Grit Development In At-risk Youth

In the article, “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” by Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews, and Dennis R. Kelly, research and studies were conducted to display the extent of how grit is associated with success and achievement. Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” which “entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort, and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress”.

To restate Angela Duckworth’s research on grit in more layman’s terms, grit can be a strong predictor of academic, professional, and personal success. Grit is strength of character or the ability to overcome large obstacles in an unfailing journey toward success. People with grit are not always the people with the most natural ability, or a high IQ, or significant cognitive skills, but their work ethic and perseverance allow them to achieve success Grit is a very valuable characteristic in almost any situation, as it gives an individual an advantage in overcoming the inevitable obstacles they will face. The Duckworth research clearly showed this, e.g., the Penn State most successful freshmen were those with the highest grit scores vs. those simply being at the top of their high school class based on GPA and test scores. Using materials I have collected and reviewed along with personal exposure, experience, and background, I will be addressing a population where grit can make a difference in the ability to survive, thrive, and succeed.

My subject population is at risk youth/adolescents living in a generally recognized affluent, suburban community, a somewhat ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ population. This group shares similar characteristics with more traditional at risk youth groups, which are those who live in predominantly low income areas, but often go unnoticed because they are a small subset within the community, a risk in itself. These youth may be living in poverty despite the wealth around them, may be food insecure, may be victims of past or current abuse/trauma, may be impacted by family separation or divorce, may be exposed to racism or other bias, may have a disability, may have a non-conforming gender identity or sexual orientation, may have a very low self-concept or self-esteem, and may have a poor parental or family support system. Any occurrence of even one of these issues puts a child at risk, and some individuals experience multiple issues, often simultaneously. Youth living in one or more of the above conditions are far more likely to experience future negative life outcomes including but not limited to: becoming a high school drop out, joining a gang, teen pregnancy, commission of a serious crime, obesity and related health complications, mental illness (often undiagnosed), lowered lifetime earning potential and/or chronic unemployment, homelessness.

To help provide some statistical framework, a state by state study published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 2019 shows the following (data collected in 2017) for Illinois children at large: 17% live in poverty, 34% have single parent families, 26% have parents without secure employment, 6% are teens not in school and not working, 68% of 8th graders are not proficient in math, 16% of teens are not graduating on time, 11% have families where the head of household does not have a high school diploma, 5% of teens abuse alcohol or drugs, 29 child/teen deaths per 100,000 occur, 17 teen births per 1000 occur. While not at the detail level of community, these are still staggering numbers that highlight the nature of what it means to be ‘at risk’.

Additionally, the US Dept. of Health and Human services confirms the potential for negative outcomes noted above in comparison to youth not at risk: failure to attain a high school diploma is nearly 3x greater, risk of committing an adult crime by age 24 nearly 2x greater, risk of limited or no ‘connection’ to school or work 9x greater. Similarly, the US government sponsored website for youth issues includes the at risk characteristics mentioned along with others in its summary data regarding the behavioral/mental health of adolescents.

The overlapping qualitative and quantitative data on at risk youth, along with various research studies on grit clearly provide a picture of the overwhelming challenges faced by this group as well as a potential path to get beyond the challenges by nurturing grit in these individuals.

In my population, observation has highlighted that due to one or more of the risk factors, self-esteem / self-image is a recurring theme. There is an underlying sense of failure or perception of unworthiness, and this becomes an impediment to success because it undermines the ability to persevere. Improved self-esteem would assist this population in managing the challenges around them and providing a sense of hope that ‘all is not lost’, and I believe that a targeted intervention involving grit development could have a very positive result. My theory is that grittier individuals would gain in self-esteem, confidence, and perseverance. In various research about grit and specific variables (substance abuse, academic progress, etc.), the presence of grit (the more, the better) had a positive relationship in offsetting or conquering a negative condition. I have chosen a mezzo level intervention as it would be a practical approach, to dealing with a population which tends to exist in smaller pockets of larger communities. While one on one micro targeting would be outstanding, it may not be feasible or scalable, and a macro approach would need to address a majority of the root issues of being at risk, so positive changes for the individual would possibly take years to even be recognized.

To begin, my population is somewhat ‘prequalified’ in that the participants are engaged in a program for at risk youth. Many such programs exist both locally and nationally, but they are often independently run based on charities, philanthropic organizations, state funding, etc., so the services are not standardized across these entities. Therefore, the baseline assumption is that the ‘at risk’ characteristic has already been identified and met.

Building on that base, I propose the establishment of a service (either standalone or incorporated into an existing youth program) called a ‘grit bootcamp’ and it would be targeted to individuals in that program exhibiting low self-esteem, although anyone interested could apply. Potential target candidates would be identified by using two existing tools, the Multidimensional Self Concept Scale, and the 12-point grit scale. Both tests have scoring scales which can be used to build a basic quartile pattern in an x- and y-axis pattern. The results of these for each individual would be scattered/correlated into the quartiles based on the score for each test: Low SE/Low Grit, High Self Esteem/Low Grit, Low Self Esteem/High Grit, High Self Esteem/High Grit. The most vulnerable are those with both low self esteem and grit, and would be the targets for the bootcamp, but depending on resources, those in other quartiles could participate (potential for peer mentors or ‘buddies’).

The bootcamp itself would be a collection of skill-based activities based to engage and challenge the individuals. It could run for 12-16 weeks, or possibly coordinate with school calendars for semesters, as the majority of the participants should be enrolled in classes or be within that age range. Examples of skills could be learning to cook, sew, or knit, basic woodworking or other ‘mechanical’ activities, music fundamentals, sports/exercise, drawing, tech skills (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations), etc. Participants would be encouraged to ‘try something new’ for both learning and fun, or to pursue an existing interest where their current opportunities may be limited. Levels could be established from the very simple to the relatively complex (constrained by available resources). These activities would be led by ‘expert’ staff or volunteers, and could also engage mentors from the community to include high school students pursuing service careers, retired adults, veterans, and college interns. The leaders would be responsible for developing projects to be completed for the related skill. During the execution of the projects, the leaders would observe the participants’ interest levels (passion), monitor engagement and ability to persevere through issues and challenges, assist or intervene when negative behaviors arise (frustration, anger). Observations should be recorded for each participant and documentation maintained throughout the bootcamp. The goal would be to complete the initial project (at whatever level the participant chose) and progress to ones that are more difficult, take more time, etc. Over the course of the camp and with increasing challenges, the desired result is to build grit (stress on perseverance facet) within these individuals, to be reinforced with small group discussions about the projects, how learning new skills makes them feel, likes/dislikes, challenges and what they did to meet them or overcome obstacles, what might they have done differently, what did they achieve — these would be short recaps at the end of each bootcamp session. All participants should be strongly encouraged to share at least one thought in a group discussion. The group discussions would provide an observational basis for progress and growth, and the observations for each individual should be captured in addition to ‘project’ observations captured by the leaders.

There are some key points for the leaders to follow in nurturing grit development throughout the bootcamp process. First, allow stumbling. Building grit involves creative thinking and multiple tries or methods to arrive at success. Don’t ‘give’ the answers or solve the problem — challenge the participant for a suggestion on what they think might work. Support and encourage them in the struggle, pointing out that these are just steps on the journey. Second, encourage appropriate risk taking. Trying a new recipe or using a new tool can be a challenge, and assist in helping them accept that practice makes perfect or multiple attempts are OK. Finally, ensure that the participants move outside their comfort zone, and understand risk/reward relationships in their own terms — “no pain, no gain”, “no guts, no glory”. Get them to try new things and if the try doesn’t work out all that well, they will still have another experience in their ‘grit’ toolbox.

Since the general age group being addressed ranges from about age 11-19, the idea of a bootcamp could be enticing, as it is a fairly familiar concept for this age range, and involves skill activities that can be meaningful within their daily living context or set a stage for pursuing a future life skill. Building resilience within a framework that is not totally foreign should enable them to better manage one or more of their existing challenges and better prepare them for dealing with future obstacles. This intervention is somewhat culture neutral, since self-esteem and grit are traits that exist in individuals regardless of their culture, and the skills activities being proposed also generally cross the culture line, e.g., all cultures cook, all cultures use tools, but there does need to be some recognition of culture based on the demographics of the bootcamp location. Though the population as a whole is defined as at risk youth living in an affluent suburban environment, there could be cultural variations within those environments. Location A might be skewed toward African Americans, while Location B might be skewed toward poor Caucasians, and Location C might be skewed toward Asians, each of which may have some unique beliefs or customs. This might need to be factored into the activity structure to provide a balanced approach and a comfort level for the participants. Cultural sensitivity could be enhanced by introducing specific cultural elements in the range of projects, such as ethnic recipes in cooking skills, or culture-based music for learning music fundamentals. A potential accommodation may also need to occur for a participant with disabilities — based on the disability, some activities might require modification or assistive devices, or may require a tailored approach if the disability involves limited cognitive ability.

Based on the type of service being proposed, I felt that the best research design would be ‘action research’. This type of research is collaborative and is often used in community settings. It focuses on practicality and solution driven outcomes. Action research studies often have a direct relationship to advocating for change. Some complexities in using this type of design are that results can be much more difficult to write up because the data being captured is often not in a standard format, such as the observational records described for the bootcamp leaders. This could be mediated by developing a template with a ‘check the box’ format and simple 1 to 5 scale — an example entry for the template could be “Resumes trying after a failure”, where 1 would be a low/never, and 5 would be a high/always. There is also a bias risk if the researcher becomes over-involved in the actual intervention. Action research is cyclic in nature, and the bootcamp framework of repetition with increasing challenge should align with this.

In thinking about how to evaluate the impact of the intervention, I saw two variations on a path. The first variation involved setting up a single bootcamp, in which case the number of participants would likely be limited, so a sampling might not be required — it may simply be possible to evaluate all participants. The second variation involved setting up multiple bootcamps. Possible ways to sample would be to collect equal random samples from each bootcamp, or take a random sample from the total number of bootcamps, but I think the better option is the equal random sample from each bootcamp. Random sampling as a strategy seemed to fit based on the overall similarities of the groups (bootcamp or camps) that are part of the intervention.

Once the ‘samples’ were determined, the actual measurement would involve having the participants under evaluation take the very same surveys that helped to target them, the MSCS and the 12 point grit scale. The participants would be asked to retake the surveys indicating that their feedback will be used to support the future of the bootcamps. Since the surveys are not complex, the after bootcamp scores can be compare to the pre-bootcamp scores along with the anecdotal data collected by the bootcamp leaders throughout the process. If the grit and/or self-esteem scores improve for the samples, it would suggest that the intervention was successful. As the data is being evaluated, the evaluators must show professional integrity, be competent and systematic in their review, and must show respect for the individuals and/or organizations that have provided the data. Personal feelings or judgments are not appropriate. In this situation, since much of the data being supplied is a personal self-survey of the participants, I believe it would be very important to maintain privacy of the individual, especially in publishing any results. If the evaluation meets these conditions, I would feel comfortable in saying it was ethically done. The one drawback or risk I do see in using the before/after survey results is the impact of the actual survey takers on reliability. I feel there is always some risk when asking an individual to take a survey, and I call it the ‘human factor’. If I’m having a bad day and take a survey, I might answer much differently than if I were having a good day. If there is a way to account for this phenomenon in analyzing data, then it should be used during the evaluation.

In summary, grit seems to be a fundamental component of success, and the research has spanned multiple types of populations and conditions. While systemic change toward a better overall society or environment should still be a long term goal, a strategy of empowering a population, especially a vulnerable one, with grit, could serve as a major stepping stone to success within a ‘flawed’ environment.

16 December 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now