The Importance Of Resilience

Why do some children bounce back from adversity better than others--and can that quality be taught?

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The results are striking, according to Wisconsin's Reynolds. For the past two decades, he has been following young people who graduated in 1985 from several of what were then 25 Child-Parent Centers in Chicago. (There are now 15.) As a group, they are much less likely than their peers to commit a crime or be the victim of one and are more likely to graduate from school on time. "If we provide education and family support for kids at high risk, it leads to great levels of success for kids," he says. "And if they get in that success stream, they often stay in it because of the positive early advantages."

Latonya Thomas, 32, and her two children Bryant, 14, and Shana, 7, are prime examples. All of them have attended classes at the Lorraine Hansberry center. "I love this program," says Thomas, who credits the center with instilling a love of school in her daughter and providing a strong foundation for her son, who is on the ninth-grade honor roll. As much as it has helped Bryant and Shana, however, Thomas acknowledges the changes it has made in her life as well. "I have more patience with the kids, I know how to talk to let them know I'm there for them," she says. Wouldn't she have done that anyway? "Yes," she says. "There's my way and their way. When I put them together, it works just fine." The center also inspired Thomas to upgrade her job skills, and she is studying to be a lab technician.

As these success stories illustrate, resilience is real, but it's not inevitable. Someone has to take a chance. Someone has to care. And a certain amount of time and treasure are required. We know human beings can survive many things. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. It's a lesson that is repeated in every generation. The ones who learn it best help one another muddle through. --Reported by Sarah Sturmon Dale/ Minneapolis, Wendy Grossman/ Houston, Kathie Klarreich/ Miami, Jeanne McDowell/ Los Angeles and Leslie Whitaker/ Chicago

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