In my final column about grit, the focus is on what parents can do to build it in their children. In Duckworth’s work, an entire chapter is dedicated to this topic, and I sincerely encourage you to purchase and read the entire book. Duckworth leads off by defining what parenting is, and points out that it is derived from Latin and means ‘to bring forth.” Parenting is a tough job! I know that very well, and also am very aware of the awesome responsibility we all have in terms of helping our children develop into responsible and productive adults. Duckworth points out in her book that there is a lot of research on parenting, and quite a bit of recent research on grit, but there is not a great deal of research on parenting and grit. Thus anything that she recommends is not necessarily supported by the level of research she has done in other aspects of her study of grit.
There are generally two schools of thought on parenting in terms of helping children lead successful lives. On one side are those that advocate establishing and demanding high standards that will serve to drive young people to success. On the other side are those who believe that they can best succeed by wrapping them in unconditional love and support. Some of us may have grown up in a strict, authoritarian household, while others of us may have experienced more permissive parents. And, to no one’s surprise there are those who advocate that each example is the best way to raise children to become successful adults. However, is one form of parenting better than the other when it comes to helping young people develop grit and lead a successful life?
Larry Steinberg, a researcher who gave an address to the Society for Research on Adolescence, shared that after studying 10,000 American teenagers, kids raised by warm, respectful, and demanding parents faired better than those who were not, regardless of the parent's marital status, ethnicity, gender, or social status. It does not matter how the message is sent — authoritarian or permissive — rather how it is received. Parents that are psychologically aware and pay attention to the messages they send and how they are received are more likely to have the positive impact they want to have on their children.
When it comes to developing grit, parents that practice what they preach will find that their children will emulate them. If a parents demonstrates grit, there is a good chance their child will do so as well. Recognize however, that just because a father may work incredibly hard, unless the child understands why, there is no guarantee he will follow in his father’s footsteps. As we know, effort is more important than talent when it comes to achieving success, but unless the parent communicates this effectively in a warm and respectful manner, hard work for the sake of hard work may not in fact lead to success. There must be purpose and passion as well.
There is no doubt that most parents want their child to succeed in life. Those, who from an early age have expectations and place demands on their children, will most likely see them develop the habits and drive to succeed. This can be done in a variety of ways, but what is important is that it is done. Whether authoritarian or permissive, it is important they have expectations they expect their children to meet, and demand they are met. A mistake often made by this generation of parents is that they do far too much for their children rather than letting the child be responsible. Parents who model responsibility and respect are more likely to have their kids emulate it, but they have to provide opportunities for their kids to learn how for themselves.
To demonstrate this, I will use an example I am very familiar with, changing the names of the individuals so as to protect their identify. Both of the young men I refer to became college basketball players at the D-III level, and both of them eventually became coaches. Greg was the son of a coach and has had a very close relationship with him throughout his life. From the time he was old enough to shoot a basketball he loved the game. When he became a middle school student his dad required that he take 300 shots a day. That increased to 500 a day in high school. Often, his dad was there rebounding for him. Greg was a good shooter in high school and college, and was considered a successful player. In the gym as he grew up, there was often a lot of tension, yelling, and anger between the demanding father and his son. However, the son reached many of his goals and has a very close, loving relationship with his father today.
Jimmy was a gym rat much like Greg, riding his bike to the gym even in the winter as a young boy, and getting a key from his coach when he was in high school so he could shoot late at night. Often he was with his friends, but more often than not, he was by himself. Jimmy’s dad and mom both worked very hard at hourly jobs, often taking overtime in order to provide the best they could for their two kids. Jimmy’s parents wanted him to have a better life than they had, and stressed the importance of a college education and giving back to others. They knew their son loved basketball and did what they could to support it. In hindsight, their most important contributions were that they were strong role models in terms of work ethic, and they gave Jimmy the freedom to pursue his dream. Jimmy’s dad taught him that anything worth doing, is worth doing well and to take pride in what you do. In other words, if Jimmy was to become a basketball player, then he needed to be the best player he could be. If he was to become a garbage man, then he should be the best garbage man he could be. Like Greg, Jimmy shot took thousands and thousands of shots, and became an incredible point scorer.
As stated earlier, Greg and Jimmy both became successful college basketball players, both became high school coaches, both of them have incredibly close relationships with their dads, and both of them have very positive relationships with the young people they work with each and every day. One grew up in an authoritarian household, while the other found himself in a home with more freedom and not nearly as strict. A hard work ethic was present in both, as were expectations, respect, and strong family bonds. Success was not taken for granted, and both boys rode their passion for basketball on top of a strong work ethic to get to where they are today. That’s grit!