Character Development in Students
Our students live in a world that is largely focused on what’s on the outside. They’re taught to value how they look and how they perform, and few people take time to draw attention to what’s inside their hearts. As youth workers, we know that the Bible teaches a very different message; the Bible communicates that God cares very deeply about what’s inside a student’s heart—a message that we’ve tried to drive home again and again. But this process has left many of us asking, “Are our students getting it? Are they growing in godly character, or is character development no longer a priority in their lives?”
To answer this question, it’s helpful to look at three stages of character development. Using these stages, we can more easily evaluate how our students are learning and growing and what steps might encourage them on their journey.
“The world will see Christ in our students only if their character looks like his.”
Stage 1: Value
The character development process begins with a student discovering the value of godly character. In this early stage, it’s critical that we teach students that character reflects their heart and is how they can reflect Christ to the world around them. The world will see Christ in our students only if their character looks like his. Character is something that offers them protection, keeps them making good choices, and sets them up to influence and lead their peers. Until a student has a clear understanding of why their character is important, they will struggle to grow in character.
Stage 2: Awareness
The next stage of character development is awareness. Once students have a value for character, they need to become aware of what their character looks like. Without self-awareness, students will tend toward self-deception, self-justification, or focusing solely on the shortcomings of those around them. For students entering this stage, we can teach them the various dimensions of godly character listed in Scripture and then help them honestly identify their own strengths and weaknesses. (A Character Assessment can be a helpful tool with this.)
Stage 3: Growth
Students that have a value for godly character coupled with a healthy level of self-awareness are primed for growth. With the help of a mentor or small group leader, they are ready to identify areas of their character that need improvement and create action steps to further their growth. In this stage, students need us to be their biggest encouragers and their biggest challengers. We can help them recognize and celebrate moments of growth and success, while holding them accountable to following through.
Character development is filled with ups and downs, and we’re likely to see our students move both ways through these stages. Nevertheless, let’s keep drawing attention to what’s on the inside. Let’s demonstrate the value of godly character, help increase our students’ self-awareness, and challenge our students to grow. And with the help of the Spirit, we’ll see our students become young men and women of strong character.
About the Author
Doug Franklin is the president of LeaderTreks, an innovative leadership development organization focusing on students and youth workers. Doug and his wife, Angie, live in West Chicago, Illinois. They don’t have any kids, but they have 2 dogs that think they are children. Diesel and Penelope are Weimaraners who never leave their side. Doug grew up in […]