Building youth with the 5 C’s: Character

How do youth build character?

Positive youth development builds on Lerner’s 5 C’s. The 5 C’s are competence, confidence, connection, caring/compassion and character.  A sixth C, contribution, is attained when a person is able to fully realize all five of the C’s. This series will continue to looks at each C and ways adults can encourage the development of these assets.

The fifth of Lerner’s C’s is character which is defined as having respect for societal and cultural rules, the possession of standards for correct behaviors, having a sense of right and wrong (morality), and possessing integrity.

According to Michigan State University Extension, adults play an integral role in helping young people build character. To start, model character through your actions and provide both positive and constructive feedback to young people often. For instance, one societal rule is that we stop and hold a door open for someone who is nearby, particularly if that person has their hands full or is differently abled. You can model this behavior and then step back to see if the young person follows your lead. If they does, praise them. If the young person doesn’t, explain why we do this and encourage him to do so in the future. 

Providing constructive feedback can be difficult for some people. When you understand that the feedback is beneficial, it becomes easier to provide. Youth often break social or cultural rules because these are unwritten rules and young people have not had the opportunity to learn all of them yet. Look for teachable moments to share these expectations without judgement.  Also, it is important to not allow a young person to get away with a lie. People sometimes build integrity by experiencing the consequences of poor choices, like lying.

To explore morality, share some current news stories with a young person and talk about them. There are many examples of morally questionable behavior on TV, in movies and in the news. Talk about them and ask young people what they think and why. Be respectful of differences in morals—while some are universal, others vary by person based on culture, religion and personal beliefs. It is ok to share a diferring perspective, but do not force your idea of right and wrong onto a young person.

By helping a young person gain character you contribute to positive youth development and help prepare a young person for success. The next article in this series will focus on the final C, contribution.

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