I love this TED talk where the late Peter Benson shares his vision and research on how youth thrive. (Thanks and hat tip to my friend Aerika for sharing this. She shows it to her adolescent development class each semester.)
I highly recommend watching the whole thing but if you don't have 20 minutes right now, here are a few takeaways from his talk based on the youth research that the Search Institute has analyzed and assembled over the last decade:
Petrarch said "youth are not vessels to be filled but fires to be lit." When we ask youth "what animates your life, brings you joy and energy? What is your spark?" 100% of them get it--and most can name at least one thing that brings them meaning and joy. Some name a skill or talent (e.g., music, writing, leading), some a commitment (e.g., social justice, environment), and others a quality (e.g., empathy).
Thriving = spark + 3 champions (at home, school, or community) + opportunity
Sadly, we don't often pay attention to spark, finding 3 champions is rare, and opportunities for many youth are scarce. When a young person names their spark to you, they are inviting you to be a champion. You can:
- say it back to them
- tell them you see it in them
- thank them for sharing it
- find opportunities and resources for them to kindle the spark
The spark may or may not be a part of their future work, but human development is about today, about now. The best development is from the inside out. Helping youth find their spark helps teach a life orientation for discovery. It's a way of being present and nurturing and naming what's internal.
In families we can ask our young people "What is your spark? Who knows it? How can I help?" And wouldn't it be amazing if parent/teacher conferences began with a conversation about the student's particular sparks first?!
"You shall know them by their sparks." Changing the focus of youth development to kindling their sparks will reframe how we, as a culture, view our young people and will help support them in developing from the inside out.
Much more about sparks here. And there's a book: Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Inner Strengths of Teenagers.
What was your "spark" when you were 16? What is it now?
Do you know the "sparks" that energize the young people you know?