Character: A life skill to be learned

Youth develop character as they grow in life. As a human being, we all have choices to make which affect ourselves and others around us. Character is defined as ethics in action. Knowing the good and doing the good.

Character projects or experiences should help youth develop positive values and qualities that contribute to their way of thinking, speaking or acting. In 4-H Youth Development, we like to think about character as a skill that can be targeted and worked on. In other words, character can be practiced and youth can gain important skills to help them learn how to work through ethical situations they will inevitably encounter as they mature and grow older. Review the Targeting Life Skills Model from Iowa State University for information about other life skills 4-H targets.

According to the Developing Youth Curriculum Using the Targeting Life Skills Model: Incorporating Developmentally Appropriate Learning Opportunities to Assess Impact of Life Skill Development, as staff and volunteers, we work with youth to help them work on the skill of character by teaching them to:

  • Respect themselves and others, including physical belongings
  • Understand the consequences of being dishonest or not telling the truth
  • Understand a sense of fairness
  • Have a regard for property of self and others
  • Be aware of differences in values
  • Appreciate how a reputation is developed
  • Begin to understand ethical situations
  • Become involved in causes based on personal values and ethics
  • Examine consequences of various ethical decisions
  • Begin to develop a personal philosophy

Don’t forget that, as adults, 4-H volunteers or staff, we are charged with helping youth to “Make the Best Better.” However, it’s still important to be a role model and show youth the behaviors we expect them to learn. Showing good character as an adult allows youth to see a positive role model who models good behaviors and understands how to be successful in life.

To find resources like CHARACTER COUNTS! or 40 Developmental Assets to help you teach character, contact your local Michigan State University Extension Office.

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