“Sometimes those who challenge you most teach us best.” Anonymous
Biosphere 2 is a research experiment that recreates earth’s ecosystem, including plants and trees. Through Biosphere 2’s research, scientists found that although trees grew faster in the indoor environment than they did outdoors, they would collapse under their own weight before they’d reach maturity. This happened, they concluded, because there was no wind in the biosphere to produce “stress wood” in the trees. This type of wood makes the tree more resilient and allows the trees to be strong enough to live to maturity.
Trees are not alone in needing challenges to become strong. Young people also need strength and resilience to become thriving adults. We all need to be able to withstand stress to survive. That’s why “Challenge Growth” is one of the five elements of a developmental relationship.
Challenging growth involves these four actions:
Without some challenge in their lives, kids get bored. The same is true of adults. Research tells us that when kids have challenging tasks that fit their abilities, they tend to rise to the challenge. They also find the activities are more enjoyable and interesting than when the tasks are not challenging.
Challenging young people to grow can influence many parts of young people’s lives, such as
Challenging growth calls for a balance of several factors. Getting this balance right—and adjusting when needed—is key young people’s success. Challenges that fit with kids’ interests and abilities are more likely to trigger growth or learning.
|If Challenge Is||Interest/Ability Is||The Likely Result Is|
|Low||+ Low||= Apathy|
|Low||+ High||= Boredom|
|High||+ Low||= Anxiety|
|High||+ High||= Growth|
When we notice and challenge young people to grow around their own interests and abilities, we are responding to their own initiative and motivation. That responsiveness builds their self-confidence and motivation to keep challenging themselves. It also encourages us to keep challenging them to grow in these areas.
If, for example, kids are doing well in school, we expect them to keep doing well. Having that expectation affects their own effort and expectations of themselves, and they continue to grow.
But, if kids aren’t doing well, we sometimes expect less of them. That, in turn, leads them to expect less of themselves, so they don’t work as hard. Breaking that cycle can be a difficult—but critical—challenge.