Teens, Grit, and inspirED: An Interview with Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman

InspirED: Tell us a little about The Grit Guide for Teens: A Workbook to Help You Build Perseverance, Self-Control, and a Growth Mindset. What made you decide to write it? Why should teenagers develop grit?

Dr. Baruch-Feldman: The Grit Guide for Teens is a workbook designed specifically for teens to help them build perseverance, resilience, self-control, and stamina – in short, to be grittier.

I came to writing this book from both a professional and personal place. As a cognitive behavioral psychologist, I work with many teens who want to change, but who, despite their best efforts, fail to meet their goals. What I share with them is that you often have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable, that through challenge comes growth, and that setbacks and failure are part of the process. Writing this workbook has allowed me to share these ideas with a larger teen audience so they too can have more success.

Teens today face the perfect storm. The pressure and stakes are high, and they have to balance the demands of school, extra-curricular activities, and family obligations. They often have parents (yes, those helicopter and snowplow parents) who have rescued them from challenges so that life’s everyday obstacles feel daunting. And, if those pressures weren’t enough, there is so much to distract and discourage them– from social media to peer pressure.  Lastly, the teenage brain is wired to focus on what feels good in the moment making it difficult for teens to develop grit. With all this going on, it can be especially hard for teens to accomplish their long-term goals without grit.

InspirED: So what exactly is Grit? Why is it so important? And how is it different from, say, determination?

Dr. Baruch-Feldman: Grit, a concept studied and made popular by Dr. Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, is the ability to stick with things that are important to you and to be resilient in the face of setbacks. Gritty people see difficulties and failures as challenges to overcome, not signs that they should give up. Grit doesn’t mean never quitting; rather, it means quitting thoughtfully and not just because things get too hard.

Grit is important because it explains success and achievement separate from and beyond what talent
and intelligence contribute. Without grit, talent and intelligence are nothing more than unmet potential.  Having the ability to stick with long-term goals despite challenges and setbacks paves the path to success.

To be gritty one needs determination. However, determination is not enough. To be truly gritty, one needs to take that determined mindset and turn it into actual gritty behavior. In my workbook, I show how a gritty mindset can be backed up by gritty behavior leading to real and meaningful change.

InspirED: What advice would you have for teenagers trying to start a team at their school? How can they use grit to pursue their goals?

Dr. Baruch-Feldman: Start with connection or passion. If you can connect with your team’s mission, you will be able to show the commitment to create and maintain lasting change. For example, if you value stopping climate change – start a team with that focus. See if the team you create can benefit not only yourself, but others as well (purpose). When you connect to your values and a higher purpose, you are more likely to succeed.

You need the right mindset. To start and maintain an effective team you want to develop a positive and
growth mindset, which means that when challenges arise you see them as part of the process and not as a measure of your ability or reason to stop.

Stay positive but plan for obstacles. You may need to change strategies, but that is different from quitting.
Set some realistic and some stretch goals to push yourself and your team.

Create a gritty community that supports your mission so that your team’s work is the new normal of your school.

InspirED: What are some key takeaways or skills from your book that everyone could benefit from learning?

Dr. Baruch-Feldman: The most important thing I want teens to take away is that that grit can be grown. I believe that grit can be achieved like any other skill when it is broken down into steps and applied to specific areas where grit is essential.

However, it is important to point out that grit isn’t simply a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” approach. Encouraging teens to have grit does not mean we should ignore the adverse impact of external factors such as poverty, disadvantage, and stress. Helping teens grow their grit is not a way to absolve schools and communities from doing their part.
Rather, I want to empower everyone to grow stronger, even when being gritty can be incredibly challenging.

Make grit a habit. It is hard to use willpower or self-control, but if gritty behavior becomes a habit it is easier to maintain.

InspirED: Anything else you’d like to share?

Dr. Baruch-Feldman: I would love to hear from you. What are your thoughts? What are your challenges and obstacles? Hearing from you helps me grow my own grit. Please feel free to email me at drcarenfeldman@msn.com and check out my website (www.drbaruchfeldman.com) for more information about the book and other topics. The Grit Guide for Teens will be released on July 1. It is available for pre-order here.

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