Developing resilience in New Zealand school students may help combat youth suicide and bullying.

Young people should be encouraged to regard failure as part of success, a leading educator believes.

Lance King, a New Zealand education consultant, says students who "fail well" become more resilient and do better at school and life.

He believes this equips them to better handle school bullying - and to avoid developing the kind of helplessness that can lead to suicide.

King, who for over 20 years has taught learning skills to students in 32 countries, is working on student resilience at ACG Tauranga, one of five independent schools run by ACG Education. ACG consider the issue one of the most important facing young people and is a key part of the group's skills programme.


King says young people ought to get over their emotional attachment to the word failure: "We need to help our young people understand failure is just feedback and I think we need to redefine it simply as not reaching a goal.

"What failure is doing for you is giving you great information on what you aren't doing right, yet," he says. "Children who do what I call 'fail well' acknowledge their own failure, take responsibility for it, work out what they did wrong, make changes and have another go; learning to fail well, I think, is the first step in learning to become more resilient."

His comments come following the release of UNICEF statistics which show New Zealand has the highest rate of youth suicide in the world (15.6 youth suicides per 100,000 people for those aged 15 - 19) while the 2015 CensusAtSchool revealed about a third of New Zealand school children consider verbal and cyber bullying to be problems.

"Suicide is New Zealand's greatest tragedy and greatest shame and is a much bigger issue than resilience or failing well," says King. "If a child does not have the benefit of protective factors in their life that develop resilience like a caring family, at least one committed adult and positive peer relations, then they are more predisposed to helplessness, itself a primary contributor to teen suicide."

King says bullying is often the consequence of peer pressure: "It will probably always occur and the way to deal with it is not to eliminate it, but to learn simple strategies of resilience, overcome it and gain strength from that."

"If young people learned strategies of resilience when they need it and learned how to cope well with failure, then they would be able to cope much better with some of the difficulties they will face in their lives."

King says many young people only learn how to fail badly: "They react by blaming other people, pretending the result was not important, add drama to failures to avoid dealing with them or avoid activities that could result in failure.

"In all my work I have found two key things," he says. "Those people who learn how to fail well do better and anyone can learn how to fail well.

"Teachers and parents need to help children understand failure is a necessary part of growth and learning. In schools the greatest challenge may well be to de-stigmatise the word failure and to create a classroom environment when children feel safe to fail.

"Only then will students be able to examine their own reactions to failure and practise building the skills of failing well."

James Beck, manager of the Parenting Place's Attitude Programmes for Schools who is running courses at ACG schools, says the "hyper reality" of social media adds enormous pressure on young people.

"It forces them to compare themselves with the best of their peers in every field all over the world," he says. "Before social media the only people they compared themselves to were at their school or the local community."

Shawn Hutchinson, principal at ACG Tauranga, says resilience is covered as part of the school's tutor programme and is particularly important for students between years seven and ten when they are at a period of their lives where there is a lot of change and uncertainty.

"This is probably one of the most important things we do," he says. "Historically schools have placed an emphasis on technology and curriculum, but ultimately we need to equip young people with skills they can use for the rest of their lives otherwise we risk ending up with people dependent on others to get by."

Hutchinson says resilience is more than toughing it out: "It's about learning from failure and developing resources and skills to recover from negative experiences, feelings, challenges and adversity.

"Young people are exposed to high expectations and a social environment that is increasingly distracting and sometimes threatening.

"This requires helping students develop good social skills and self-confidence, the ability to ask for help and to understand personal boundaries - all built on strong emotional and physical resilience."

Hutchinson says an important factor in building resilience is helping students to establish or maintain strong relationships with their parents, peers and people in the wider community.

"Goal-setting, planning, problem-solving, independence, assertiveness, perseverance and critical thinking skills are also crucial."