Character strengths are sometimes labeled soft skills, noncognitive skills, character skills, social-emotional skills, 21st century skills, and many other terms. In addition, they’re studied in many different disciplines, from educational psychology to behavioral economics to neuropsychology. But, in the end, they all point to a constellation of personal skills, attitudes, values, and mindsets that we’re calling, collectively, character strengths.
Character strengths such as perseverance, responsibility, empathy, and communications are critical for students’ success in school and in life. These strengths are “caught” more than they’re “taught” through the ways teachers, other staff, parents, and peers connect with young people. They’re also nurtured in a school or program culture that expects, encourages, and reinforces these strengths as part of education.
Character Strengths in Youth
According to Search Institute surveys of 89,000 U.S. middle and high school students, here are percentages of young people who report key character strengths:
Conversation Starters on Character Strengths
Character strengths can be hard to talk about in the abstract, so here are some provocative questions and examples that stimulate hypothetical conversations that unpack character strengths and how young people think about them. These can be used as icebreakers in classrooms or groups, during transitions between activities, or in informal conversations.
What if . . .