Fostering Character Development in Teens Courage, part 1

Fostering Character Development in Teens: Courage, part 1

In There's a Stranger in My House by Dr James WellbornLeave a Comment

def: (noun) continues to pursue what is right regardless of threat, difficulty, danger, or pain

Courage is one of the more dramatic Character-istics.  One form, heroism, is immediately recognized by others.  These are the instances of rescue and protection and sacrifice that rise above the normal events of our lives.  While heroism is admirable, it is not achievable by most people.  The circumstances have to be right and you have to be in the right state of mind.  But, everyone is capable of more mundane forms of courage.  In fact, it is happening all around you.  It comes in three different forms:  heroic, professional and quiet.

Heroic Courage.  There are spontaneous situations that arise presenting the opportunity to respond courageously by coming to the aid of people in trouble during emergencies, crises, outbreaks of violence, danger to others and natural disasters.  Heroic courage arises from spontaneous, unplanned and unpredictable events that require someone to put their life on the line for a principle or to rescue someone.  (This is the kinds of courage that, as parents, we prefer other people’s kids to demonstrate.  Heroes may not survive.)

Professional Courage.  A subset of heroic courage is shown by people in careers where heroism is part of the job description.  These include firefighters, police officers, soldiers, rescue personnel, medical personnel who can treat people with deadly communicable diseases, employees of organizations that go into dangerous areas of the world, missionaries and undercover intelligence operatives (i.e., spies).  At least you know what your kid is getting into if they aspire to these kinds of jobs.

Quiet Courage.  Then there are the everyday situations that require courage: facing your fears, speaking up for someone who is being mistreated, acting on your principles in the face of pressure to conform and confronting those who are behaving wrongly.  This kind of courage is available to everyone.

A note on thrill seeking.  The difference between courage and common thrill seeking is that courage involves taking a risks for a purpose.  Thrill seeking is taking risks for an emotional rush.  Sometimes hard to tell the difference from the outside; always possible to tell the difference from the inside.  Jumping off a cliff into the water at the local rock quarry as a way to test yourself takes courage.  Jumping off the cliff because it is scary and fun doesn’t is not courage.  Thrill seeking is fine as entertainment.  Make sure you don’t mistakenly give your kid the message that simply taking risks is the same as being courageous.

Courage is a quality that will serve your kid well throughout their lives.  It will help them overcome tragedy and catastrophe.  It will make it possible for them to look truth (about themselves, about others and about the world) squarely in the face, however hard or painful it may be.  It will make it possible for them to stand fast to their personal values.  It takes courage to get things done.  It takes courage to make a difference in your life and in the world.  It takes courage to be a good friend, intimate partner, parent and citizen.  It takes courage to grow emotionally and spiritually.  So . . .

What’s a parent to do?

Character Check.  Take a look at your kid.  Courageous kids:
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  • Forge ahead despite obstacles
  • Don’t give up despite feeling afraid or alone
  • Don’t buckle when things get difficult
  • Remain steadfast in the face of potential loss or threat
  • Risk rejection, criticism or aggression to do what’s right
  • Confront people who are doing wrong
  • Sacrifice their own welfare for that of others, especially those who are vulnerable
  • Stand their ground
  • Stick to their principles even when pressured to let it go

If you checked off a number of these Character-istics you’ve got yourself a Courageous kid.  Celebrate it.  Comment on it.   Keep doing what you are doing and leave well enough alone.  On the other hand, if these Character-istics don’t describe your kid, here are some suggestions to help foster greater Courage in your teenager.

Model it.  How do you model courage?  Show valor, bravery and heroism every chance you get.  (Being a professional hero helps a lot here.)  But, non-professional heroes are dependent on circumstance if they are going to do something courageous.  If you happen across a burning car with a passenger trapped inside or someone dangling from a precipice, by all means rush in without concern for your own safety to rescue these unfortunates.  On the other hand, if you engage in too much of this, 1) you will considerably shorten your life expectancy and 2) you might end up inadvertently sending a message to your kid that they should look for ways to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others.  This can be rather hard on a parent (and something you may end up regretting).  There are ways to model courage that don’t result in potential threat to life and limb?

Look for quietly courageous things you can do like stepping in when someone is being treated badly, taking a stand for something you believe in, owning up to a mistake, admitting to falling short of your own principles or having the courage to risk something important for a principle.  (Be sure to tell your kid, by the way.  Otherwise, what’s the point, right?)

Courage is also modeled through the stories you tell your kids.  All epic tales of derring do or quests require courage and bravery of the main character.  They present a moral dilemma that the hero either rises to meet or falls short or both (a lesson for the reader regardless).  There are fairy tales and fables.  There are stories from your religious tradition.  There are movies and books that portray courage and bravery.  Then there are stories of real courage shown by real people.  There are stories of family members (maybe even including yourself).  There are stories of historical figures and of ordinary people who come to the attention of the news media.  Take some time to gather a few stories of courage.  Make the time to recount these tales.

Follow this link to read this column on the Brentwood Home Page website.


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