So how can we strike the balance between these two? It’s definitely not easy, but it’s possible, Chris tells us in the episode. In our interview, discuss how you can help teens develop autonomy while also forming healthy connections.

If teens have managed to strike this balance successfully, Chris and Holly believe they can go one step further–advocacy. If teens can start defending their peers when they see wrong happening, they can develop a strong sense of justice that will help them prosper out in the world! This is not just a way for teenagers to help those in need, it’s a valuable way for them to forge strong beliefs, a sense of purpose and impactful social connections.

In the Episode…

If you want to raise a more resilient teen, you’ll really enjoy today’s episode! On top of the topics discussed above, we also talk about:

  • How to get teens to take their earbuds out
  • Why you should create a culture of learning in your household
  • How to have better dinner conversations
  • What you can do to help teens facing peer pressure

Thanks for listening! Chris and Holly welcome questions, suggestions, and everything else through email! You can reach them at [email protected] If you’re interested in hearing about their fascinating nomadic lifestyle, check out their blog at fivebackpacks.family. Don’t forget to share and subscribe and we’ll see you next week!


Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of what to say to your teen

1. Be honest about how hard doing the right thing can be:

“Hey, I admit it. I’m human. It was tempting to ignore that side view mirror. A part of me is trying to convince myself it’s nothing, but then you go and you do what’s right because it’s what’s right.”

-Chris Santillo

2. Ask specific questions about your teen’s day: (1 of 3)

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3. Ask specific questions about your teen’s day: (2 of 3)

(Members Only)

4. Ask specific questions about your teen’s day: (3 of 3)

(Members Only)

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: So why resilience? Obviously you guys thought it was important enough to write a whole book on resilience parenting. Is there not enough stuff out there on resilience? Is resilience a underrated topic for parents today? What inspired you to create a book about?

Chris: I think the first was a process of elimination. We wanted kids who did the dishes. So we thought about doing the dishes parenting but we decided that was too narrow. We talked about that about being a perfect human being, parenting, and we decided that might be too broad. So it was a whittling down process of finding something that captures the essence but at the same time isn’t overly specific.

Holly: Mm-hmm (affirmative). My answer used to be, Andy, that we didn’t really have a lot to challenge us on a broad scope; no world war in our face or no great depression. We’ve had our ups and downs, but there hasn’t been a really apocalyptic thing. We wrote this book about a year before COVID so I don’t know. We’ll see if COVID has improved our resilience just from environmental factors, but that would’ve been my answer. We need to address how to help our kids be resilient because maybe environmentally, they haven’t been encouraged to do so.

Chris: We touch on this in the book that there are… First of all, I should say resilience is a very broad concept. It’s the idea of being able to survive the things that come at you, being strong enough to overcome challenges. I think if we look at it in that way, we talk about intelligence, we talk about training and we talk about all the different advantages that a person might go into adulthood with. But in the absence of resilience, it’s really hard to imagine a person being very successful in any avenue, whether we’re talking about career success or we’re talking about relationship success or we’re talking about just liking themselves when they look in their mirror on their 30th birthday. That’s a pretty important test all by itself. But then to Holly’s point, the readership of our book is very varied and we’ve gotten feedback from people in all sorts of cross sections. Some people are in the bucket where the life that would naturally be presented to their children is just too stinking easy, if I can say that.

Chris: The child, through luck and fortune, doesn’t have a lot of obstacles that they need to overcome physically or emotionally. So that child is destined to be, can I say floppy?

Holly: Crumply.

Chris: Crumply. Tending to be crumply if in the absence of challenge. And then at the other end of the spectrum, there are people who, and obviously, I think COVID has increased the ratio in this direction, people who have a lot of challenges, whether they be physical or emotional and a lot of stresses. And then we, as parents, need to step in and we need to curate that to the right degree so that the four year old is receiving a smaller share of the reality of any given cataclysm, than say the 16 year old, who’s only two years from having to go approach such things as an adult. So the book really, it’s meant to address that spectrum because there are days when we’re in one camp and there are days when we’re in the other camp and we need as parents to be able to shift a little bit back and forth and make sure that we’re presenting a childhood to our children that is productive and going to set them up for success.

Andy: You talk about the importance of the why and the how, and you talk about approaching problems as opportunities for education, and specifically using those as opportunities to teach kids the why and the how. How does that look and what does that mean?

Holly: All right. So teaching is a really big part of our premise in this whole book. Your show is called Talking to Teens and the kind of relationship that you want to have with your child at whatever age, I think, should be one of a teacher because you feel like you are hopefully mutually learning, not just a dictatorship, versus giving a dictatorship signal. We try not to use that hand. If you have a relationship built on learning, you’re going to have such better success with communicating to your child. So the part that you’re talking about is our slight nod to the folks who are having a little trouble with disciplining their kids. I tell my child to do something or I insist that my teenager not have his earbuds in his ears all the time. He just doesn’t listen to me. If you can approach any of those topics, not with just, “This is what I say and that is the law,” but rather why it’s important and how to do it. Taking your earbuds out of ears is not too hard, but maybe it is.

Holly: Maybe there are some slight subtleties about why a child needs there… I don’t know. Anyway, but maybe how to…

Chris: To your point, I think that how to exist in life without earbuds in 24/7, something that some teenagers feel is impossible. Their head will implode in the absence of continuous stimulation. They really believe that. There’s 200,000 years of human’s evolution that shows that we can survive in the absence of earbuds, but some teenagers don’t know that yet.

Holly: Okay. Thank you. So it does apply.

Andy: Yeah. It totally changes the way then people interact with you and new demands on you in terms of you can’t just shut yourself off from interactions.

Chris: Absolutely. But there are consequences to that. There are consequences and the relationship that is degraded because today I get to listen to a podcast during dinner and that was entertaining for me, has a cost in terms of the relationship that I have with my brother and my sister and my family and, and whoever else is present and decreases my ability to evolve as a human being who can interact in social settings. And social settings are everything. His ability to interact with his future bosses, his ability to interact… I keep saying he because I know who she’s talking about. He’s a young man.

Andy: Theoretical example.

Chris: A theoretical example. No one we know has a teenager who has earbuds in all the time. I swear. And that there’s a cost to that and if we explain that, if we don’t say, “Take your earbuds out, how many times have I told you? I’ve told you a million times.” Instead we say, “Let’s sit down and let’s talk about this. Do you want to live in a household where everybody hates each other or at the very least dislikes each other? Or do you want to live in a household where you walk through the front door and you feel a sense of welcome? Which of those would you prefer?” Well, presumably they’re going to prefer, I guess I shouldn’t speak for them. Hopefully you can have this conversation in context where they say, “I’d rather be in that household, that warm feeling.” It’s like, “Okay. Here are some of the things that are necessary for having that.”

Chris: It’s not a given. It’s not a given that we have good relationships with our family members. We want them, but there are some people who turn 18 and they head out the door and they never ever look back. And we want to help them see their actions in their teenage years set the stage for what the next decade of their life is going to be and they can make choices here and now that might be net positive for their experience, even if they missed that podcast.

Andy: So learning, you said, is a big part of the book. And another aspect of that is talking about creating a culture of learning. That seems like a big topic. How do we think about that as parents and what are some ideas on facilitating that in our household and creating a culture within our family of learning and growing?

Holly: So I ebb and flow with my ability to do this, with any action or any attempt at good parenting. When I’m really doing well with this culture of learning, it just feels good to be having a new information come at me. I feel curious. I feel open to new possibilities. And when it’s not going very well, I’m disinterested and it feels like rote necessary duty. So my current reflection on this is that we want to recognize when our learning is going well and when it isn’t and be into change course, which is a big part of resilience by the way, is adapting when you notice that your current course of action is not taking you in the right direction where you want to go. I’m just thinking about this because our current school project right now, I want to be learning about Africa with my kids. And I noticed that the program I set out for ourselves, it just was no fun anymore. I said, “You know what? We don’t have to do it that way. “Let’s find a new way.” And everyone was like, “I could tell. Ooh.”

Holly: All right, but going back to more overarching answer to your question, we want to model the behavior that we expect to see in our kids, going back to the ear buds thing. If we don’t want our kids to be tuning out to all of our conversations, we can’t do the same thing to them. If we want our kids to be really excited about learning, then we should be learning ourselves in a way that they can see right in front of them; I pick up a book too or I have something to talk about at dinner too because I’m excited to be learning.

Chris: And there are really two parts to that, she alluded to this. One is that we, as adults, as parents, need to be continually learning. And whether you’re picking up a new language or whether you’re doing an evening certificate program or you’re going back to school or just reading some decent nonfiction on a regular basis. So part one is we need to do that. If you expect your children to do that, then you need to do it. And we joke sometimes that what we really wanted to do is write a book for adults about how to be resilient themselves. But we’ve concluded that people would much rather tell other people how to be.

Andy: Yeah, exactly.

Chris: But there’s not a lesson in the book that you can’t turn around and look in the mirror and be like, “Oh yeah, I could be more honest with myself about the how and why about. I could improve myself as a person. I could have more integrity in learning.

Andy: Isn’t that one of the things about parenting too? That it just makes you want to be such a better person yourself?

Chris: When it’s going well, it does.

Andy: Yeah. But so many of those things in life that we don’t do for ourselves, but that we like do for other people, or when it becomes about someone else, we’re like, “Ooh, well this is important.” Parenting forces you to reexamine yourself in a lot of ways and seek to make some of those changes that you can…

Chris: Absolutely.

Holly: I tell a story in the book and it gets into the chapter of integrity. So sorry, I’m probably jumping ahead on your questions, but I tell a story in the book about clipping somebody’s side view mirror. It’s really annoying. I got to the stop sign and thought, I think I heard something. What was that sound?

Chris: That was the sound of a thousand dollars splitting through your pocket.

Holly: It’s like, no, I’m sure it was nothing. I’m sure it was nothing. And I pulled ahead to the next stoplight. I was like, no, I bet that was something. And I convince myself to drive back and pull around and it was because of that very thing that you’re talking about, Andy, that I realized I have been talking to my kids about honesty, about integrity, about needs. And if I don’t go back, I am breaking my rules.

Chris: Yeah. Back to the idea of learning as well as integrity, is that if we want our kids to have learning in their lives, we need to have learning in our lives. If we want our kids to have integrity in their lives, we need to have integrity. But there’s a second piece. Holly’s story of the side view mirror and the thousand dollars that never was, is a good example. They’re both there doing it, and then there’s talking about it.

Andy: Visible to them. You could be learning stuff at work all day that they don’t know about. Having lots of integrity all day at the office, but if it’s not visible to your family, then there’s no modeling happening.

Chris: Exactly. And I think integrity’s the hardest one of these because integrity doesn’t look like anything. A failure of integrity looks like something. You could spend 18 years in front of your child and have perfect integrity; never lie, never cheat, never steal, never be dishonest in any way, shape or form. But in the absence of someone saying, “Hey, did you notice how, even though that was challenging, he told the truth?” It doesn’t look like anything. Failures of integrity jump out really quickly, but integrity is something; it’s walking across a tight rope every day of our lives. And it’s worth saying, “Hey, I admit it. I’m human. It was tempting to ignore that side view mirror. A part of me is trying to convince myself it’s nothing, but then you go and you do what’s right because it’s what’s right.” And that’s what integrity means. And so there are these lessons that we get to draw out. And it hurts. It would be so much easier to pretend in front of our children, just as we like pretending in front of the rest of the world, that we’re perfect.

Andy: Yeah. Right. And so often these struggles happen internally and we just don’t talk about it. We don’t want to show that we’re really struggling with something because we feel like we shouldn’t be like that as a parent. A kid doesn’t necessarily even know that a thousand dollars is painful for us, even if they see us stop and put a note on the windshield or do whatever we do to correct the situation. They don’t even necessarily understand that we have this moment of “Aah,” and that even next week it’s still affecting us because now our budget’s tighter and whatever the thing is. A lot of times we bear these burdens silently as parents. But actually it doesn’t necessarily do a service to our children to just not talk about it.

Holly: I was getting a a vision of dinner table conversations. I don’t know what your household was like, Andy, but mine, when I was a teenager was every attempt to stay silent.

Andy: Yep.

Holly: My parents desperately wanted to connect with me and I was having none of it. I remember it was always the same question, “How was school?”

Andy: Oh, right.

Holly: Let’s start easy. How was school?

Andy: Fine.

Chris: Fine. Good answer. Solid answer.

Holly: Did anything happen? No.

Chris: No.

Holly: After several attempts and they would give up and they would move on to talking about what happened at business that day, which really didn’t matter to me.

Chris: You didn’t even have earbuds to escape to, either.

Holly: Right. I just had my glowering presence.

Chris: I’ve seen pictures of her as a teenager. She glowered. It was amazing, quite a glower.

Holly: So it’s bit of a random note, but I think it’s really a important that we find topics that we can all be truly interested in. I find Chris and I are doing it more now because we don’t have young ones who demand young one attention. We’re like, “Ooh, we’re remembering what it’s like to have adult conversation again.” But sometimes I think we do it at the expense of connecting with our kids. We were like, “Let’s talk to, dear.” Or just the really heavy COVID stuff. I’ve noticed this shift of, well then, okay. The kids will go talk in their world of their fantasy novels and we’ll go talk in our unattainable world of adult realities. And we need to come back and find something that we all are interested in, or we’ll find that divide gets wider and wider.

Chris: That’s just basic good conversation skills. Asking questions. How is school is not a good conversation starter. It’s right up there with, do you come here often? Those both belong in the same bucket, as they just probably don’t need to be used ever again by anyone. They’re blanket statements. How was school? Fine, I think is the appropriate answer. But if we’re involved at the level that we can and should and want to be involved, then it’s like, “What happened in history class today? Because last week you told me that in history class, this happened. And then what was the follow on to that?” And “Is Mrs. Baker still being annoying?” If you have very specific questions; it’s a weird parallel, but in teaching martial arts, part of keeping the lesson centered on the student is to not have a lot of details about oneself as an instructor. And it’s just tactic.

Chris: So if somebody says, “How was your weekend?” You say “Fine,” it’s easy. So a student walks in, sensei walks in, karate instructor walks into the room. They say, “How was your weekend?” Karate instructor says, “Fine.” But if they know more about your life then they start saying, “How was your beach place this weekend?” And it’s a little harder to just say fine. It’s like, “Did the storm come through? Because I heard there was a storm there in Southern Virginia, where you were staying at your beach house.” If they have specifics, “How’s your aunt Nilly?” When we have specifics, then it’s harder to just say fine. You can’t say fine to specific questions. Easy. So in the inverse where you do want to be making a connection with the individuals across the table from you, saying really blanket stupid, stupid sounds… But ill thought out, weak questions will result in weak answers. We need to delve. But delving requires effort. It requires knowing. Remember to paying attention last week when they said that their history teacher was assigning a project that they thought was unreasonable.

Andy: You have to remember.

Chris: Yeah. And then you need to scribble notes and keep track of all your kids’ teachers.

Holly: The other side of it is making sure to share something from your day. Maybe instead of asking questions, say, offer somethin.g Something personal from your day, going back to, you learned a whole lot of things at work. Maybe what specifically you’re working on the computer doesn’t matter to them, but perhaps the relationship that you have with somebody and fighting over the water cooler… Hopefully, you know what I mean.

Chris: So what she’s trying to say is you need to curate your experience during the day and share the aspects of it that might be relevant to your audience, which again…

Andy: That might be able to connect with something in their day too or something. That gives you a nice little leeway to tie it to them and ask them a question. And I just think also…

Chris: Again, that’s just good conversation.

Andy: Yeah. 100%. I hate it when people just don’t offer anything and then ask me a question like, “Oh, how was your day? Did anything happen at school?” It feels a little lazy. It feels like you’re investing no energy or effort to what we’ve said. Remember something from earlier and bring back something specific or say something interesting from your own experience and then relate it to me. You’re just like, “Entertain me. Tell me something.”

Chris: Dance, puppy. Dance.

Andy: Yeah. It feels like you don’t really care about the answer because if you really cared, you would be doing what you guys said. “Oh my God, you had that thing today with whatever, with the assembly that you were looking forward to. What was that like? How was the whatever? And did that thing happen in third period you were going to be doing and what was that awkward?” Or whatever. And now all of a sudden, I feel like you really care. You’re actually interested. Whereas “Oh, how was school?” I feel like you’re just trying to make conversation and then you’re actually putting it on me to make the conversation. As teenagers, especially, we don’t like being told what to do or forced what to do or something. And we resist that type of, it’s a command. That’s a tacit command. “Entertain me, make some conversation.” Yeah, we don’t like that. So we resist that and we say, “Nothing. Fine. Whatever.”


About Chris and Holly Santillo

Chris and Holly Santillo are the authors of the Amazon Bestseller Resilience Parenting: Raising Resilient Children in an Era of Detachment and Dependence. Chris has a degree in Computer Science from Harvey Mudd College and an MBA from Georgetown University, while Holly has a degree in Anthropology from Willamette University. Chris is the founder and Head Instructor at Potomac Kempo in Alexandria, Virginia, where Holly is a Senior Instructor. Holly is also the director at Mount Vernon Children’s Choir. Together, they’ve combined their work and parenting experience to create a tried-and-true parenting methodology. Chris, Holly and their three children live nomadically, traveling around the globe with the goal of  greater perspective. Since 2019, they’ve explored the continental U.S., Alaska, Asia, Europe, and South and Central America.

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