Challenge Growth is a young person’s experience with an adult who encourages them to take risks and perform beyond their own expectations.

Challenging growth involves four actions: 1) Staff expect young people to do their best and to live up to their potential; 2) They stretch and encourage young people to go further than they imagine; 3) Staff support young people to reflect on failures and to learn from mistakes; and, 4) They hold young people accountable by supporting them to take responsibility for their actions.


Challenging growth can influence many parts of a young person’s life and development. It promotes resilience (Zhang, Y., et al., 2011), strengthens their ability to stay focused on achieving their long-term goals (Steele, C.M. 2011), enhances their academic performance (Bowen, G., et al., 2012), increases civic participation (Mesurado, B., et al., 2014), enhances athletic and sports achievement (Bremer, K., 2012), improves nutrition and healthy habits (Gable, S., & Lutz, S., 2012), and reduces alcohol or tobacco use (Nash, S. G., et al., 2005).

Social and cultural psychologies portray development as a participatory and relational activity that occurs when young people creatively imitate others who are more advanced and when they are seen as who they are becoming (Sabo Flores, K., 2012; Vygotsky, L. 1978). In other words, young people develop when they are challenged and stretched. This is called the zone of proximal development (ZPD), emphasizing that human beings are not merely who we are at any given moment, but simultaneously who we are and who we are becoming through our interactions with others and the environment.


Young people are dynamic and full of promise, with many different pathways to success. Every year Hello Insight mines our growing dataset of more than 125,000 young people, participating in more than 1,500 programs nation-wide, so that we can continue to learn what works for each and every young person.

Challenging a young person’s growth is a highly predictive experience of the development of SEL across age, gender, and ethnicity. It is especially important for young people ages 16 and older. Challenge Growth works best when combined with authentic engagement and promoting peer bonds. Together, these experiences amplify SEL growth.

Download the Reflection Guide


Hello Insight, in collaboration with Youth Inc., created the series Positive Youth Development in Practice, where we share different practical ways to promote Positive Youth Development experiences in young people through examples from other organizations. In this case, watch how our members practice Challenging Growth with young people.


Dr. Lois Holzman: Play Helps Us Grow at Any Age

This short TedTalk provides excellent examples about how play can help challenge growth and development. Dr. Lois Holzman shares how the revolutionary activity of play can help young people of all ages to develop.

Guiding Questions:

  • Why is play and performance so important when challenging growth?
  • How might we use play to ignite difficult conversations and create new ways of performing together in the world?

12 Tips for Challenging Growth

Search Institute
This short article provides 12 tips that can be integrated into any program or activity. It also offers a short video that explains the value of challenging growth.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I challenge growth, while showing young people that I care about them?
  • How do I emphasize that mistakes are a necessary part of growth and learning?
  • How can I step back and let young people experiment, try new things that are hard for them, and “fail forward”?

The Effect of Praise on Mindsets

Carol Dweck
Young people are more likely to choose challenging options if adults praise their effort instead of their intelligence. This 3-minute video shows us how praising a young person’s intelligence can do harm. Instead, Dr. Dweck recommends that we provide young people with “Growth Mindset” praise, to help them take positive risks, challenge themselves, and persist through difficult challenges.

Guiding Questions:

  • What do I typically praise? The effort or the intelligence?
  • How can I use growth mindset praise to help young people take on challenges?
  • Have I noticed fixed and growth mindsets in my program? How are these young people similar or different?

Fixed vs. Growth: The Two Basic Mindsets That Shape Our Lives

Brain Pickings
This short article lays out the benefits of growth mindset praise and articulates how to focus on a young person's effort, strategies and ability to seek help. Growth mindset praise supports young people to increase their desire for challenge and their ability to persist through difficult challenges.

Guiding Questions:

  • How can I use growth mindset praise to help young people take on challenges?
  • Have I noticed fixed and growth mindsets in my program? How are these young people similar or different?

Growth Mindset

Transforming Education
This four-page tool kit on Growth Mindset Strategies has very practical advice on how to Challenge Growth and help young people take risks. It also includes videos and references for further reading.

Guiding Questions:

  • How have you learned from your mistakes? How can you encourage young people to take that approach to mistakes?
  • When have you needed to step back and approach a problem differently? How can you express that to young people as a deliberate strategy when they seem stuck in problem solving?