Resiliency: What We Have Learned
reviewed by Beverly Hardcastle Stanford - 2005
In her book Resiliency: What We Have Learned, Bonnie Benard updates her earlier, often-referenced book Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School, and Community (1991) and draws on her subsequent publications on promoting resiliency in adolescents (1996, 1999, 2002,). The deceptively slim volume is packed with findings from several hundred research studies, programs, and projects, and insights from theorists in the youth resiliency field and those related to it. The 380 references since her 1991 book indicate the depth of her updating endeavor.
At a time when schools and legislators are focused on assessment and accountability and the concept of evidence-based practice has expanded from the nursing and health fields to education and social work, the good news of Benard’s book is that it has the evidence. If you think small schools are better for adolescents than large ones, the book has the studies to prove that that is so. If you think that family support for mothers in poverty is better than welfare-to-work programs, the book reports findings to confirm that. If you believe that strengths-based education and caring classrooms keep adolescents in school, the book will back you up. If you are against high stakes testing, her book references studies that show that such testing “appears to be particularly detrimental to resilience and youth development” and its adverse effects on English Language learners have “already been documented” (p. 75). If you want research to guide development of a program to reduce youth substance abuse, Benard provides it with a finding from the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention’s National Cross-site Evaluation of High-risk Youth Programs report: “Strong bonding with school and family show the greatest associations with reduced substance use” (p. 67).
The book is also timely in terms of the ongoing need to promote resiliency. In her preface Benard observes, “Unfortunately, even armed with new understandings and programs, practitioners face almost the same percentage of children and families living in extreme adversity as ten years ago” (p. 1). She reports that “twelve percent of American children continue to live not only below the poverty line, but in conditions not likely to improve….” (p. 1).
Benard’sprofessional credibility in the field is high. She has worked in the areas of drug abuse prevention and youth resiliency for over twenty years in the
The credibility of the book’s content is also high. Included are findings from seminal studies and reports such as those by the Carnegie Task Force on Education of Young Adolescents, the Carnegie Task Force on Youth Development and Community Programs, the MacArthur Foundation’s Research Network on Successful Adolescent Development Among Youth in High-Risk Settings, the William T. Grant Foundation’s Commission on Work, Family, and Citizenship, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Insights of theorists and researchers such as Erik Erikson, Viktor Frankl, Robert Coles, Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith, Nel Noddings, Michael Rutter, James Garbarino, Anthony Garmezy, Daniel Goleman, Robert Slavin, Sonya Nieto, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Mary Poplin, Michael Fullan, Robert Putnam, Peter Benson, Shirley Brice Heath, and Joy Dryfoos enrich the report.
Benardorganizes the extensive research findings into nine chapters, three on the concepts of resilience and personal strengths, five on environmental protective factors, and one on her conclusions. Her four appendices list findings about what works in youth resiliency: “Matrix of Personal Strengths,” “Family Protective Factor Indicators,” “School Protective Factor Indicators,” and “Community Program Protective Factor Indicators.”
To tie together what can otherwise be an overwhelming collection of findings, Benard uses four overarching “understandings.” The first is the “belief in the innate resilience of every human being” (p. 113) and that youth can develop resilience within the “protective factors of caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities to participate and contribute” (p. 107). Second is that there is no ideal program to promote resilience in youth; rather the key is the human dimension in how programs are conducted. As Bernard explains:
Clearly, some approaches are more promising than others. Yet the major message from long-term studies of human development as well as of successful school and community programs is to realize that programs per se are not the answer, it’s how we do what we do that counts (p. 108)
The third understanding is closely related and self-explanatory: “The power of one person to make a difference” (p. 109). The fourth understanding, labeled “Wraparound Support,” is that “protective factors in one setting have the power to compensate for risks that may be present in other settings” (p. 109). Bernard urges families, schools, and communities to work together to provide youths with the protective environments they need.
The book’s shortcomings are minimal. An index would be helpful, but the richness of the text makes this a formidable task. And several significant thinkers seem to have been overlooked. The works of William Damon, Director of the Center on Adolescence at Stanford are not mentioned. His book The Youth Charter and his reports such as “The Development of Purpose During Adolescence” (Damon, Menon, and Bronk, 2003) belong in a discussion of adolescent resiliency. David Elkind’s (1997) classic, All Grown Up and No Place to Go, which contains insights on forms of adolescent stress as well as perspectives on adolescent cognitive development, would contribute as well. Theories of resiliency proposed by Anton Antonovsky (1979) and Susan Kobasa (1979) could be applied to youth resiliency. But staying abreast of resiliency research today is a challenge.
As Benard observes, a look at citations in the Social Sciences Citation Index reveals that in the 1980’s “resilience and its derivatives occurred only 24 times. In the 1990’s, there were 735 such references. The current decade is on a pace to at least double the previous total output of scholarly research on the topic” (p. 1).
Through this book and her earlier publications, as well as through her leadership of over 300 workshops and 60 keynote addresses, Benard can rightly take credit for contributing to the expanded interest in youth resiliency. Her heart for contributing to the healthy development of adolescents is evident throughout her easily accessible text and in the quotes she selects to share. A Nel Noddings quotation (1988, p. 32) on resilient schools reflects the light that Benard shines on this collection of research evidence:
At a time when the traditional structures of caring have deteriorated, schools must be places where teachers and students live together, talk with each other, take delight in each other’s company. My guess is that when schools focus on what really matters in life, the cognitive ends we now pursue so painfully and artificially will be achieved somewhat more naturally…It is obvious that children will work harder and do things – even odd things like adding fractions – for people they love and trust” (p. 86).
Bernard’s goal is to influence practice with findings from solid research. Researchers, doctoral students, teachers, counselors, administrators, social workers, and parents, indeed all who care for the welfare of adolescents, should find Resiliency: What We Have Learned a valued resource.
Antonovsky, A. (1979). Health, stress, and coping.
Benard, B. (1991). Fostering resiliency in kids: Protective factors in the family, school, and community.
Benard, B. (1996). Fostering resiliency in urban schools. In B. Williams (Ed.), Closing the achievement gap: A vision for changing beliefs and practice (pp. 96-119).
Benard, B. (1999). Applications of resilience. In M. Glantz & J. Johnson (Eds.),Resilience and development: Positive life adaptations (pp. 269-277).
Benard, B. (2002). Turnaround people and places: Moving from risk to resilience. In D. Saleebey (Ed.). The strengths perspective in social work practice, 3rd ed., (pp. 213-227).
Damon, W (1997). The youth charter: How communities can work together to raise the standards for all our children.
Damon, W. Menon, J., and Bronk, K.C. (2003). The development of purpose during adolescence. Applied Developmental Science, 7 (3), 119-128.
Elkind, D. (1997). All grown up and no place to go: Teenagers in crisis. Revised. Boulder, Co: Perseus Books.
Kobasa, S. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37 (1), 1-11.
Noddings, N. (1988, December 7). Schools face crisis in caring. Education Week, p. 32.
West Ed (September, 2004). Bonnie Benard, Senior program associate. Retrieved