We all need an occasional dose of challenge to get us out of our comfort zones and stale routines and to grow as human beings. For young people, challenging growth is even more vital because growing and evolving is their full-time job. For the adults in their lives, it means finding a balance between stretching their abilities and expecting their best while tapping into their interests and giving them the support they need.
For educators and youth program staff members, relationship-building approaches to challenging growth help students to develop vital skills and thrive as adults. They are excellent approaches to integrate into program or classroom activities as well as in the hallway, after class, on the playground, or on the front steps while students wait for a ride home.
Without challenges in their lives, youth get bored. Research tells us that when young people have challenging tasks that fit their abilities, they tend to rise to the challenge. They also find such activities more enjoyable, interesting, and rewarding than tasks that are not challenging.
Challenging young people to grow can positively influence many parts of their lives, such as:
Challenging growth involves these four actions:
There are countless ways to integrate these actions and expectations into almost every activity. Importantly, it requires intention and attention.
Challenging growth creates a mutually reinforcing cycle. When we notice and challenge young people to grow around their interests and abilities, we are responding to their own initiative and motivation. That responsiveness builds their self-confidence and motivation to keep challenging themselves. This, in turn, encourages us as educators and staff to strengthen developmental relationships with them and to keep challenging them to grow in these and related areas.
Young people need strength and resilience to become thriving adults. Here are some tips and approaches to help your students thrive.
Challenging growth is just one part of helping youth to thrive. Young people’s development is rooted in their community and in their relationships. When they have high-quality, positive relationships with parents, teachers, mentors, coaches, and peers, they are more likely to develop resilience in the face of obstacles, grow, learn, and develop social-emotional skills.
The Developmental Relationships Framework identifies five key elements (one of which is challenging growth), with 20 specific actions. When young people experience these in their key developmental relationships, they are more likely to be resilient in the face of challenges and to grow up thriving.