Youth thrive when adults support and nurture their “sparks”

Intentional efforts by adults to help youth identify and nurture their interests, or “sparks,” can help youth be successful in life.

The mission of Michigan 4-H Youth Development is to create informal educational opportunities to help youth thrive in a complex and changing world. Caring adult volunteers are a critical part of helping youth thrive.  

The Minneapolis-based Search Institute has identified 15 thriving indicators for young people. The first indicator identified is: “Young person can name, describe interests and sparks that give them energy and purpose and is motivated to develop their sparks.” In addition to family, friends, school and neighborhoods, youth organizations can play a role in helping young people identify and nurture their sparks. 4-H is an ideal setting for adult volunteers to nurture and fan the flames of a young person’s sparks.

Sparks are the things in life that we are passionate about, a special interest, gift, skill, talent or dream. Sparks give us joy, motivate and inspire us. According to Peter Benson, author of “Sparks – How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers,” young people with sparks lead more caring, responsible, healthy and productive lives than those who do not have sparks.

The Search Institute’s Teen Voice 2010 online survey of 1,860 15-year-olds and 30 personal interviews, showed that 80 percent of youth surveyed could name their spark. The number one spark identified by young people was creative arts, followed by athletics and technology. Females reported creative arts as their spark more often than males, and males reported athletics as their number one spark more often than females.

One way adults can help youth thrive is to become a spark champion. A spark champion is someone who helps a young person find their spark and makes an intentional effort to talk about it. They help support, nurture and encourage youth to get better at their sparks. Spark opportunities come in many forms through 4-H. The most prominent is in the club setting where youth and adults can form a positive relationship that goes on over an extended time.

The Search Institute has identified three important components to helping youth thrive. Identifying and nurturing sparks is the first;  “youth voice” and “positive relationships with adults” are the other two. The more youth have of these three components, the more likely they are to thrive and be successful in life.

Youth voice and positive relationships with adults will be explored further in part two of this article series.

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