‘Grit’ and Bear It to Beat Wussiness

True predictor of kids' success, well-being is not 'A' grades

Today’s youth expect instant success for very little effort. If they can’t receive an “A” (or the equivalent), many simply opt out.

Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” award for her research on grit in children, believes passion is the fix for the malaise that haunts young people today.

When people truly love what they are doing — and not just going through the motions of handling a new task for their carefully designed resume — they are mindfully engaged. They also develop grit, defined as perseverance in pursuit of long-term goals.

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Caroline Adams Miller, who has written a new book on this topic, says grit can be cultivated and is contagious.

“Grit is important because it predicts who is successful and who drops out,” she told LifeZette from her office in Bethesda, Maryland. “Who makes it through Ranger school? Who gets through Teach for America? Who’s not a quitter?”

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Here’s why this is important for long-term well-being — and worth noting, for parents or for anyone.

A Yeshiva grade school in Long Island, New York, sends report cards to parents first and warns a child should not see any grades while “unsupervised,” as LifeZette previously reported. The school also offer parents the option of requesting a second report card with higher grades, so as not to “discourage or hurt a student.”

Research by university professors Stuart Rojstaczer and Chris Healy found that the number of “A” grades awarded has tripled since 1940. At Ivy League schools and small colleges alike, mediocre students are receiving superlative grades. Though it may seem impossible that every Yale University student is doing “A” work, that’s the current grade point average.

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[lz_bulleted_list title=”Good Habits of Gritty Kids” source=””]They ask “why not?”|When things get tough, they take on a different mindset.|They build teams and positively connect with others.|They take a deliberate, measurable approach to goals.|They take in feedback and adjust.|They do something hard every day.|They use all their knowledge and lessons to get BETTER.[/lz_bulleted_list]

These developments have followed on the heels of a self-esteem movement, in which students received trophies simply for showing up for sports and academic teams — and the motto was, “Everyone is a winner.”

Alice Aikman (not her real name) is an English professor at a mid-sized Southern state university. She said she spends hours each week responding to emails from parents and even meeting with other parents in person when they want their child’s grades reconsidered.

“Some are subtle, but most are not. They demand it,” she explained. “I’ve had many say to me, ‘At the price I’m paying, he or she is getting an A!’ Many of my students come to my office in tears over a B. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Universities are also spending thousands on “safe” rooms — also called “cuddle rooms” or “soft rooms” — where students can listen to soothing music, watch film loops of puppies, eat cookies, hang out under soft blankets with friends or stuffed animals, and nap to reduce stress. Queens College in New York City even offers “puppy therapy” for stressed-out students during finals week.

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Mental health counselor Cindy Goldrich of Melville, New York, believes kids’ lack of grit requires parents to change first — because they need to understand it in order to be effective role models.

“Parental anxiety comes from the fear their child won’t do what it takes to move forward in life,” she told LifeZette. “Parents literally take over all responsibility.”

Goldrich’s book, “8 Keys to Parenting Kids with ADHD,” helps parents stop focusing on the outcome and emphasize progress toward a goal.

“A shift starts with parents setting expectations and acknowledging struggle,” she said. “It is comforting to see your child struggle but not give up. The process of learning and struggling is most important sometimes — not just the successful outcome.”

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Grit has a big impact on health, of course.

Poor health develops from sedentary lifestyles, substandard diets, and instant gratification from food, noted Miller. “This impulsive, unhappy generation won’t go out of their comfort zone — and certainly won’t exercise. Among kids without grit, mental anxiety and psychological problems encourage introversion and drug use.”

“Apples don’t fall far from the tree,” she said. “Parents, look at yourself. Can you get through tough times? Do you quit at first difficulty? Or do you soothe yourself with food, alcohol, or drugs?”

She stresses the need to model patience for kids. “Don’t let them quit something. Teach them about commitment. When they don’t get the lead in the play — let them sit with that feeling of discomfort. In short, stand back and let your kids handle their own lives and emotions.”

Pat Barone, C.P.C.C., B.C.C., M.C.C., is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, which helps clients heal food addictions. 

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