“Volition could be defined as the extent to which motivation is guarded over time.” -Angela Duckworth
We have all been there. Particularly as a teen. Feeling lost and stuck somewhere and feeling that no matter what we did, we were going to feel that way forever and nothing was ever going to change. As adults, practitioners, and mentors reading this blog, we have all had the practical experience to know this is not the case and time marches on. For some of our youth, particularly those with traumatized backgrounds, this has not been their experience.
Angela Duckworth, who is nationally renowned for her work with grit, delves into the ideas of grit, volition, and delayed gratification in a recent interview with the Chronicle of Evidenced Based Mentoring which provides a antidote to both a previous post and mentor in-service of “Why Teenagers Act So Crazy.” Please check it out here.
Angela is a former teacher who has collaborated with others not on studying perseverance but studying why people give up. Whether we are students or not, as September rolls around, we tend to get ourselves back on track and ready for a new start. As referenced in the “Why Teenagers Act So Crazy” post, the brain development of teens is such that their impulsivity is connected to their anxiety. When you pair this with our youth, you get situations that involve impulsive decisions leading to probation, being asked to leave a placement, or momentary lapses in reason that cause hurt to themselves or others. What Angela mentions is the missing piece to the ‘craziness’ we attribute to the teenage years. Grit is a way for teens to use their experiences as motivation and fuel for their future. In my experience the apathy that we see in a teen is usually due to fear of failure If we can find a way to link the two in the teenage brain, these experiences (bad or good) can generate motivation to change or to propel.
I think Angela’s work provides us with an opportunity to reflect. One to take stock of where we are at right now and how we got there and how we can relate to the youth in the program. Next it gives us an understanding of what impact’s an adolescent’s motivation. As teachers, parents, mentors and social workers, we all say from time to time “that kid is just not motivated.” In reality, this can be very true, but Angela challenges us to ask why that motivation is guarded. We don’t need Angela to tell us that trauma and not having a strong role model can directly impact this. However, I, for one, need Angela to help me know how to make our kids “grittier.”
We are all reading this blog because we want to empower kids and help them feel more secure. Something Angela suggests she is looking into is changing environments in hopes to manage the urge of instant gratification. I like this thought. I often hear if you don’t like the conversation, change it. The whole premise of the mentoring program is creating new experiences that will really help the youth shift their thinking.
At the end of the day, people are responsible for themselves and making changes for themselves but I’ll argue it is a lot harder to do when you perhaps have never been given the tools. Even the way that Angela uses the semantics of highlighting the word “volition” and highlighting the necessary life skill of sometimes you just have to deal with discomfort and do things is helpful to me. It helps remind me that my obligation in helping kids who are stuck to understand that change is a constant and nothing is forever.