Resiliency and the Well-Resourced Child

Dear MMS Families,

If you read the most recent edition of the school’s magazine, “The Current,” you’ll recall our focus was on the theme of resiliency, and in my I essay I referred to Angela Duckworth’s research on the topic. Just last week I had the pleasure of hearing Duckworth speak. Angela (a MacArthur “genius award” recipient and professor at the University of Pennsylvania) is the most prominent contemporary researcher on resiliency, and she recently published a book on the topic, Grit. At the end of her talk I asked her the question I hear regularly from parents. It can be summarized as follows: When we raise well-resourced children in outstanding schools with caring cultures, enriching extracurricular experiences, and comfortable environments, how do we make sure they develop the mettle, the inner tenacity, necessary to successfully achieve their aspirations and lead independent lives?

Duckworth answered with two key suggestions. Her responses rang true to me, and she explained they were based both on her years of research and years of parenting -- she’s the parent to two teenage children:

  1. Let children experience the consequences of their decisions. This is key. As hard as it is to resist the parental urge to swoop in and rescue our children from experiencing any discomfort, when that discomfort is the natural consequence of their choices, there can be no greater teacher (there are, of course, clear limits to this).
  2. Outsource some of the teaching. For example, find them a music teacher who holds them accountable for practicing, a soccer coach who expects hard work, a drama director who insists they rehearse their lines until they can say them naturally as their own words, etc.

Duckworth’s suggestions immediately reminded me of the book I read and discussed with many parents this year, Jessica Lahey’s, The Gift of Failure. I highly recommend it (you can get a sense of her ideas in this article).

In this same vein, the other book I recommended is Carol Dweck’s Mindset. Here’s a fun RSA animated video overview of her research findings and arguments.

Finally, David Brooks offers a compelling review of Duckworth’s book Grit. His article offers, if I do say so myself, a ringing endorsement of everything we do here at Marin Montessori. I love especially his closing words: “In such a [ideal] school you might even de-emphasize the G.P.A. mentality, which puts a tether on passionate interests and substitutes other people’s longings for the student’s own.”

All my best,