The Meaning of Grit and How to Teach it

Is your teen gritty? I don’t mean down in the dirt gritty, but mentally gritty? Grit is an acquired character trait – it can be learnt. It’s something that separates the ordinary from the extraordinary. So, what exactly is grit?

The word “grit” may trigger thoughts of the stereotypical tough guys with cowboy hats, which probably has something to do with the True Grit film.

But cowboy hats and boots aside, grit is taking on a new meaning and that’s what we’re talking about today: mental grit.


Technically, it’s defined as “firmness of mind or spirit: unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” In Psychology, Grit is defined as “a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s perseverance of effort combined with the passion for a particular long-term goal or end state (a powerful motivation to achieve an objective).”

It is the ability to put one foot in front of the other; to hold fast to a purpose or goal and the innate ability to fall down seven times and rise eight. As part of her research, Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvaniaand the author of “GRIT-the power of passion and perseverance”, inquired from individuals in business, art, sports, medicine, journalism, academia, and law about what sets the top performers in their field apart from the rest. Each of them revealed that high achievers have two essential qualities: they have a passion, and they persevere in the face of adversity. These core qualities are the building blocks of success.

Other than compassion and a charitable heart, grit may be the most important character trait your child can learn. The successful people of the world rarely did it on intelligence alone, and many of the most successful people admit that they aren’t the smartest, but they’re all the grittiest in one way or another.

So how is grit and perseverance taught? You can start with a few practices. I’ll explain how I see this as a process after I show you the three parts to it.


Your home is a safe place for your teenager to fail. You should be a safe person for your teenager to fail in front of. Mistakes and failures are some of the greatest teachers, if we frame them that way. You don’t have to use phrases like “fail forward” to make this effective. It’s the simple act of instilling in your teen that failure is a positive thing when we learn from it.

Don’t always step in and stop them before they have the chance to fail. Let them fail. And then coach them into understanding the lesson. Obviously if something is going to hurt them, stop it before it happens, but I hope that’s common knowledge.

As your teen fails, tries again, and succeeds, encourage them to see where they started and where they are  now.


Don’t be the parent that takes all opportunities for challenge away from your teenager. It’s tough to see them struggling with something. You want to help them, but you’ve got to let them do it on their own.

I’ve heard people who came from broken childhoods say they feel sorry for teenagers who are raised in a good home, because they never got the opportunity to deal with adversity. That’s why some of the most successful and happiest people had the worst childhoods.

I’m not saying you should give your teenager a bad childhood, but allowing controlled challenges is the closest, and safest, way to instil grit in them. In fact, when your teen grows up in a good home, that’s the only way for them to get experience with adversity. And that’s an important experience!


Encouragement has to come along with learning from failure and handling challenges. The goal here is to build your teenager up, not tear them down. Sure, failing and challenging things will tear them down a little bit, but you’ll build them up 10x more.

Our words are important. Think of all the things people said to you when you were their age. Things they may not remember, but you do. We can’t take our words back once they leave our mouths, so make them count, and speak positivity into your teen’s lives.

As I said, it’s a 3-part process:

Reframe failure

Allow challenge

Encourage constantly

If you follow the pattern, your teenager will see failure in a positive light, accept the challenge, fail, learn from failure, overcome obstacles, and fully accept your encouragement along the way.


When it comes to success, whatever that ends up meaning for your teenager, grit seems to be the common denominator that makes it happen. The ability to focus on and achieve a goal is not common. Grit is what separates those who do from those who merely talk.

Grit doesn’t equate to rough. You’ve heard the terms “rough necked” or “hardened,” and that’s really not what I’m promoting here. Sure, thick skin is a necessary part of life, but it’s not about your child being rough. It’s more about being tough, but not your typical schoolyard-bully, fake toughness; grit is a mental toughness. A real toughness.

If we teach intentional living and deliberate practice, we’re doing our teens a favor, and setting them up to succeed in whatever they venture into. Instilling grit is much easier said than done. Balancing love and protection with letting your teens learn hard-won lessons is difficult, but if you’re the one doing it, it’s safe.

We’re all trying to raise mentally strong teenagers and students who have unlimited potential. Grit doesn’t come naturally. It’s something you learn the hard way or the easy way… or not at all. Let your teens  learn to be gritty the easy way. It won’t be easy for you, but it will be much easier on them.

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