pediatric mental health

You Can Teach Grit To Kids... But Should You?

Grit has been the topic-du-jour in the media lately. There is much discussion around the importance of raising a generation of kids who have grit as a personality trait in their life-skills toolbox. Schools have even been including "enhancing grit" trainings as part of their character-building classes.

But is it important and should we be teaching it to our youth?

To dive into that, we have to look at both sides of the story.

Background of Grit

Proponents are talking about how to encourage grit in kids' daily lives in order to help them to overcome hardship.

Those opposed ask if teaching grit to kids who are already living in poverty is really going to help them.

An article in The Washington Post states that "grit was understood as an antidote to the ease and comfort of wealth, which produced spoiled children who lacked the vigor of their ancestors."

Those In Favor Of Teaching Grit:

With the above statement in mind, it would seem that middle and high-class families would do well to encourage grit and make life more challenging for their children. Allowing kids to experience some hardships, such as having them continue going to soccer practice even if they do not like it or are not good at it can foster the grit that leads to the tenacity that breeds success.

Kids who grow up privileged in well-settled environments have the opportunity to achieve everything they want just by growing up in this kind of setting. This makes it easy, and possibly way too easy, to attain anything they desire in life. Advocates of teaching grit would say that these are the type of kids who should go through some inconveniences and stresses in order to remain persistently focused on where they want to go in life. Experiencing hardship can build tolerance and resistance to stress, thus teaching kids how to continue moving forward despite struggles and setbacks.

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Those Against Teaching Grit:

Detractors of teaching grit remark that low-income families are already struggling and going through hardships all the time. Teaching these kids about hardships in school when it is part of their daily lives can be perceived as redundant and patronizing.

Two conclusions were drawn in the above-referenced Washington Post article:

"The first is that the widespread assumption that grit is a salient concept for low-income students is a stark misconception. The second is that while grit theory offers little of value to those disadvantaged students, it can certainly harm them, by romanticizing hardship."

We have to ask ourselves if teaching grit to low-income students who are already experiencing poverty is going to help them or have a detrimental effect on them. The face of hardship looks different for kids in low-income families. It's often not a matter of whether or not they feel like doing extracurricular classes after school, but more an issue of how to help their parents around the home, or simply how to consistently get food on the dinner table.

The Question Remains

The question remains, if grit as a character trait paves the road to success, and you can only develop it by experiencing hardship, does that mean this concept at its core encourages poor people to stay poor?

As always, there are no clear answers, just different sides to the same story. What can be a powerful educational tool for some, may be a harmful and misleading tack to take with others. It is tempting to jump on the grit bandwagon, but taking the time to consider all the ramifications that come along with it may be in order.

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