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A resource produced for parents and educators by Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane. 

  • Writer's pictureLourdes Hill College

Courage in Action: Teaching Young People to Stand Up!

By Linda Stade

Adolescence is a time when kids want to fit in. They are hyper-aware of anything that will mark them as different or could be judged by their peer group as ‘weird’. That means they are presented with situations daily where they have the choice to be brave… or not.


They will have to ask themselves:

  • Do I tell my friend to take down the mean comment on Insta?

  • Do I invite the student sitting alone at recess to join my group, even though my group likes to be exclusive?

  • Am I prepared to join a service program and spend time with people different from me?

  • Do I defend the student who is being picked on and risk being picked on myself?

  • Do I tell the girl who just left all her rubbish on the lawn to pick it up, or act as though I think that’s okay?

These opportunities for bravery in the every day are usually left on the table. They require dare that tweens and teens haven’t developed yet. Unfortunately, many never will.


This is sad, because as a society, we value people with the courage to stand up and stand out. We want people who stand up for themselves, for others, and for what they believe in.


How do we encourage our young people to stand up?


In a nutshell, we:

  1. Model those behaviours,

  2. Teach the necessary language and skills, and

  3. Give our kids the opportunities to practise.

We must also signal strongly to kids that we think this aspect of social-emotional learning is important. Lourdes Hill College, in Brisbane, does just this. Their theme for the year is, Stand Up! It is rooted in the College’s guiding story of the Good Samaritan. 


But what does it look like in the everyday?


Stand Up in conflict


“Stand Up means finding the courage to stand up for what's right.”

Olivia, Year 12 Student


When talking about bullying or mean behaviour, we all know what bystanders are. They are the people who watch on and say nothing. Their silence is tacit approval.


An upstander is a person who has the dare to intervene. They will stand up to the perpetrator and defend the victim. They risk being bullied themselves and they give up the comfort of ‘fitting in’, so it is understandably difficult.


That said, when a school and parents talk about standing up for others as a core expectation and give students the language and skills to be upstanders, they are more likely to act in this way.


If a child isn’t strong enough to stand with a victim, at least teach them to walk away so they are not participating as bystanders. If enough people walk away, the world’s bullies lose their audience and power.


These skills continue to grow into adulthood. The person who learns to oppose a bully at school will be the adult who defends the underdog or the marginalised throughout life.


Stand Up for yourself


"I think Stand Up! is a call to action to find the courage in your own identity, to go against the crowd and stand up for what you believe in."

Ava, Year 12 Student


The theme of Stand Up! is equally as important when looking at personal development. It brings to the foreground behaviours like setting boundaries, showing courage, and choosing which values and beliefs you live by.


It is far easier to stand up for yourself when you know who you are and what you believe. This begins in the home. Children learn most powerfully by watching the adults they love. It is up to parents to articulate their values in everyday ways and situations. For example, “I love how kind you were to your friend. Kindness is important.”


You are the voice in your child’s head.


When a child describes themselves, they use language that has been given to them. If your child says, “I’m brave and gentle”, it is because someone told them they are. Catch your child behaving in the ways you value and let them know how great that is.


Stand Up, and have a go


"Stand Up and find your own light."

Hannah, Year 12 Student


An aspect of standing up for yourself that is rarely discussed is in personal achievement. Young people are deflated by peers who call them show-offs or ‘try-hards’ if they strive for excellence. However, in the words of the incomparable Taylor Swift, ‘haters gonna hate’. So, you might as well strive anyway.


Encourage kids to set goals, work towards them, and achieve their personal best. We don’t want them to hide away, fearing the vulnerability of giving things a go and possibly failing. I feel sick inside every time a student tells me, “I did okay, but I didn’t really try.”


It’s okay to fail. We all know that. It’s just a shame it feels so bad!


If a student can look failure in the eye after a defeat, a terrible test score, a relationship fallout, or any of the challenges that face humans who put in effort, they will open doors to learning and experiences that are denied to those held back by fear.


For our girls, there is the fear of failure but also the fear of success. Our culture is not always kind to successful women, as evidenced by some of the vitriol heaped upon our first female prime minister or the aforementioned Ms Swift. Many worry about standing out from the crowd and being judged.


All we can do is keep modelling being out of our comfort zones and letting kids know how rewarding it is to completely throw yourself into the pursuit of your goals and passions.


Music educator and opera star Gillian Ramm says, “If I can help my students achieve one thing, it's that you're allowed to show up with your full self, your whole self, your tallest, most grounded, broadest, baddest self.  You are allowed to take up space.”

This image is created using photographs of the Lourdes Hill College community

Stand Up for those in need


“Stand Up! means to act on your personal beliefs and values by sticking up for those in the community.”

Ciara, Year 12 Student


Research shows that young people who take part in service and advocacy activities at school are more likely to develop a strong sense of social responsibility. They also show more awareness of the society and people around them. They develop the ability to confront and challenge stereotypes. That’s a superpower!


Lourdes Hill College’s Dean of Mission, Kylie Baker believes that service helps young people become more present in the lives of those around them. This awareness is contagious and impacts us all.


Mrs Baker explains that Lourdes Hill College fosters a culture of service and advocacy. This is the central essence of their Stand Up theme.


Students and staff are asked to participate in activities that contribute to the lives of others in need. These include:


  • Homeless outreach programs (Eg. Rosies and Salvation Army Sunday Roast.)

  • Community outreach targeting children and the elderly (Eg. Letterbox drops for Meals on Wheels and making sandwiches for Eat Up.

  • Service groups that raise money, donations, or awareness for different groups in our society (disability services, homelessness, the environment, refugees, human rights).


Final thought…


I love it when schools are intentional about their messaging to students. I know some people view it cynically or roll their eyes. BUT, our kids receive thousands of messages a day from social media, advertising, and celebrities. It’s our job to be the bigger influence.


Stand Up! is the sort of message that inches us all a little distance towards a better version of humanity, and a greater experience of life.



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