By Joel Fehsenfeld, LCSW, Courier & Press, October 25, 2016 –

Why are some people more successful than others? Is it talent? Luck? Genetics? Money? Who you know? Street smarts? Book smarts? High IQ? Hard work?

This question has plagued the minds of psychologists for decades with no real clear answer to the secret of success. For example, West Point Military Academy has one of the most rigorous admissions processes. Of the roughly 14,000 applicants who begin the admissions process to West Point every year, only 1,200 are selected; of that number, 1 in every 5 drop out before graduation.

The ability to predict one person’s likelihood of success over another has also evaded psychologists. However, Angela Duckworth, awarded the MacArthur Fellowship for her research on success, figured out the secret characteristic that separated the candidates who would actually graduate from West Point from those who would drop out.

So, what is the secret? Simply put, Duckworth revealed that the key ingredient was grit.

What is grit? In this article I will help provide an explanation and understanding of Duckworth’s notion of grit and why it predicts success. Then, in a following article, I hope to convey what Duckworth shares on ways to develop grit.

Duckworth points out that a West Point graduate, people who earn master’s or doctorate degrees, finalists of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, top-performing salespeople, or even Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos are often no more talented or intelligent than others. Instead, it is their “grittiness” that carries them to a high level of success.

Grit is the balance of an interdependent relationship between passion and perseverance.

To persevere, in Duckworth’s mind, is the ability to endure struggle, be okay with failure, try again and again and continue to work hard. Perseverance is required for an athlete to practice the mundane, day- to-day routines that build up to greater skill and excellence. It is the sustained effort to build mastery with the long-term horizon in view.

Perseverance, however, without Duckworth’s notion of passion, does not equal grit. Without passion, perseverance is just the ability to work hard at something without satisfaction. Passion is key to the sustained persistence required for gaining a refined skill or completing a long-term goal such as graduation from West Point.

Passion is the ability to sustain interest, desire, or energy towards some type of goal or achievement, whether it is a sporting, business, academic, or personal financial achievement. It is easy to muster energy for something that is a fleeting interest, but to manufacture energy towards a sustained goal without passion is nearly impossible.

Passion is the excitement and energy sparked over and over again to love the pursuit and process of building skill for the sake of the long-term achievement. Therefore, passion is crucial to fueling the effort that is required in Duckworth’s success equation:

  1. talent multiplied by effort = skill  and   2)   skill multiplied by effort = achievement.

Interested in figuring out if you have grit? Check out Angela Duckworth’s website and take the grit scale to see where you rate: If you would like to hear more about grit, check out this TED Talks presentation by Duckworth:

If you would like to know how to build grit in your child or yourself, stay tuned for part 2 of this article next week.


Crystal Sands, VP of Philanthropy, accepts a grant from the Daviess County Community Foundation  for Youth First social work services and programs  in Washington, IN.  Pictured are (L to R):  John Dudenhoeffer, Board Member, and Peg Stephens, Grant Committee Member with the Community Foundation;  Ashley Hale, Youth First Social Worker; Crystal Sands, Youth First VP of Philanthropy; Glenda Scudder,   Board Member with the Community Foundation; Mark Arnold, Principal, Washington Jr. High School;  Carolyn Jones and Linda Myers, Board Members with the Community Foundation.


By Amber Russell, LCSW, Courier & Press, Oct. 22, 2016 –

Does having a conversation with your child ever feel like pulling teeth?  After picking up my 5-year old from kindergarten, I like to ask him about his day. It usually goes something like this:

Mom: “How was school today?”

Son: “Good.”

Mom: “What all did you do at school today?”

Son: “I will tell you later. I just don’t want to talk right now.”

Sometimes he’ll say, “Why do you always ask me about my day?” I reply, “Because I am interested in it, and I love you.”

Some days he is just not up for talking, but other times I have found it’s all in how you word the question.

Instead of asking, “How was school today?” here are a few conversation starters I have used:

  • Who did you play with at recess today, and what did you play?
  • What’s the best (or worst) thing that happened to you at school today?
  • What was the hardest thing you had to do in school today?
  • Who did you sit by at lunch today, and what did you talk about?
  • If you got one wish at school, what would it be?

I talk with my son after school because that time works best for our schedule; however, every family is different, and maybe another time is better for you.

Here are some specific questions I like to ask before school:

  • What three things do you want to accomplish today?
  • What class do you think will be the most fun and why?
  • What is one thing you can do better today than you did yesterday?

To get an older child or teen to open up, make sure the conversation is a two-way street where you are actually talking and sharing and not just firing off questions. No one, child or adult, likes to feel interrogated.

Try writing out some questions on cards ahead of time and let your child pick some to ask that you have to answer. Sometimes if you open up about a past experience it will make the child feel more comfortable to share.

Here are some examples:

  • What was your most embarrassing moment in school?
  • What was the worst or funniest date you ever went on?
  • Who was your best friend in school, and what did you like about them?

Playing games such as “High and Low” around the dinner table can also stimulate conversation.  Every family member shares their high and low points for the day. You could also have each family member share one thing they are grateful for and a goal for the next day.

As a Youth First school social worker, I talk with students every day. In my experience, even though kids seem annoyed with adults asking questions, deep down they want you to ask. It demonstrates that you care. Most kids have a friend whose parents don’t ask about their day, and believe me, they wish their parents would.

Even if a conversation with your child doesn’t go as planned, making the effort shows support and demonstrates that we want to be involved in kids’ lives. Talking with your children will not only influence their decisions now, it will have an effect on their future parenting styles as well.


By Denise Schultz, Courier & Press, Oct. 4, 2016 –

Underage drinking is a critical public health issue in America. Drinking is associated with the leading causes of death among young people including car crashes, unintentional injuries, murder and suicide. A 16 year old is more likely to die from a drinking-related problem than any other cause.

Nearly 23 percent of people between 12 and 20 are current alcohol users, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health report published by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). The report also states that over 5 million adolescents binge drink, often having five or more drinks during a single occasion, while 1.3 million are heavy consumers of alcohol.

Besides death and injury, underage drinking can result in other severe consequences. We know that children who drink alcohol are more likely to have legal issues, use drugs, get bad grades or engage in risky sexual behavior. They are also more likely to have memory problems and changes in brain development that cause lifelong effects.

Despite these findings and the fact that underage drinking is illegal, many in our society seem to view underage drinking as uncontrollable and a “rite of passage.” Many teens think it is acceptable to drink, and parents may reinforce this belief by either not saying otherwise or condoning the behavior and allowing their teen to drink “responsibly” at home.

Parents, you have the power to help prevent underage drinking by talking to your children early and often about the dangers of alcohol.

According to Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, “parents are the number one influencers on a young person. If every parent communicated a strong message about underage drinking, we would already have a delay in the onset of alcohol use.” The earlier you talk to your kids about alcohol, the greater chance you have of influencing their future decisions.

Studies show that kids really do listen and want their parents to talk to them about the dangers and consequences of alcohol.  According to SAMHSA, around 80 percent of children feel their parents should have a say in whether or not they drink.

Short conversations in the car, while watching TV or at the dinner table are better than a long, sit-down conversation. In fact, eating dinner with your family is a particularly effective strategy. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has consistently found that the more often children eat dinner with their family, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use illegal drugs.

Youth First is launching a new marketing strategy, “Talk. They Hear You.” in Vanderburgh County in partnership with The Mayor’s Task Force on Substance Abuse and funded through the Division of Mental Health and Addiction’s Partnership for Success Grant.

“Talk. They Hear You.“ is a national media campaign to prevent underage drinking. The goal of the campaign is to reduce underage drinking among youth ages 9 to 15 by providing parents and caregivers with information and resources they need to start addressing the issue of alcohol with their children. The campaign includes videos, a phone app and other information to help parents talk to their kids about alcohol. You can find additional information at or

Join us on Oct. 11 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. for an Underage Drinking Town Hall Meeting in the Browning Room at Central Library, 200 SE MLK Blvd. The panel will be introduced by Major Lloyd Winnecke, and Dennis Jon Bailey will be the moderator. Please RSVP to Denise Schultz at 812-421-8336, ext. 106 or

Underage drinking is a preventable problem, and community input and involvement is needed to find solutions. Be a part of the conversation and help make a difference.

Youth First Social Worker Ben Smith is featured in this 44 News “Kindness in the Community” segment with Melissa Schroeder. We are proud of Ben’s dedication to young people and families! Click here to watch.