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3 Competencies Youth Need To Act Courageously

Competence is usually related to tasks like dribbling a ball, coding a website or Milly Rockin’ in the shower – not acting courageously. However, if youth want to resist social pressures around them, such as substance usage, bullying and underage drinking, they will need certain competencies.

Courage requires competence. Having skill and being able to use it in the face of a challenge is critically important to managing fear and feeling in control. According to research, competence enhances self-motivation and can determine how long a person will persevere. Interestingly, competence is also foundational to confidence. Without skill and ability, youth and young adults wouldn’t have much to be confident in.

While there are a number of skills youth should possess to help them navigate around, rather than succumb to, the social pressures of their teenage years, they should start with developing the three competencies below.

Ability To Say No

Youth end up saying yes when they don’t know how to say no.

A teenager who wants to decline her peers’ offers to drink alcohol would need, at the most basic level, to be able to utter the words. “No.” “I would rather not.” “I don’t drink.” “I’m down for other ways to bond.” “I’m good.” “Thanks but no thanks.” This is what I like to call technical ability.  It is fundamental, discernible ability. Youth end up saying yes when they don’t know how to say no. “No feels like a confrontation that threatens a potential bond,” says writer Kristin Wong, but “it’s easier to say no when you know how to say it.”

Selecting the right words and rehearsing them can help establish a strong habit of mind. This is important to youth being able to side with themselves when tough situations call for it, like being propositioned to drink, have sex, use drugs or lend out a favorite red shirt. Youth have to practice saying no in the same way they practice a sport, an instrument or a new dance – frequently, seriously and purposefully. 

Ability To Settle Into Discomfort

Being able to settle into discomfort isn’t necessarily easy, but it gives youth more options, including facing fear and being true to self.

Courage and discomfort are intertwined like Charlotte and her web, making the ability to settle into discomfort necessary for all courageous acts. Without this ability, a young adult who wants to call out a friend for unacceptable behavior towards another person may be persuasively called back to a comfort zone when considering the unease and potential rejection that could result from speaking up. But, brushing aside personal convictions and harboring internal discomfort in order to maintain comfortable surroundings represses growth and belittles personal responsibility.

Being able to settle into discomfort isn’t necessarily easy, but it gives youth more options, including facing fear and being true to self. Settling into discomfort becomes possible when a person sticks around long enough to acknowledge discomfort and its source, feel the feelings it conjures, and put it into perspective. Is the discomfort temporary? Will it result in death? Following that process once, though, isn’t enough to build skill and ability.  Building the competency to sit, stand and settle into discomfort requires repetition. Opportunities that youth and young adults get to feel discomfort should be embraced and counted as practice. 

Ability To Figure It Out

Courage doesn’t promise that things will go as planned, but it will help youth grow as planned.

There are a range of less-than-ideal outcomes that could result from taking courageous action – isolation, rejection, ridicule, retaliation and more. Courage doesn’t promise that things will go as planned, but it will help youth grow as planned. Without having an ability to figure things out, youth and young adults will take fewer risks and, as a result, have fewer opportunities to develop and grow. Figuring it out requires youth and young adults to meet the problems they face with a good attitude. According to Roger Fritz, author of The Power of a Positive Attitude, “attitude can affect you physically and mentally,” and it can impact your level of success. The way in which youth and young adults mentally frame disappointment or failure is important to how they work through them.

Developing the ability to figure it out is also based in repetition.  Building up a collection of past experiences where an actor has successfully navigated the unknown, unplanned and uninvited will make it easier for her to rely on herself. When youth and young adults have the ability to figure it out, they can approach situations with a level of detachment from outcomes because they know that they will be able to work through whatever happens.  

The Takeaway

Competence is required for courage. It’s difficult to navigate the unknown – and the potential fear and chaos it creates – without having some level of skill. Three skills youth and young adults need in order to meet the challenges, risks and fears of growing up are: the ability to say no, the ability to settle into discomfort and the ability to figure it out. 

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