School Burnout and Psychosocial Problems among Adolescents: Grit as a Resilience Factor

Background

School burnout, known as the phenomenon of being exhausted, amotivated, feeling inadequate and disengaged from schoolwork, is associated with numerous school maladjustment and mental health problems among adolescents. Yet, even in highly-regarded education system such as the one in Finland, about 33–45% of students are at risk of burnout in school, and subsequently suffer multiple psychosocial problems in schools. Thus, how to prevent school burnout or mitigate the deterioate effects of school burnout are imperatively needed for adolescence. This study examined whether grit, defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals, could act as a resilience factor to reduce the increasing effects of school burnout on loneliness and depressive symptoms. The gendered role of grit was also examined to know whether the grit resilient effect functioned differently for boys and girls.

Method

The study consisted of 1296 Finnish 7th grade students (56.4% female) and 1166 eight grade students (57.4% female). School burnout, grit, and psychosocial problems were mainly derived from 8th grade where 7th grade’s psychosocial problems were controlled for. Gender and socio-economic status were included as covariates. Structural Equational Modelling (SEM) and latent interaction analyses were conducted. Two resilience models were tested: compensatory model where only direct effects of school burnout and grit were examined, and protective model where moderation effect of grit was added. Moreover, grit was studied in terms of two facets (i.e., consistency of interest and perseverance of effort) according to previous research suggestions.

Results

We found that school burnout, indexed as exhaustion, cynicism and inadequacy, was consistently associated with a high level of loneliness and depressive symptoms. These effects held after gender, socioeconomic status, and prior levels of loneliness and depressive symptoms were accounted for. The results also showed that two grit facets played resilient role in school burnout. A high level of grit substantially reduced reported depressive symptoms when adolescents experienced high school burnout. Our further analysis showed that the role of grit was more pronounced among boys than among girls. When male adolescents were at risk of school burnout, both consistency of interest and perseverance of effort protected them showing as lower levels of loneliness and depressive symptoms.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates that grit can act as a resilience factor among adolescents. Thus, interventions targeting grit would be beneficial for adolescents who are at risk for school burnout, especially boys. Research suggests that building a mastery goal-oriented school culture, forming highly committed educational goals, building high education aspirations, and holding a strong life purpose are evidence-based practices for developing grit among adolescents. Thus, school practitioners, policy-makers, and other stakeholders could consider these practices in the future. This call is imperatively needed during COVID-19 pandemic when burnout and stress are more pronounced among adolescents.

Contact: xin.tang@helsinki.fi

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